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Let’s Rock This Boat: Marketing Lessons from Jimmy Buffett

Jimmy Buffett is not only a popular singer / songwriter, he is also a pilot, author and movie producer. Earlier this year, a musical based upon his most popular songs, Escape to Margaritaville, opened on Broadway with great acclaim and fanfare.

But beyond that, Jimmy is a successful businessman involved in a number of enterprises, including two popular restaurant chains, the Margaritaville satellite radio station, a broad line of food and beverages, Land Shark Lager beer, a hotel chain and a chain of restaurants including the Margaritville Café, Air Margaritaville, the Land Shark Bar & Grill and the Five O’Clock Somewhere Bar.

Adored by his parrot head fans, Buffett portrays himself as a perennial beach bum. Don’t let him fool you – he’s also a smart, successful capitalist. He often turns up on Forbes magazine’s list of wealthiest entertainers. And beyond his entertainment gigs, he has also been involved in everything from selling footwear to designing sport fishing boats.

And all the while, he seems to be having the time of his life.

Here are six marketing (and life) lessons that you can learn from Jimmy Buffett’s success:

  • Build the brand: Jimmy started in Nashville as a country performer in the 1960s. After about 10 years and seven record album releases later, Jimmy’s career caught fire. His breakthrough hit, “Margaritaville” was released in 1977.
    The song resonated with audiences who wanted to escape their humdrum lives for the carefree, relaxed beach bum lifestyle. The Margaritaville brand caters to this lifestyle – extending to tequila, rum, restaurants, radio stations, apparel, and more.
    The brand promises the audience a beach breeze, a cool beverage and a brief island escape from the pressures of daily life.
  • Create community: Reaching out to those craving the Margaritaville lifestyle, Jimmy knows his customers – who span a broad range of ages, incomes and musical tastes – and caters to their desires. He goes out to meet and interact with them, as for more than four decades, Jimmy has crisscrossed the country to play for his fans. In between these yearly tours, which he likens to the annual hometown visit of the circus, he stays in touch with his fans through a full range of communication vehicles and activities: including social media; websites; emails; newsletters; radio promotions; TV specials; and of course, new albums.
  • Never give up: It is hard work to become “an overnight sensation.” Jimmy acknowledged that the first Margaritaville Café he started in Gulf Shores, Alabama, didn’t work out so well. Nevertheless, undeterred, he started over with a café in Key West in 1985, and it became the flagship of a thriving chain of some 30+ popular watering holes. “Quitting doesn’t enter my mind,” he once said. Another note about keeping at it: Although he started performing in his 20s in the 1960s and produced more than 30 albums (including eight gold and nine platinum albums), Jimmy didn’t have a #1 album until he was 57 years old.
  • Don’t overthink it: Jimmy has often said that people who think too much before they act, don’t act much. Do your homework, but be decisive. If you wait too long, the opportunity may pass you by. As his song, “Oysters and Pearls” says: “Some (people) make the world go round; others watch it turn.” Clearly, Jimmy’s success comes from action.
  • Give back: Jimmy has been a champion for a number of charities – supporting causes that range from saving the manatees to helping hurricane victims … and from helping children and the disenfranchised to trying to spark the Gulf Coast economy after the disastrous BP oil spill. Doing good for others is never the wrong thing to do, as it helps to build community and goodwill.
  • Be positive: Jimmy said it takes no more time to see the good side of life than it takes to see the bad. Same goes with a business situation. He seems to have a knack for recognizing the good and connecting with winners. But when things went wrong, as they sometimes do, he approaches it positively and makes the best of them in his own inimitable style: “When life gives you limes, make margaritas!”

So marketers, as Jimmy would say: let’s rock this boat

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