2023 was the year of Taylor – so, pay attention to make 2024 yours

I’ve been a Swiftie – albeit a less dedicated one than many – since my dad (shoutout) bought her first CD and played “Tim McGraw” and “Our Song” in the car on the drive home from a day of seventh grade. Like many others, I was hooked from the start on her lyricism and musical talent and, like any other angsty pre-teen kid, the feeling that the music truly “got” the feelings of love and heartache – even if I was only twelve.

Fast forward nearly two decades, and Taylor is an undeniable powerhouse not just of lyricism and musical skill, but of building a business and brand. Plenty of articles have been written, especially in the last year, about her insatiable fans, her economic impact, and, in TIME’s recent profilenaming her their person of the year, her ability to create a narrative almost without anyone noticing.

This last point is one that any good business should pay attention to.

Obviously a B2B enterprise is not the same as Taylor Swift. They aren’t dropping regular “easter eggs” to draw in new customers like Taylor does to market new albums. No company is blatantly or subtly calling out other entities or people that they have bad history with as Taylor does in many of her songs (looking at you, “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” “All Too Well,” “Look What You Made Me Do”). And very, very few companies have the complete authority over what they produce and how they do that in the way that Taylor does – they have to report to too many stakeholders.

But the way that Taylor builds a story that continues to iterate on itself is one that every business should emulate.

Here’s what I mean: in 2017, Taylor released Reputation, an album that was, for her, a complete diversion from her norm. It was angry, and threatening, and certainly no longer PG-13 in the way her past albums had been. Her albums always spurred conversation before, but this one prompted entirely new dialogues all around the same question: would this new Taylor be welcome?

Clearly, she was. Because she took a risk by being authentically mad– something most artists, to stay protected by their labels, can’t do. But it was one that her background in musical success, her already engaged fans (though nearly not at the level they are now), and the new industry backers that she had were more than ready for her to take. It queued up a new era (pardon the pun) of Taylor – one where fans knew she would continue to diverge from the “norm” that we’d expected. With every album since, she’s made a dramatic pivot, and fans, whether they like the new album or not, are always watching to see what she’ll do next.

To follow the Taylor formula, businesses need to figure out what risks they’re able to take and lean into them.

That doesn’t mean take a running leap towards them – it means building strategic buy-in over time, refining, and ultimately making the jump, which should really be little more than a large step, when all of the pieces are in play.

This starts, we believe, with being willing to say what others can’t or won’t say. Figuring out what that is often lies within a company’s founding principles but can often be buried by jargon and over-analyzing. It can also be stymied by pushing too hard, too fast to determine what exactly that key, provocative idea is. Uncovering bold thinking often takes a lot of time, and questioning, and testing – not just among your internal team, but also with advisors, and clients, and industry leaders – through earned and owned channels.

Taylor spent nearly a decade building a fan base, trying new approaches to music and songs (think of the shift that she made from country to pop), and slowly building buy-in until she could completely, through strategically, unleash herself.

It doesn’t have to take 10 years for a business to reach a point where they’re ready to lean into a bold idea. Some can do it in as little as a few months, while for others it may take up to a year. The key is this: businesses have to find partners that are willing to push them, and they have to be willing to think about their work through new lenses. This doesn’t mean changing what they do – but it does mean changing how they think and talk about it and being willing to publicly explore that shift with their colleagues and other industry stakeholders.

When it comes down to it, it’s as simple as business leaders having some conversations, working with their partners to turn those into new questions, and then asking those of themselves and the people around them.

Once they’ve nailed down an answer, it may be time to launch a new era (pun fully intended) of their own.


Why staying silent on controversy makes you the loudest of all

The leak of the Supreme Court opinion that will, barring any dramatic changes in the next two months, overturn Roe v. Wade was a jolt no matter what side of the aisle that you fall on. Yes, it was expected, but seeing it in writing made it suddenly, strikingly real.

Companies that fail to see and address the impact of this news may be doing a disservice to their employees and stakeholders.

Most of the generations in the workforce haven’t experienced a reality where abortion rights weren’t legally protected nationwide. For many people, this is a moment that will raise a multitude of questions that companies need to be thinking about. Ones like: do I make enough money to take care of my health? Do I feel safe and protected in my state? Do I feel like my company cares about my well-being? Do I feel supported to make the best decisions for my security? As discussions occur, this can also lead to fear or feelings of alienation for individuals that feel the culture is going against them one way or the other.

Some companies – Bumble, Amazon, and Salesforce, to name just a few – have already taken steps to address the effects of Roe likely being overturned. Yes, a number of factors may affect what actions, if any, a company might take in response to this SCOTUS leak. But it’s worth knowing that, in today’s world, choosing to remain silent is just as powerful, if not more, than choosing to speak up.

