Since in a high school English class, I once used Pat Benatar’s “Love Is A Battlefield” as an example of a metaphor, her music has been around a while (as have I). So when I was fortunate enough to pick up her Best Shots greatest hits disc *free* at a tweetup/swap meet/BBQ in Ithaca this weekend, I realized just what an amazing body of work Benatar produced — and what she can teach us about branding.
In addition to her many solid, catchy, memorable songs, Benatar the entertainer has a lasting image. An unmistakably tough yet tender persona that always seemed authentic. Sexy, but never slutty. A string of hits including “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” “Heartbreaker,” “Treat Me Right,” “Promises in the Dark,” “Fire and Ice,” “We Live for Love,” “We Belong” and many more. (Archeologists cite her song “Invincible” as the only proof the movie “The Legend of Billie Jean” ever existed.)
But Benatar’s brand is substance with style. While so many acts from Samantha Fox to the Spice Girls sold sizzle but no steak, Benatar provided content. Quality content. Enduring content. “Love Is A Battlefield” pioneered inserting spoken dialogue into a video to help tell its story and provided a strong message of female empowerment. She scored a hit with “Hell Is For Children,” an unflinching look at the then-taboo subject of child abuse. Among her 10 gold/platinum/multiplatinum albums, some sold better than others, and she did make a (credible) foray into the blues, but she stayed true to herself and never did anything misguided or embarrassing (yes, Madonna, I’m looking at you).
If great branding is consistency, Benatar had it covered with good songs and her distinctive delivery and vocal style. With so many ’80s bands based on gimmick or image becoming one-hit wonders, Benatar focusing on music and messages provided her a long, influential time in the spotlight. Her popular albums, videos and nearly 20 top 40 singles led to Billboard declaring her the most successful female rock vocalist ever, so clearly her “brand” was successful. If not everyone is a Pat Benatar fan, I’ve never heard of anyone disliking her or not respecting her discography.
If you work in branding, think about Benatar in comparison to your brand. Is your marketing about gimmicks, or content and connections geared for the long haul? Are you authentic, or pretending to be something you’re not? Are you creating content that’s relevant for the next 30 days, or for the next 30 years? Is your message consistent enough to be recognizable, like hearing Benatar’s trademark vocals or the timeless opening riff of “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”? If not, aren’t those nice targets? Branding, like love, is a battlefield — but I think Pat Benatar’s career provides us a bit of a field manual.