Did you know that the Rolling Stones started out as a cover band? Long before they wrote Gimme Shelter and (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, Jagger and company kicked off their musical careers playing covers of popular songs by The Beatles and The Who. They’re not the only ones, either. Some of the best artists of our time got their start as cover bands, using big-name stars’ songs to showcase their talents. But to graduate from dingy basement venues to arena tours, those bands had to build their own sounds and write their own hits.
The same is true for businesses. Companies looking for an edge in their marketplace won’t find it in the same old song and dance of their competitors or the monolith brands they hope to one day compete with. You can’t expect to realize your true potential if you’re content being a cover brand. Instead, create your own genre and kick out the jams!
Learn from your idols—don’t copy them
No idea is 100-percent unique, and most successful bands are quick to cite the influences that inspired their sound. But there’s a big difference between finding inspiration in something that speaks to you vs. reproducing something that’s a copy of a copy of a copy of a… you get the point. It’s the same concept when it comes to your brand’s willingness to think beyond what competitors are already doing.
Don’t run Facebook ads because your competitors do. Don’t try to pull off the creative style your audience already associates with a competing brand. Don’t see every channel as a challenge. These strategies aren’t strategies at all—they’re imitations (at best). If you let someone else lead and settle into your role as an imitator, that’s what you’ll always be to your audience. After all, why should they focus on you when they can experience the original?
Outside of brand recognition, copying competitors also introduces the risk of reliving their mistakes. When you’re so focused on re-creating what they’ve done, you’re dooming yourself to the same problems they ran into—be it creative struggles, targeting challenges, messaging pitfalls, or anything else that happens behind the music.
Put your own spin on a proven concept
There’s something to be said for putting your own creative spin on an idea and making it even better than the original. Done right, the result is an overwhelming hit—alike enough to be familiar; different enough to be unique.
Take the song Hurt, for example. Trent Reznor recorded it in 1995 as part of Nine Inch Nails’ acclaimed album, The Downward Spiral, and it received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rock Song that year. Hurt was a celebrated single in and of itself. Then, the Man in Black got a hold of it. Seven years later, country music legend Johnny Cash covered the song in his signature style and, to this day, Cash’s Hurt is the more popular version.
Despite the overwhelming success of this cover, Johnny Cash would never be considered a “cover artist.” He took inspiration from Reznor’s work and made it his own using his distinct sound—and in the end, many say he made it better. Even Reznor is quoted as saying, “it really isn’t my song anymore.”
The lesson here is to observe your competitors and identify what they’re doing well—and what they’re not doing well. What can your brand do that’s similar, without copying them outright? Then, layer in your own identity. Create a mix that elevates their “good” to “great” and creates an original in the process: something people are familiar with, but aren’t prepared for.
Step into the spotlight
Artists in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame got there because they created their own identities. If you’re aiming to become a headliner in your market, spend a little time developing your authentic sound. Are you a little bit country, or a little bit rock-n-roll? Whatever your style, make sure you own it.
Authenticity is what makes a brand stand out from the crowd. Like a Virgin and Like a Surgeon may be cut from the same musical cloth, but there’s a reason Madonna and Weird Al are both household names in their own right. When a brand accepts itself for what it is—often the effect of leadership embracing authenticity—something magical happens. The brand adds a layer of legitimacy that makes whatever it does something worth paying attention to.
Everyone wants to play Wembley like Queen in 1986 or pack the Garden like Jay-Z in 2009, but to get there, you need to give people a sound they just can’t get out of their heads. You’ll find that sound when you stop learning your competitor’s riffs and start strumming your own.
Need help getting the band together and discovering your sound? Reach out to JXM. We’re always down to jam.