From Buffett to Beyoncé

How Musicians Build Personal Brands

Marketing professor breaks down the business acumen of Jimmy Buffett
and other music stars who have followed his lead

Jimmy Buffett, the singer-songwriter who popularized not just a style of music but an entire low-key beach lifestyle, died earlier this month, leaving behind a legion of devoted fans who wholeheartedly embraced the slowed-down tropical daydreams that inspired his body of work. He also left behind an incredible business empire with an estimated worth of $2.2 billion, primarily on the back of one of his earliest hits, “Margaritaville.”® If you’re searching for a lost shaker of salt, chances are you’ll find at one of the 23 Margaritaville restaurants located across North America or one of the 45 Margaritaville resorts around the globe. Robert M. Schindler, professor of marketing in the Rutgers School of Business–Camden, studies the complex cocktail of factors that make brands like Buffett's resonate with consumers.

"Jimmy Buffett captured the passion of his fans and created something very unique,” Schindler said. “He became synonymous with a certain type of partying and was savvy in developing this into successful business ventures.”

The namesake song was released in 1977 and topped out at number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. For the next several years, Buffett primarily focused on his music but came to see the potential of his brand when he learned a popular restaurant chain was using "Margaritaville"® on its menu to sell drinks. After a lawsuit to establish copyright, Buffett opened his first successful Margaritaville café and retail store in 1985 in Key West, Florida, with an array of restaurants, resorts, and casinos to follow.

“Buffett's decision to go into restaurants and retail was forward-thinking," Schindler said. "It's not uncommon now for celebrities to develop and license their brand as a way to expand their business opportunities, especially in the era of social media, but at that time, it was fairly unusual."

Robert M. Schindler, professor of marketing at Rutgers School of Business–Camden.

Robert M. Schindler, professor of marketing at Rutgers School of Business–Camden.

While Buffett may have developed the most expansive restaurant chain of any musician, he is far from the only recording star to get into the hospitality business. Lady Gaga owns Joanne Trattoria in New York City, and New Kids On the Block singer Donnie Wahlberg started the restaurant chain Wahlburgers, whose history has been documented in a reality TV series.

Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville® in Nashville, Tennessee.

Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville® in Nashville, Tennessee.

These ventures are part of a larger trend in which musicians seek to build their fans’ loyalty through a sense of social connection, whether real or imagined. Beyoncé’s “Beyhive” fan club has become a devoted customer base for multiple fragrances that bear her name, and the ubiquitous Beats headphones brand was sold for $3 billion in 2014 thanks to the endorsement of rap legend Dr. Dre.

“The genius of Margaritaville® is that it captures Jimmy Buffett’s persona and leads customers to dream that he could walk through the door at any moment,” Schindler said. “There is a sacredness to celebrities that has only increased in the era of social media. The success of Taylor Swift’s massively popular world tour has been enhanced by the fact that so many of her fans—particularly young women—feel like they have grown up with her over the years, even developing a sense of friendship through her lyrics, social media, and the marketing efforts of her team.”

While Jimmy Buffett may now be enjoying cheeseburgers in paradise, his legacy as both a musician and a mogul will continue to influence the ways artist interact with and market themselves to fans. If you ever find yourself wishing you could enjoy a private concert and a cold drink with your favorite artist, it could be his fault.   

Grammy-winning recording artist Beyoncé

Grammy-winning recording artist Beyoncé

Creative Design: Beatris Santos

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