Admittedly a bit delayed, this past weekend I finally got round
to watching "Searching for
Sugarman". Not only did the film captivate me for its full
duration, I now understand why all the fuss surrounding the film is
warranted… because it has key lessons for marketing and branding,
The documentary tells the tale of two Capetonian fans searching
for the truth of what had become of the mysterious musician, Sixto
Rodriguez's career initially proved short-lived with two albums
in the early 1970s. While these albums never really made it in the
States, completely unbeknown to him, they became extremely
successful and influential in South Africa. Upon eventually
tracking down his whereabouts, Rodriguez was found to live a
"drifters" lifestyle, making ends meet as a construction worker in
Detroit, Michigan - a far cry from the way he was perceived in a
country halfway across the world.
Almost 28 years after the release of his first album,"Cold
Fact", Rodriguez toured South Africa for the first time, playing
six concerts in front of thousands of people and since then the has
returned multiple times to play for adoring fans - an extraordinary
sequence of events to say the least.
Aside from the inspiring nature of this story, I found myself
questioning why an artist with such talent could essentially flop
in one market and boom in another. Giving it some thought I
realized there was something fundamental that contributed to
Rodriguez's success… it was relevance.
In the mid-seventies, South Africa was at the height of its
struggle with the Apartheid regime when the album "Cold Fact"
reached the country by chance. While many of the songs became
popular, one song on the album in particular "The establishment
blues" seemed to speak directly to young South Africans at that
I believe it was not simply his catchy tunes or unique voice
that brought Rodriguez success in the South African market, but
rather it was what he believed in and the way he saw the world that
completely aligned with what many South Africans were feeling at
the time. Lyrics suchas "the system's going to fall soon, to an
angry young tune"inspired many listeners to rebel against the
regime and act to change the society for the better.
Essentially, Rodriguez's message was (hyper) relevant for the
South African market, which I feel is the main reason for his
If this is indeed true, then one needs to ask the question… If
Rodriguez, without even trying, became successful by simply being
relevant, imagine what success brands could achieve if they were
continuously striving to be relevant for consumers.
We live in time where it is becoming increasingly important for
brands to differentiate themselves by sharing unique and meaningful
experiences with customers. A brand can no longer rely on simply
"singing a catchy tune" in the hope that consumers will relate and
engage with it.
Rather, in order for a brand to truly connect with its market,
it mustunderstand exactly how consumers interpret the way it lives
its beliefs. Turning this understanding into action, a brand can
effectively respond to specific market realities and adjust its
behaviour where necessary.
A brand with a strong belief is one thing… successfully sharing
this belief with others who treasure it is what being a relevant
brand is all about. If a brand can achieve this, it has a far
greater chance of turning its target market into a "Sugar
Image: Hal Wilson, Sony Picture Classics