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What brands marketers can learn from the Taylor Swift Effect

April 16th, 2024

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Emily Singer
Taylor Swift

To call Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour a global phenomenon would be an understatement. It’s been a windfall for tourism and local economies, with tens of thousands traveling (sometimes across oceans!) to attend shows. Thanks to her relationship with American football star and Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, the NFL is also witnessing the power of the Taylor Swift Effect.

In more ways than one, Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour was years in the making. None of it would be possible without Swift’s iron-clad brand. Over the course of her career, she’s leveraged storytelling and audience engagement tactics to build a hyper-engaged fan base. Today, nearly everything Swift touches turns to gold, a phenomenon referred to as “Swiftonomics.”

What can today’s consumer brands learn from the way Swift has marketed herself and engages with fans? More than you might think…

What the data says 📋

Taylor Swift is impossible to ignore, posting 90% awareness across all demographics and 95% awareness among women according to Tracksuit data collected across October 2023 to March 2024.

Her down-funnel metrics are similarly impressive, with a consideration rate among women of 50%, usage rate of 49%, and preference rate of 19%. Put differently, half of all people who know of Swift listen to her music and nearly one-fifth of respondents would listen to Swift over any other artist.

While Swift already had impressively strong awareness as a pop music category leader when Tracksuit first began collecting data, in the six months between October 2023 and March 2024, her awareness levels grew by 8.7 million while usage grew by 6.1 million. The gap between consideration and usage narrowed with time, as well, with a difference of 4.4M or just 3%.

But perhaps the Taylor Swift effect is more apparent in looking at brand metrics for NFL teams among women. Based on data from January to March 2024, Travis Kelce’s team, the Kansas City Chiefs, have the strongest awareness (tied with the San Francisco ‘49ers), and significantly higher consideration and preference levels than other teams, clocking in at 34% and 13%, respectively. Based on Tracksuit’s data, no other NFL team has a consideration level above 30% and only the Dallas Cowboys (AKA ‘America’s team’) post a double-digit preference level (10%).

Alongside Tracksuit data, it’s reported that Taylor Swift has increased NFL viewership among teenage girls by 53%. In 19 to 24-year-old women, viewership has increased 24%. Meanwhile, Apex Marketing has calculated that Swift has generated $331.5M in brand value for the Chiefs team, and the NFL as a whole.

The role of storytelling 🎤

Taylor Swift’s numbers are only half the story, though. She has nurtured a dedicated fanbase that has developed a distinct culture, with language, rituals, and norms that go beyond listening to music and attending concerts.

Nurturing engagement and rewarding superfans

Theories about brand tribalism date back to the 1970s, when social psychologists Henri Tajfel and John Turner posited that self-image is partly defined by the groups a person is involved with. In the context of brands, tribalism looks like associating oneself with the company’s values such that involvement with the brand becomes part of their identity.

Swifties are a textbook example of brand tribalism, and while some elements of fandom appear to have sprung up organically, none of it would be possible without seeds planted by Swift.

Swift has been embedding Easter eggs into her work since her first album, when hidden messages were woven into lyrics using capital letters. In the years since, fans have found Easter eggs in Swift’s clothing choices, nail polish, music videos, social media posts, and more. This not only encourages fans to immerse themselves in Swift’s world, but also rewards them for knowing more and being able to spot Easter eggs. It’s also proof of intentional world-building on Swift’s part. She includes both callbacks and teasers, giving fans clues that she knows they’ll spot and find meaning in.

Introducing multiple plotlines

Swift’s romantic relationships function like brand partnerships, introducing her audience to that of another musician, actor, or sports star, and vice versa.

Now dating Travis Kelce, Swift is a staple at Kansas City Chiefs games. And the data reveals that her fans have followed, tuning into games both to root for the Chiefs and for an opportunity to spot Swift in the stands. The brand value of the NFL and the Chiefs has reportedly grown by $331 million USD since Swift and Kelce’s romance was confirmed. Swift’s first attendance at a game in 2023 drew 27 million viewers, many of whom were young women, making it the highest turnout for a Sunday night game since the prior year’s Super Bowl.

The NFL has leaned into this partnership mentality, posting videos and pictures of Swift at games to its social media channels as a means of welcoming Swifties and giving them a reason to care about (and follow) NFL channels. According to Forbes, the morning after Swift was spotted at a Chiefs game, the NFL posted about her 34 times across all social channels, generating 170 million impressions.

