I learned two things about Kenny Rogers this week.
First of all, before all the plastic surgery, Rogers looked like an exceptionally earnest husky dog.
Second of all, I learned that Rogers is a shrewd marketer. Like, super shrewd. Even back in his Kenny Rogers & The First Edition days he knew his message would reach more people if he partnered with the likes of Alcoa (the world’s third largest producer of aluminum) and Budweiser.
These days, Kenny is responding to the demands of his audience by releasing yet another Christmas album — his first in 17 years. “Once Again It’s Christmas” is Kenny’s sixth holiday album, which, as Rolling Stone pointed out, he (shrewdly) announced six months before Christmas 2015.
Naturally, this made me wonder what other marketing lessons small businesses could learn from Kenny Rogers.
After a week of listening to only The Gambler’s music, I compiled a list of hidden marketing lessons in the tunes Kenny chose to cover.
Here are three marketing lessons inspired by Kenny’s catalog and career.
Lesson #1: Know your target audience
Before you launch any kind of campaign, it’s important to know whether your audience generally responds to that particular marketing channel or not.
Kenny Rogers knows this. He knows that Kenny Rogers fans can never have too many Christmas albums.
He also knows that a song about finding out what a woman really wants is likely to resonate with every listener in a hetero relationship. In his number one hit “Buy Me A Rose,” Kenny and Alison Krauss sing about the importance of learning what speaks to your target audience (or significant other) instead of making assumptions.
In the song, a man assumes that his wife wants the fruits of his labor — a three car garage and her own credit cards — but what she really wants is a rose and some good old fashioned human connection:
Okay, so these folks clearly need to improve their communication skills. But what in the devil does this have to do with knowing whether your audience will respond to a particular marketing channel?
In short, don’t be the man in this song. Don’t assume you know what your target audience will respond to. Don’t try to reach them with a blog when they respond to coupons.
How do you figure out what your audience really wants? Research. To woo like Kenny, you might:
- Survey your current customers. (For more information on creating valuable customer surveys, check out this post from HelpScout.)
- Conduct keyword research to see what words your customers use to search for you. (Moz has a great guide to keyword research here. Though it’s more geared towards SEO, the process works for identifying paid search keywords, too!)
- Study your competitors. What are they doing to convince people to buy? (Wordstream has an “AdWords Competition Guide” here.)
These tactics should help you determine whether your metaphorical sixth Christmas album will sell.
Lesson #2: Use your customers’ language
Good copywriters know that if you want customers to hear you, you need to speak their language.
By this, I mean literally use the words they use to describe your offering.
This is especially important if you’re engaging in any kind of search engine marketing, as your customers will phrase things in their own words — which means their words are the ones you want to rank and purchase ads for.
Kenny Rogers is a genius at speaking his customers’ language. For example, back when he was in The First Edition, he convincingly delivered “dope and roll” tunes like “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” and donned a hippie persona, even though the internet seems undecided on whether he was an actual hippie or not:
Of course, Kenny’s chameleon talents shined when he realized he could market himself as a country crooner. He replaced his long hair and earring with disco-meets-Nashville garb, and with the help of Dolly Parton and The Muppets, people started to buy in.
Why did they buy in? Because Kenny looked and sounded the part, thanks in part to the simple language of country music.
“Love Lifted Me” was Kenny’s first solo hit, and it might as well be about opting to fill your copy with words that your customers have already said (instead of “say[ing] something nobody’s said.”)
The lesson here is that when you use language that your customers don’t recognize as their own, you’ll be more likely to alienate them and less likely to influence them.
So if you’re optimizing your site for search engines or putting together an AdWords campaign, don’t automatically go with the keywords that cost less or have lower competition. These words might be able to save you a buck, but they also attract less traffic because fewer people search with queries related to cheaper, less competitive keywords.
When you don’t use your customers’ language, you lose opportunities to rank in the search engines or score ad placements that your target audience will actually see.
The words you choose need to be the ones your customers use.
You need to make sure you're reaching your country-western crowd with "When nothing else would do, love lifted me" — not "I tripped on a cloud and fell-a eight miles high, I tore my mind on a jagged sky.”
So how do you know what words your customers’ use?
- Use the Google Keyword Planner to help you conduct keyword research. For tips on using Google to find your customers’ language, check out this post from Elisa Gabbert at WordStream.
- Browse forums and reviews related to your industry. Look for patterns in how people talk about your business, then steal their wording.
- Ask them! Take language from customer surveys when you conduct them.
When you grasp your customers’ vernacular, you’ll be on the right path to ranking on the internet marketing charts (err...search engines).
Lesson #3: Effective search marketing requires gambling
Unfortunately, the Google Keyword Planner can’t give you a “yes” or “no” answer about whether your customers use a particular keyword. You have to make the call.
You have to do what Kenny would do.
Kenny is good at using all of the tools at his disposal to determine who his target audience is and what they want, but he’s also willing to gamble when necessary in his career and in his personal life.
Case in point: Kenny’s plastic surgery. It’s a risky move to alter a face that everyone loves, but what’s a country superstar to do when rapid aging is already changing his mug?
Should Kenny have held onto his famous puppy-dog eyes instead of folding at the promise of a younger, sexier appearance? Should he have run out of the surgery center?
Even though I bet the doctor showed Kenny a computer simulation of his “after” face, deciding whether or not to get surgery was ultimately a judgement call. The same kind you make when you decide whether a keyword is worth your money or not.
Kenny sings about judgement calls like these in his hit “The Gambler”:
“The Gambler,” on the surface, is a song about playing poker on a midnight train to nowhere with a cowboy card sensei. Over the course of the ballad, young(ish) Rogers learns key life and poker lessons reinforced by a chorus so catchy you’ll find yourself humming it at the most inappropriate times. (Like when you’re trying to maintain your poker face).
Besides poker and one’s temper, you know what these lyrics could refer to? How about deciding whether or not to bid on a high-value, high-competition keyword when you have a teeny tiny budget?
To be successful at targeting popular, high-value keywords, “you’ve got to know when to hold’em” (or make the bid/bet on a keyword) or “when to fold’em” (and say “my poker face isn’t good enough to get one conversion out of the two clicks that I can afford.”)
The Google Keyword Planner cannot teach you when it’s worth it to bid on a keyword or not — that’s something only experience can teach you. This requires that you put your campaign under the knife and gamble.
Of course, you should use the tools available to you as you learn whether to hold’em or fold’em. You can improve your judgement by:
- Stealing strategies from AdWords experts like Larry Kim. This webinar will teach you how Kim decides when to walk away and when to run.
- Getting AdWords certified. We’ve put together an AdWords certification FAQ here.
- Studying the psychology of what makes PPC ads irresistible. That way, even if your keywords are kind of a gamble, your ads can be as spot-on as human psychology allows!
So while we can’t know whether Kenny Rogers knows what Google AdWords is, we can still learn a lot about marketing from his songs and his career.
Do yourself a favor and remember Kenny’s wisdom as you put your next campaign together.
- Know when it’s better to buy your customer a rose instead of giving them their own credit cards.
- Don’t aim to say something nobody’s said — aim to say what your customers say instead.
- Learn when to hold’em and when to fold’em — when to give up on a campaign or when to pursue a particular keyword.
Who knows, someday your business could be as famous as Kenny!
Know of more marketing lessons we can learn from Kenny R.? Do you get “The Gambler” in your head as you conduct keyword research? Let us know in the comments, or via Twitter at @WTCMarketing.