We’ve talked a lot about the importance of creating your own identity as an individual, team, organization, or business. This of course is what branding is all about. Identifying and promoting what’s unique about you—and your product/service. Otherwise, how are you going to stand out against the background noise?
So what happens to a small business that has off-the-charts talent yet fails to establish a distinct brand identity? Nothing. And that's the problem. There's one rock band that provides the case study in this.
Moby Grape was among the most promising groups to emerge from the San Francisco scene in the mid-sixties, when record labels were pouring buckets of money onto new rock bands like The Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, and Janis Joplin’s Big Brother & the Holding Company. Many musicians considered the Grape the most gifted—and eclectic—rock group they’d ever heard, given the band’s proficiency with blues, folk, country, and even jazz. These guys had everything going for them, according to Rolling Stone’s brilliant critic David Fricke:
"They had the looks, the songs, the guitars (three of ‘em) and the singing (five drop-dead, blues-angel voices)—everything they needed to be America’s Beatles and Rolling Stones combined. Everything except the luck."
When Columbia Records made the marketing blunder of introducing the band by shot-gunning the release of five very different-sounding Grape singles AT ONCE, radio programmers and listeners were confused. There was no coherent, identifiable Grape sound to latch onto. The Grape’s stunning versatility suddenly worked against them.
The band never recovered. They never scored a hit record, and protracted legal battles with management dogged them for decades. These and other troubles are cataloged by Fricke here in his liner notes for The Very Best of Moby Grape.
Better brand management—which would have identified and promoted what was distinct about the band—could have ensured a much different outcome.
"Be distinct or be extinct," as Tom Peters would say.