Eve Weston, professor of immersive storytelling at Los Angeles Film School, told Forbes, “When men watch football, there are characters—the players—and there is a story—the game. Essentially, it’s a war story,” adding that Swift’s fans care more about the love story. The NFL understands this and has made Taylor Swift a character in its storytelling. As Falon Fatemi wrote in Forbes, “Every micro-expression while [Swift] watches Kelce on the field is a part of this love story’s plot. And the [or secondary plotline] of this love story is the relationship forming in the stands between Swift and Kelce’s mother.”

Creating ripple effects and aftershocks

Brand tribalism is often less about the thing (or person) itself, and is instead more apparent in what happens around it — the secondary and even tertiary impact.

One example of this is fan-to-fan engagement through friendship bracelets, sparked by Swift’s Midnights song "You’re on Your Own, Kid." In the weeks leading up to Eras Tour shows, fans make friendship bracelets with lyrics from beloved Swift songs and trade them at the concert. According to Time magazine, sales of friendship bracelets on Etsy generated a whopping $3 million USD from April–August 2023, while The Guardian reports that buy-now-pay-later service Klarna saw a 915% increase in purchases of friendship bracelet kits in September 2023.

To more accurately document the aftershocks of the Eras Tour, news publisher USA Today hired a dedicated Taylor Swift correspondent to report on Eras Tour shows and all things Swift. Self-proclaimed Swiftie Bryan West was the lucky hire, likening the role to that of a sports journalist: “I just came from Phoenix and all of the anchors there were wearing Diamondbacks gear; they want the Diamondbacks to win…. I think that’s the fun of this job is that, yeah, you can talk Easter eggs, but it really is more [about] the impact that she has on society and business and music.” In other words, West’s role is just as much about the sociology of Swift as it is her artistry.

5 marketing lessons from Taylor Swift 👩‍🎤

Taylor Swift’s brand tribalism has its own set of norms that springs from her music, informing fan behavior and rewarding specific forms of engagement. She puts out an album and fans flock to it, decoding its every lyric and sparking discourse around it. She’s photographed leaving her apartment, fans ID what she’s wearing, and it sells out instantly. Through smart and intentional storytelling, Swift has created an immersive world that most brands can only dream of building.

While a probiotic soda company or clean beauty line may not sell out stadium tours and boost local economies, there’s still a lot that brands of any size can learn from Swift’s evolution and tribal fandom.

1. Be intentional and consistent with your storytelling

Swift shows us that consistent storytelling doesn’t need to mean saying the same thing over and over again. Each album she releases has a distinct sound and aesthetic (“Reputation” leveraged snake imagery and “Lover” was marked by butterflies and rainbows, for example). While the tone and tenor of each album may be unpredictable, fans have grown accustomed to experiencing new worlds with each release. Individually, Swift’s albums are self-contained stories, while her full catalog illustrates her evolution and growth as both a person and an artist.

2. Give people something to relate to

Early on in her career, Swift distinguished herself as a talented songwriter. Many of her songs center on romance, happiness, heartbreak, and anger — all intensely raw emotional experiences. Swift writes about experiences that feel unique to an individual, but are often deeply relatable. In doing so, she’s allowing fans to forge a connection with her and with each other, tapping into their emotional sensibilities.

3. Reward hyper-engaged fans

The casual Taylor Swift fan won’t care about Easter eggs, but that’s not their intended audience. Hidden callbacks and teasers are designed to reward Swift’s most obsessive, engaged fans — the ones who post on fan forums, manage fan accounts on social media, and more. Planting Easter eggs rewards and further encourages such behavior.

4. Foster fan-to-fan engagement

The Eras Tour friendship bracelets and participation on fan forums allow likeminded Swifties to engage with each other, share theories about upcoming albums, concert-related tips, and more. Identifying as a Swiftie is solid common ground from which friendships can grow.

5. Don’t be afraid to switch it up

When a brand has a focused point of view, as Swift’s does, intentionally branching into new categories can strengthen the brand’s identity and attract new fans. It becomes a means of demonstrating the brand’s malleability and storytelling potential. This is what has allowed Swift to become known as an international pop sensation, not just a country artist. It’s also why she’s partnered with artists across genres, like Kendrick Lamar, Bon Iver, Ice Spice, and Keith Urban, among others.

Let’s recap 👇

Taylor Swift built a powerful brand by putting out high-quality products and inviting fan engagement while still owning the narrative. She’s a master world-builder who knows that her fans are critical to her success, so she doesn't just bring them along on her journey, she invites them to participate in it directly.

Brand marketing, at its core, is all about storytelling. A strong brand needs a strong fanbase. You may not adopt an entirely new aesthetic each time you release a product, but you can always tell a new story.

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