What Carole King, James Taylor Taught Me About Marketing

First Order of Business: Be a Friend

By Published on .

Lawrence Kimmel
Lawrence Kimmel

I admit it. I've been seduced by Carole King ... and James Taylor. And the experience can teach us all a lot about relationship marketing.

Let me explain. Forty years ago, James Taylor released his only No. 1 single: "You've Got a Friend." That same year, Carole King -- who wrote "You've Got a Friend" -- put it on her No. 1-selling album, "Tapestry." That was the year their friendship began.

In 2010, their joint concert tour, "Troubadour Reunion," was a blockbuster, grossing $63 million in just 58 nights. The tour set a record at Madison Square Garden and Tanglewood for gross and attendance. It also raised $1.4 million for 81 national and local charities.

What makes this pair, at 69 (King) and 62 (Taylor), so hot? It's not only that they're extremely talented artists, they also really understand relationship marketing.

I got exposed to their concert tour by emails from both of them, which let me know that I could buy tickets in advance. (I felt special.) They told me the story of their relationship four decades ago. (I was intrigued.) They offered me the opportunity to choose a song for them to sing and the chance to win a seat on stage during their concert. (I was engaged.) They let me know that there would be a charitable component to their concert.(It felt good, and it was aligned with the sentiment of their peace/love generation.) I was sold.

According to Sam Feldman, James Taylor's manager, their marketing campaign also included viral marketing, efforts that leveraged their charity partners' mailing lists, a presale to American Express' database and VIP tickets that allowed seating on stage with a chance to be at James and Carole's sound check. And it all worked.

Ultimately, the concert was great. They used a unique revolving round stage, which gave every fan a center seat and enabled Madison Square Garden to sell 4,000 extra seats.

After the event, James Taylor and Carole King emailed me and told me about their other tour dates, their success raising money and their new film. (I felt part of the family.)

All of the communications they sent were simple and on-brand, and made me and their other "friends" feel special.

I truly believe that what's at the heart of great marketing culminates in a great relationship. The "heart" of marketing includes some things you may not think of as romantic -- leveraging data, customer centricity and accountability -- the components that enable marketers to get to their customers' heartstrings.

When Ad Age asked me to write about this tour, I was a bit apprehensive. I didn't want to write about artists from 40 years ago; I wanted to write about the latest marketing techniques. However, this campaign did so much right from a relationship-marketing perspective, I decided to share my thoughts.

You see, I believe that communication techniques change and evolve. But what never changes are some essential marketing tenets: the importance of understanding the people you're communicating with, making them feel special, and conveying your messages with consistency and sincerity.

James Taylor and Carole King have been singing about relationships and friendship for a long time. They know what they're talking about, and they also reminded me what makes a great relationship. As far as I'm concerned, the best relationships usually aren't new; they're built over time.

Lawrence Kimmel is CEO of the Direct Marketing Association.
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