Chris Nardone: “Control your controllables”

Start by clearly defining the “why’s” behind your brand. The goal is to zoom out as far as possible. Why are you in business in the first place? And why should people care about what you have to offer? We find a lot of times people haven’t forced themselves to really think through these questions. […]

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Start by clearly defining the “why’s” behind your brand. The goal is to zoom out as far as possible. Why are you in business in the first place? And why should people care about what you have to offer? We find a lot of times people haven’t forced themselves to really think through these questions. Once you start to dig in you’ll start fleshing out some important philosophical ideas that will inform the next steps.

As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Chris Nardone.

Nashville-based Chris Nardone is the CEO and founder of Venture Music. With a degree in finance from University of Georgia, Nardone always knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur. During his senior year, Nardone was one of the first students to be accepted into the school’s new Music Business program. This is where Nardone discovered he wanted to pursue a career in music and he has spent the last decade doing so. Right out of school, Nardone began managing and developing artists from Georgia, while spending a lot of time in Nashville. Eventually making the move to Music City, Nardone attended the EO’s Catalyst program at the Entrepreneur Center, led by legendary entrepreneur and teacher Michael Burcham, in an effort to find an innovative path in the music industry. Through the program, Nardone saw the opportunity to pivot from a traditional artist management firm to a trusted resource for creating and executing digital strategies. With an informed new business model and that mindset, Nardone built Venture Music into what it is today: a marketing collective developed to suit the ever changing needs of the music industry.

Thank you so much for doing this with us!

Of course! Thank y’all for the invite!

Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Music has always been a constant obsession in my life. But for whatever reason my dream and obsession since childhood was to be an entrepreneur and start a company.

My senior year in college, I was about to graduate with a degree in Finance during the peak of the Great Recession in 2009. I wanted to follow my passion and skip all the job interviews ahead. I just had no idea what I actually wanted to do in the real world. A career in music had never crossed my mind. But around that time, I figured out the University of Georgia recently started a Music Business Program. I applied and the stars aligned. I had exactly the right number of elective hours left to complete the certificate program in my last two semesters.

A few months into my first semester, Alan Walden (co-founder of Capricorn Records) took the time to speak to our class. Looking back now, that lecture was life changing for me. Alan was candid with us and opened up about the early days of starting a record label (in Georgia of all places), finding and developing ground-,breaking talents like Otis Redding, Al Green, Percy Sledge, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and so many others… Hearing his story was the beginning of my motivation to pursue a career in music.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing or branding mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

At this point, there are sooo many mistakes and embarrassing moments that it’s tough to keep up. Thankfully none of them have been significant enough to stick out. At least right now… That in itself is actually the most helpful advice I could offer. Dwelling on mistakes isn’t productive. Keeping those mistakes readily available in the memory bank isn’t productive for me either. Owning mistakes, accepting responsibility, learning how to improve, and then getting over the hurdle of embarrassment is a process that gets better with practice, in my experience.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?

As a company, our tipping point has really come in the past year. We’d been experimenting with digital marketing strategies in the music industry for more than a decade but on a very small scale. We made a very conscious decision to take risks in building out our team in 2019. Each new addition to our team strengthened our ability to do great work, which then provided us more referrals and then supported our growth. Our team has grown from 3 to 9 in the past year, and our ability to work together is what’s allowed that in the first place.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We’ve been working on a new program we’ll launch this Fall called Venture Academy. We set out to distill down the big picture experience and expertise we offer as music marketers into a 12-week online course. Our goal is to expand our reach and help give DIY self-starters in the music industry a useful template for what works in 2020. A lot of what we see out there now is either outdated or just not really useful in the real world.

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

My goal is to focus on the people. Not the work. We have a unique power as marketers. If you focus on using that power to connect people with things that make a positive impact in their life, the work can be incredibly fulfilling. I’m not sure I could ever get tired of that feeling.

