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Five marketing lessons from the genius that is Liam Gallagher

Marketing lessons from musician Liam Gallagher
Is Liam Gallagher a musical genius? You’ll have to make your own mind up about that onehow much credit for the era-defining music of Oasis belongs to its iconic frontman and how much to his estranged songwriter-brother, Noel? I’ve seen Liam perform several times and have photographed him onstage, but I’ve never seen anyone bring the same level of effortlessly dangerous energy to a venue. I’m not a music critic, though–I’ll leave that debate to someone who is.
 
However, there’s another aspect to Liam’s creativity that I’m much more confident in judging. The last two years have proven beyond all doubt that this man is a marketing genius. That particular argument is settled once and for all.
 
In that time, Liam has released two solo albums that hit number one in the UK and he did it from pretty much a standing start. After his post-Oasis band Beady Eye folded in 2014, Liam seemed done. He’d written off the prospect of a solo career. Most of his energy seemed to be focused on the eternal feud with his elder brother. And yet, suddenly, he’s one of the most credible, most exciting and most respected voices in music again.
 
The quality of the music on ‘As You Were' and 'Why Me? Why Not?’ has a big part to play in this, of course. It’s the best material he’s written in years. Equally important, though, is the appetite that Liam has rediscovered for taking control of his brand, changing the direction of his narrative and expressing himself creatively outside of the music itself. It’s made him the most engaged and engaging of the two Gallagher brothers–and that’s something few people would have predicted when Oasis split a decade ago.
 
Liam’s marketing genius is a perfect example of how to apply old-school craft and creativity in a world of social media, AI, constant scrutiny and radical transparency. It shows how modern marketing works best as a balancing act between the old and the new. Here beginneth the lessons:

1. Brand confidence beats brand claims

The poster for ‘As You Were’ that appeared on the London Underground two years ago said it all: 'As good as he said it would be'. It was a great headline, it stopped me in my tracks and, to be honest, it got me thinking about the role that confidence should play in branding and content marketing. Yes, it’s a play on Liam’s reputation for arrogance–but it’s also proof that what you signal as a brand is as important as what you say. Act like you believe you have nothing to prove–and people are far more likely to accept that you have nothing to prove. Saying less with confidence usually beats making more and more extravagant claims.
 
The lesson? Believe it or not, it’s one that I’ve taken into content marketing for B2B brands. If you are the ultimate authority on a subject, there’s no need to keep adding adjectives to your content to talk up how authoritative it is. Just tell your audience it’s from you–and act like that should be enough. You’ll find it usually is.

2. Take back control of your narrative

This summer saw the release of ‘As it Was’, a documentary film following Liam as he starts out on a solo career. The Liam it shows looks and sounds like the Oasis frontman, but there are elements of him you never got to see before: genuine struggles and moments of self-doubt. It’s about the difficult process of coming to terms with getting older and falling in love with music again. And it epitomises what’s suddenly making Liam Gallagher a compelling brand again. Whereas the 2016 Oasis documentary ‘Supersonic’ celebrated the good times while glossing over the band’s break-up and the causes of it, ‘As it Was’ confronts the difficult stuff head-on. It invites you to take a second look at him as a person and an artist.
 
The lesson? Celebrating weaknesses and being transparent about failures can be a winning strategy for any brand (just ask Guinness, Avis or more recently, KFC). However, it’s got to be authentic to fly. If you want people to update their perceptions of you, selling them a neatly packaged narrative won’t work. Give them the rough, relateable edges and the emotion that goes with them. These are the real raw materials for people reconsidering how they feel about you.

3. Redefine your brand strengths when you need to

Liam’s always had obvious brand strengths: the distinctiveness that comes from the iconic, hands-behind-back singing position; the inimitable, leering accent and delivery; the staggering self-confidence. Nobody puts this on as an act. It makes no sense to put this on as an act.
 
However, no matter how distinctive or differentiating your brand assets are, applying them with rigid consistency can leave you in the past when your audience, and the world, moves on. Just ask Kraft Heinz, amid its painful struggle to adjust its brands to new eating habits. So it goes with plenty of music acts from the ‘90s and other eras. Sometimes you either have to accept that your time has passed–or you need to find other aspects of yourself that you can bring to the surface to make that whole, distinctive package engaging and exciting again.
 