Many of today’s employees care about much more than their take-home pay. They care about company values, and evidence that their companies stand by those values. The Great Resignation has shown that people are willing to walk if they don’t feel satisfied at work – something that corporate beliefs and culture can dramatically impact.

Look at the Disney employees that walked out of work in response to the company’s “tepid” reaction to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill in March. Their protest, both physical and virtual, ultimately spurred the company to take further action.

Or turn to Ben & Jerry’s reaction to the murder of George Floyd, something they swiftly condemned and, in the years since, led to their ongoing advocacy for racial equity. They received massive public support for being one of the first companies to publicly confront the racism at-play.

Employees want to know that their companies care about their humanity. Responding to massive developments in the news that will absolutely affect their day-to-day lives, whether at work or otherwise, is paramount to growing and sustaining employee trust and commitment. And it needs to be genuine.

Yes, it can be a terrifying thing to begin to consider how to best speak about these divisive issues. But businesses truly are nothing without the people that support them every day. Companies owe it to their employees to respect and acknowledge that.

If you’ve made it this far and are wondering how in the world you even start to think about how to respond to any kind of controversial news, HBR has a great framework. Alternately, here are a few questions to get you started:

  • Audience: Who do you want to reach? Employees, investors, the public?
  • Channels: How can you reach that audience in the most authentic way possible?
  • Messaging: What are your values? How are your values in play in relation to the news you’re looking to address?
  • Timing: Is this a developing story? Will it require multiple moments of communication, or one?

The answers to these questions will change with every story, every audience, and every message you want to convey. At the end of the day, the most important thing is this: remember that your employees are people. They’re going to be looking for guidance and support when issues arise in the world that affect them and the people they love even if it doesn’t seem to affect their job at all.

That’s the catch. All of these things – SCOTUS leaks, foreign wars, day-to-day crises at home – are going to affect their job. It’ll impact their performance, their curiosity, their dedication. The best companies are the ones that will know that and react accordingly.


Search authority is the PR metric to track

Here’s the thing. If you’re going to hire a PR agency, you need to be asking them about the quality of the results that they can secure – and quality should be measured by your share-of-voice on a specific topic in the outlets that your prospects and clients are reading. We call that search authority. And, while it may sound like the most obvious of brand marketing tactics, it’s often overlooked in favor of more results – even if they aren’t painting a cohesive picture.

This approach shows up in the context of paradigm shifts, or good-old-fashioned debunking of conventional wisdom that we’ve seen happen over and over again across a bevy of industries. Uber saw individuals’ cars as resources and became more ubiquitous than taxis. Professional baseball, courtesy of Billy Beane, began to rely on players’ stats over physical appearances, a move that led to wins. Scion Capital bet against the housing market – despite major outrage from clients and significant premiums – and made billions. All of these successes came because someone saw what appeared to be a small bump in their industry’s road and leaned into it – ultimately changing how business is done. They’re students of paradigm shifts and alpha. And that education begins with learning about and seeing into one core idea better than anyone else.

Imagine that you’re the GP of a private equity firm focused on AI for healthcare. Yes, you likely have enough industry knowledge to comment on a host of topics: healthcare innovation, broad investment trends, the impact of the fluctuating economy on valuations and scalability, etc. While those are all important things that are worth addressing, you have to tie them to a common theme, one that will give you, and your company, a leg up in search results – and a consistent message across all published materials.

Identifying that topic or phrase can be a challenge. It requires you to boil down everything you do and everything your company stands for into a few words. Maybe, for the aforementioned PE example, you use “AI-driven healthcare investing” or “financing healthtech AI” or “AI-first health investing.” Yes, they’re wordy and often not phrases that roll off the tongue. But they’re phrases that allow you to build a following and to own a specific topic. They’re phrases that can be built into placed articles, and blog posts, and LinkedIn content, and even published interviews when thought leaders have been trained to use them effectively. Because of that, they become closely associated with your brand whenever anyone searches it.

Search authority is step one. Creating those results isn’t going to automatically bring in new business or initiate organic growth. Sales teams need to be armed with this language in the same way that the thought leaders who are writing the contributed articles and being interviewed are. It becomes a company-wide effort to integrate this search authority-driven phrase or topic into everyday conversations so that prospects and clients think of you as the company who knows everything about X. You’re the one to go to for work in that sector. You’re the one who relentlessly addresses and owns this space and has the content to prove it.

Curious to hear more about our approach to search authority and how we might be able to help you achieve it? Reach out to us here.