Seven Brand Lessons You Can Learn From Freddie Mercury & Queen
I’ve been a Queen fan since I was young. I couldn’t pinpoint the exact point when I discovered their music, but it was probably around 1986 with the ‘A Kind Of Magic’ album and tour. I remember 1989’s ‘The Miracle’ was one of the earliest albums I bought myself (Duran Duran’s ‘Seven & The Ragged Tiger’ was the actual first!). Prior to that, everything else had been recorded off the radio onto tapes.
(Cue any Millenial reading this and going ‘what the fuck is he talking about? What’s a tape?’)
For me, Freddie is one of music’s greats – if not THE greatest. There have been many fantastic songwriters across history and many more great frontmen and women, but there’s no-one that combines or combined both skills to such a high level as he did. Maybe Robert Plant, maybe Kurt Cobain and maybe Mick Jagger come close but I’d give the award to Mercury every day. I mean, he even got a mention in Cobain’s suicide note.
Having recently watched Rami Malek‘s epic Oscar-winning performance as Freddie in the biopic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (I was unusually late to the party and didn’t see it until it was released to stream), it occurred to me there are a lot of brand lessons to learn from the film, and the life of times of the band.
Stay True To The Brand, Even If It’s Not Working Sometimes
Queen is Queen. One of their cornerstone beliefs in their brand was about experimentation – the opera on Bohemian Rhapsody for example – and whilst that might have not always worked out as well as planned (‘Hot Space’), that didn’t stop them trying. Even in the later albums closer to Freddie’s death, they were still trying out new ideas and new sounds (‘Innuendo’ is packed full of them).
That brand pillar that existed since day one stayed front and centre across fourteen studio albums.
All The Team Members Can Contribute
Bass player John Deacon was renown as the ‘quiet one’ and apparently rare spoke much in rehearsals. But he also wrote – ‘Another One Bites The Dust’, ‘You’re My Best Friend’ and ‘I Want To Break Free’ plus a number of other album tracks. If you have a team working for you and there’s a ‘quiet one’ who doesn’t contribute much at team meetings or briefings, what could you be missing out on? How would you try and get ideas of out them? How do you make them comfortable enough to contribute?
Don’t Ignore The Obvious Or The Simple
When you watch the film, and you understand the conception of ‘We Will Rock You’, the first thing that hits you is how unbelievably simple the idea is. Two stomps and a clap. The rest of the song is also hardly complex stuff. Certainly not when compared to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and even ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’. And it’s only 2.02 minutes long.
Queen took the obvious and the simple and embraced it to make a song that will live in the memory of humanity forever.
Would it have worked with any other band? It’s a pompous, over-the-top idea. You couldn’t imagine any other rock band from the era pulling it off. Again, maybe Zeppelin? Maybe Twisted Sister??
There are other simple, obvious ideas that were exploited successfully by Queen. The bassline in ‘Under Pressure’ (it’s two notes), the bassline in ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ and the whole Flash Gordan theme. They weren’t afraid to opt for the simple before they then embarked on the complex.
“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” Steve Jobs.
Take A Risk
We talked about staying true to your brand, and one of those brand pillars being for Queen, experimentation. That in itself is an admirable trait for any business or brand. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was a massive risk for two reasons – it was almost six minutes long (5.55 minutes) and it contained an opera section. Sure there had been ‘longer’ songs in the British charts before Queen arrived but this was the first to get major airplay.
Another risk for Queen was the promotional video for the single release. Very few bands had created promotional videos for their songs and yet took the risk and embarked on what in 1975 was a relatively unique exercise costing £4,500 (about £38,000 in today’s terms, or AUD$71,000).
The risks paid off. Is there anyone in the world that can’t reply to you with the next line if you said ‘thunderbolt and lightning’ to them?
Perhaps one of Queen’s most famous and endearing songs is ‘Under Pressure’, a song co-written with David Bowie and born out of work on two other different songs. This piece is a testimony to the concept of working with an aligned partner to achieve similar goals. Whilst there were no doubt many crossover fans of both artists, the song broadened the appeal of Queen to Bowie fans, and vice versa. Arguably it also proved a more tantalising offering to all music fans. A new song by Queen? Sure. A new song by Bowie? Yes. A new song by Queen and Bowie together? Shit yes.
Other ‘partnerships’ saw Queen record the soundtrack to the cult film Flash Gorden in 1980 and the songs for the 1986 film ‘Highlander’. Both these produced highly memorable moments and, some would argue, cult status soundtrack recordings. (I know Highlander wasn’t specifically a soundtrack but let’s not split hairs here)
How many times have you imitated Brian Blessed in this? ‘Gordon’s alive??’
Define Your Target Market
In the film there’s a quote from May (although I picked it up from a site crediting it to Mercury) that goes like this:
‘We’re four misfits who don’t belong together, we’re playing for other misfits. They’re the outcasts right at the back of the room. We’re pretty sure they don’t belong either. We belong to them.’ – Freddie Mercury (Bohemian Rhapsody).
If that’s not defining your target market and building a brand to suit it, I don’t know what is. Who else could you have imagined saying a quote like that? Maybe Mr Jobs?
Engage With Your Customers
We mentioned ‘We Will Rock You’ before but THIS is the very epitome of customer engagement.
It just ticks every single bloody box. Engagement, experience, excitement and creating memories. Can you imagine if you’d been there that day? I watched Guns ‘n’ Roses live at Wembley in 1991 (supported by Skid Row and Nine Inch fucking Nails!!) and I STILL talk about that. So much so I’m going to share this:
Yep. I was somewhere on the floor of Wembley Stadium right at that point. People were building human pyramids eight people high. Everyone was drunk. Many of them underage. Health and safety were nowhere to be seen. Good times.
We can’t all be Freddie Mercury. I know I can’t sing like him. Not even close. And not every business can be Queen. But there are some great lessons to be learned from their story. Even if you were to implement just one or two of these concepts into your business, I’m sure you’d see positive change.