The younger Gallagher is fortunate to have quite a few underexplored aspects of his identity to play with. There’s fatherhood and the natural engagement with youngsters that comes with it. There was a real charm to him jamming with one young fan on a Radio Two breakfast show appearance to promote ‘Why Me? Why Not?’, for example. There’s the humour, which was always there, of course, but often drowned out by the attitude and the antics. Liam’s pushed it to the front in his promo material for the latest album. And then there’s the passionate music fan, the Beatles geek, who would name his latest album after notes scribbled on John Lennon photographs that he tracked down and bought.
 
The lesson? Redefining a brand doesn’t have to mean abandoning what first made you distinctive–or moving away from your authentic self. However, it does mean breaking out of a narrowing definition that people might have of you. Be ready to go back to the well of what your brand means and pull different elements further up the hierarchy.

4. Own new platforms–don’t let them own you

Liam’s new brand narrative has been playing out on social media and AI platforms that weren’t even being dreamed of when he strutted onto the stage at Knebworth for those classic Oasis gigs of 1996. What’s really impressive is the way that he’s leveraged his brand to add new dimensions to those platforms, rather than compromising the brand to fit in. It’s something plenty of modern marketers could learn from.
 
Liam’s conversations with Amazon Echo’s Alexa were my favourite piece of promo material for his new album. They were perfectly pitched for social–and like many of the best ideas, they were inspired by what audiences were already talking about. Back in December 2018, somebody had edited an Amazon ad to reveal what would happen if Alexa had a Liam Gallagher edition. It was hilarious and went viral for the launch of ‘Why Me? Why Not?’ with Liam himself having a typical humility-free conversation with Alexa down the pub. One heck of a way to become the musician everyone associates with their smart speaker–and to persuade people to follow him on Amazon Music.
 
It helps that, like any self-respecting rock star, Liam runs his own social media accounts–with all of the rude, riotous randomness that it involves. It means that his Twitter feed sometimes borders on the incoherent but it’s all the more compelling for that. And it means that when you tweet a video explaining what you think you meant when you tweeted ‘Dodecahedran x’, a lot of people watch it. Liam’s social media output is living proof of the neuroscientific concept known as the Zeigarnik Effect. If people can’t work out what you mean, they are far more likely to pay attention.
 
The lesson? Leveraging a long-running brand on new platforms works best when you’re bringing brand qualities to the platform that nobody else can. Don’t rely on algorithms to bring the charm and charisma–that’s your job. And don’t try to painstakingly spell out the meaning that people should take away. It’s far more important to intrigue them.

5. Invest in the experiences that count

Liam could be as sympathetic, funny and creative as he liked–and it still wouldn’t make much difference if he weren’t also putting out a product that people want to listen to and want to buy. This comes down to investing time, effort and passion in the craft of writing songs. But it also comes down to format–and investing in an experience of your product that’s as compelling as possible. That starts with insight about the experiences and formats that matter most to your core audience.
 
It’s no coincidence that Liam’s two number one albums have both been the fastest-selling records released on vinyl in their respective years. He’s been an expert in riding the vinyl revival, recognising just how big the overlap is between music fans who appreciate owning a physical object of value–and music fans who spent a lot of time in the '90s listening to ‘Definitely Maybe’ and ‘What’s the Story Morning Glory?’ So much so that of the 68,000 album sales that took ‘Why Me? Why Not?’ to number one, 25% involved good old-fashioned LPs.
 
Only, there’s nothing old-fashioned about the deluxe, vinyl edition of the albumtwo records, one pressed in yellow with the album and the other etched with three exclusive bonus tracks; a 20-page hardcover book with lyrics and original artwork; and removable prints and posters. You even get a free CD. The amount of craft and attention to detail that’s gone into the format is breath-taking. It’s a reminder that listeners are valued–and in today’s music industry, that’s a powerful message.
 
The lesson? The product matters–but so does the experience that you build around it. And understanding what your audience values most is the key to delivering that experience.
 
Liam Gallagher is a marketing genius not because he’s changed and not because he hasn’t. Not because he’s co-opted new platforms either, and not because he’s signalled his attachment to old ones. It’s because he’s shown how adept he is at balancing all of those things. Confidence in the brand he represents and the product he puts out has freed him to make far more creative use of the levers of the music industry than he has in the past. It feels like that’s the real difference between the last two years and the rest of his post-Oasis career. And it’s a difference any modern marketer can learn from. Biblical!
 
'Why Me, Why Not?' is out now through Warner Records. Visit Liam Gallagher's website