This topic was hotly debated at SXSW, which featured a number of panels and forums debating this area. Digital Music News interviewed some key folks who were there, many of whom commented that "speaking the right language is the first step to securing lucrative partnerships," as is "understanding the consumer, where to reach them and how to target them."
As music-brand partnerships heat up, management and labels will need to better communicate what it is that the artist can offer the brand, and that will best come from understanding what the artist's "brand equity"and marketing objectives are, and how these relate to the consumer brands that they want to partner with.
Having a better understanding of the artist's fans/consumers will not only help create better-informed brand-music partnerships, but it will also help artists make smarter business decisions. For example, would better consumer insights amongst the Nine Inch Nails fanbase have shown that they could have had even more success last week with self-released album "Ghosts I-IV?" Would the fanbase have borne 5,000, 10,000 or even 15,000 "Ultra-Deluxe" limited editions? Trent Reznor has done a fantastic job of maintaining the "Nine Inch Nails" brand, and his guerrilla and viral strategies have generated a lot of buzz. But maybe he could do some more research the next time he self-releases an album; the math of a success would far outweigh the math of conducting consumer surveys to find out.