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Creating Culture: The Rock Star Blueprint

By: Steve Jones, Brand Like A Rock Star | Nov 12, 2019

RockEditor’s Note: Join Steve Jones at MPI-CAC’s Signature Luncheon 11:30 a.m.-1:45 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 26, at Marriott Marquis Chicago. To register, click here.

When culture is done right, teams become tribes. Fans become family.

The Grateful Dead fostered “Deadheads,” Jimmy Buffett plays to his “Parrotheads,” Taylor Swift is loved by her “Swifties” and Kiss fans formed the “Kiss Army.” Those are four great examples of rock star culture at work. These fans are part of something special, and they know it. They are part of a tribe. Their tribe has norms, symbols, and practices. The artists, while they didn’t create their tribal following, carefully lay the groundwork for it.

It began with the Grateful Dead in 1970, putting a little note inside the sleeve of their album that asked fans to send in their name and address so that the band could keep in touch. By regular old mail, the Grateful Dead began to connect with their followers one by one. They sent out early versions of new music, concert tickets and updates on what the band was doing. The result became the “Deadheads”– a loose group of fans so big that the band could play to a sold-out audience almost anywhere, anytime.

Jimmy Buffett does the same thing, filling stadiums every summer with fans dressed in beach bum attire, tailgating with their tiki huts and portable blenders to blend their frozen concoctions. He’s only ever had one actual hit song, but he has turned “Margaritaville” into a lifestyle … a culture … a tribe. From restaurants and casinos to hotels and clothing, Jimmy Buffett has helped build a beach bum culture that has made him rich.

Today Taylor Swift continues that tradition, seeding her tribe with the kinds of personal connections you seldom see from rock stars. She scours the internet for ways to connect with them, from playing a private show for foster and adoptive families to paying off the student loans of a fan in college. Taylor invests in the culture of her tribe.

Investing is a great word when it comes to culture, because it requires a long-term investor’s approach. You don’t see overnight ROI on culture. You don’t immediately recoup your costs. Culture – from building rock star fans to building tribes at work – happens slowly and sometimes at significant expense. It takes intention, consistency, attention and communication to keep the culture growing, but when it flourishes, the results are incredible. When people bond around shared ideals, experiences, purposes and identities, they are part of something much bigger than a company.

Culture has an impact on every part of a company. When you get culture right, recruitment is easier, retention is a breeze, remuneration isn’t an issue and results are fantastic. Culture done right turns ordinary organizations into rock stars.

About the Author: Steve Jones is a 30-year music industry insider, one of the world’s leading radio programmers, and author of two highly-acclaimed business and marketing books, Brand Like a Rock Star and Start You Up. Steve taps into his experiences in the music biz to illustrate what great businesses can learn from the legends of rock. Gene Simmons of Kiss says, “Steve Jones knows a thing or two. Listen and take notes.” In engaging concert-like presentations filled with backstage stories, music, and videos, Steve shows how great brands can be as consistent as AC/DC, overcome adversity with the resilience of Fleetwood Mac, build incredible fan experiences like Jimmy Buffett, and connect with customers like Taylor Swift. Notorious rock star Alice Cooper says, “Steve gives you the insight of a rock ‘n roll veteran.” Steve has created and guided winning media brands in the US, Canada, and the Caribbean. He was recognized as International Radio Programmer of the Year at the 2014 Worldwide Radio Summit, and currently oversees 90+ radio brands in Canada as VP/Brands & Content with Newcap Radio. For more information, visit



Steve Jones, Brand Like A Rock Star
Brand Like A Rock Star

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