Ok, let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

Music is a unique product. It’s always required a dynamic approach to marketing. Our clients and their customers (fans) have a deep emotional attachment to each other. We have to treat that relationship with more respect and integrity than a typical B2B 0r B2C relationship. We start by creating two funnels based on the size of the artist. Splitting up strategies between: brand marketing (creating awareness) and direct marketing (converting sales). It’s important to know when and how to push for sales conversions depending on the size of our client’s fanbase. With new acts, we might be 100% focused on brand marketing for months before we try to actually generate income.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

Branding is the one common denominator in everything we do. It’s always our starting point with every new project. A brand is a lot more than just a logo. I like to think of it as the feeling or story a customer has in their mind when deciding whether or not to click an ad or buy a product. If that story isn’t compelling, or ultimately isn’t in line with the client’s stated vision for the future, we know we need to regroup.

Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?

We usually have some sort of rebranding conversation with every new project. Artistic brands are always evolving to some degree, but it’s important to keep certain constants when it comes to the name or core personality. Doing a total rebrand is a unique opportunity to start fresh with a clean slate. Sometimes it’s an extremely useful tool to have in the arsenal.

Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?

Doing a total brand makeover can be a huge setback or at its worst, a total catastrophe. In most cases, there’s no easy way to convert existing followers or customers. Using a successful artist or band as an example. Simply changing the name can throw off trajectory for years, and sometimes indefinitely. So, it’s important to create a clear plan and then commit to a total brand makeover.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image”? Please tell us a story or an example for each.

Start by clearly defining the “why’s” behind your brand.

  • The goal is to zoom out as far as possible. Why are you in business in the first place? And why should people care about what you have to offer? We find a lot of times people haven’t forced themselves to really think through these questions. Once you start to dig in you’ll start fleshing out some important philosophical ideas that will inform the next steps.

Define your target audience by creating hypothetical personas.

  • Creating hypothetical characters to define your target audience will do wonders for maintaining a clear idea of who your customers are. We like to give them a name, “Jamie is a sophomore at UT in Austin.” Then the goal is to be as descriptive as possible. Create multiple personas to give a more well-rounded picture of your audience.

Research similar brands both you and your target audience respect.

  • For me, understanding the success of other similar brands is the only way to start defining a clear template for a new brand. It’s important not to imitate. Put in the work to figure out what works and why. Then borrow bits and pieces of what you like from as wide a range as possible.

Hire outside help when you can afford it.

  • It’s easy to get stuck when you and your team are working to retool your own brand. We’ve hit a handful of roadblocks like this as a team in the past. A lot of times, we’re just too close to the work, and we need a fresh outside perspective to help bring it all together.
  • The good news is, working through steps 1–3 first will provide someone outside your organization with a clear template of what you’re looking for. That will ensure you’ve found the right person for the job and can keep the cost to a minimum.

Stay committed to the plan.

  • Flipping a switch with a logo or a new website happens in an instant. Re-energizing the story behind a brand is a process that can take months or years. Commit to the process. Be open to feedback and be willing to pivot along the way.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job doing a “Brand Makeover”. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

Netflix is a great company to use as a case study. The way they successfully managed the real-world execution of a brand makeover on that scale is so rare. Long story short, in 2011 Netflix had come up with a plan to prepare for the future and split up into two services: Netflix would become an online streaming service, and their existing DVD by mail subscription service would be renamed Qwikster. The backlash that ensued threatened to bankrupt the entire company. Instead, they listened to feedback, retooled their plans, and persevered to success.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’d still be focused on music! A great song can unite people and inspire change in ways that are kind of unparalleled. When you combine that with the power an artist has to use their voice and be a leader, incredible things can happen.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Control your controllables.” Honestly not even sure where I learned it at this point… I should probably figure that out, because it’s really the foundation of everything we do now. We have to trust that if we focus on doing great work, great things will happen. There are 100 different ways that something could go wrong (i.e. a global pandemic). If we choose to let those uncontrollable factors distract us, or discourage us, we won’t be able to focus on being our best.

How can our readers follow you online?

Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.

Thank YOU!

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