For my wife’s birthday, I took her to see Paul Simon when he came to Boston a few weeks ago. His concert got me thinking that there may not be another artist who has had at least one hit single in each decade starting with the 1960s. Few musicians adapt with the times.

What might Ryhmin’ Paul Simon say to product and brand managers looking to keep their lineup relevant over the years?

  • Experiment
    • Especially early on, when launching a new product you need to try lots of different things to see what sticks. Flexibility is key. IBM celebrated its 100th anniversary last week, yet 100 years ago it was selling commercial scales and time clocks to meat and cheese slicers. This early success for industrial automation led it to move upmarket to concentrate on providing custom-built tabulators to businesses of all kinds.
    • Paul released singles on a host of minor record labels and recorded under different pseudonyms such as “Jerry Landis”, “Paul Kane” and “True Taylor”. He even recorded with his childhood friend Art Garfunkel as “Tom and Jerry”, since they both thought “Simon & Garfunkel” was too ethnic for pop music.
  • Ignore Early Failure & Find a Target Market
    • A brand’s early adopters might not be where management expected to find them. Back in 1984, the Mac was supposed to be the computer “for the rest of us” but it was graphic designers who most valued the graphical user interface and supported the computer in its early days.
    • After the debut Simon & Garfunkel album flopped, Paul went on a solo tour. Fortunately, East Coast listeners began requesting the single “The Sounds of Silence”, giving the duo their first adopters and a second chance.
  • Sell Out without Selling Out
    • Can you find promotional opportunities that are true to your brand? For instance, the Hello Kitty character was created solely for licensing, yet its licensors won’t license the character for products that conflict with its image. There are no official Hello Kitty lighters, for instance (if you’ve seen a Hello Kitty lighter, it’s a knockoff).
    • Simon & Garfunkel composed songs for the movie The Graduate without comprising their artistic integrity.
  • Return to Basics
    • Sometimes, after widespread success, you need to dial it back and return to the basics your brand is known for. Think of the Volkswagen New Beetle, for example.
    • After leaving Simon & Garfunkel, Paul recorded a number of successful solo albums evocative of his pop-folk heritage.
  • Go Global
    • You can’t take your product or brand global without adapting your brand. McDonald’s in India doesn’t sell hamburgers; the Big Mac there has morphed into the Maharaja Mac, with two all-chicken patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese…
    • Paul Simon had faded to irrelevance in the mid-1980s before he released the African-infused Graceland, which popularized world music while being true to Paul’s sound. To make world music, you have to embrace world perspectives.
  • Line Extension – Milk a good thing; the one technique every brand has down! Rhythm of the Saints was successful if less innovative than Graceland, taking Paul’s music from Africa to Brazil.

It’s hard to imagine managing a brand across five decades. Paul Simon showcases one way to make sure your brand is still crazy, and still relevant, after all those years.

Author Notes:

Jeffrey Henning

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Jeffrey Henning, IPC is a professionally certified researcher and has personally conducted over 1,400 survey research projects. Jeffrey is a member of the Insights Association and the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers. In 2012, he was the inaugural winner of the MRA’s Impact award, which “recognizes an industry professional, team or organization that has demonstrated tremendous vision, leadership, and innovation, within the past year, that has led to advances in the marketing research profession.” In 2022, the Insights Association named him an IPC Laureate. Before founding Researchscape in 2012, Jeffrey co-founded Perseus Development Corporation in 1993, which introduced the first web-survey software, and Vovici in 2006, which pioneered the enterprise-feedback management category. A 35-year veteran of the research industry, he began his career as an industry analyst for an Inc. 500 research firm.