The Radiohead guide to branding

The alternative band offers some good examples of how to successfully brand your business.


Radiohead’s masterful management of its brand is a blueprint for excellence.

The band became an icon through its extensive and diverse music catalog, but the deeper lessons lie in how it keeps creativity at the center of the brand’s promise. The brand records, markets, distributes and performs creatively.

I recently learned that two of my favorite authors and branding minds, Mitch Joel and Mark Schaefer, are also huge Radiohead fans. This discovery inspired me to write a Radiohead guide to branding excellence:

1. Push the envelope.

With their seventh studio album, “In Rainbows,” Radiohead self-distributed a digital version through its website and allowed people to pay what they thought the album was worth.

No one had ever done this before. In true Radiohead fashion, the band pushed the envelope.

Radiohead embraced the dwindling popularity of the physical music medium and didn’t allow developments in digital music delivery to pass it by. There are questions about the financial and distributive success of the experiment, but it was ambitious nonetheless.

Take your brand to the limit in the areas of customer service, product design and delivery. Standing out trumps blending in.

2. Create a window through video.

Radiohead has always done a good job of giving fans a window into how the band works and plays in creative settings. You can get to know every band member through the various personal studio and basement performance videos they’ve released.

My personal favorite is “Scotch Mist,” which was released on New Year’s Eve in 2007 to promote “In Rainbows.” The well-produced video shows Radiohead performing in raw form.

Use video to tell your brand’s story. Video appeals to multiple senses and allows your fans and customers to connect with you emotionally.

3. Pivot.

Radiohead made it big with the song “Creep,” but the band mentally expunged it from its catalog and removed it from live playlists and sets by the time it released its second album, “The Bends.” The band knew they had more to offer as artists. Time after time they’ve shown they’re unafraid to pivot by going in different directions with the music.

On the band’s fourth studio album, “Kid A,” you hear the band’s heavy electronic influence—a sound it tinkered with but never fully unveiled on previous studio albums.

The only thing that’s constant in the world is change. Sometimes you know what’s best for your brand. If a pivot of any kind makes sense for your brand, plan and execute it.

4. Collaborate.

Radiohead is famous for allowing its favorite producers from various genres to remix works post-release.

Putting creative forces to work with your brand will allow you to do great things with others without worrying about competition.

5. Be unapologetically human.

Yes, they band members are master musicians—did you know lead singer Thom Yorke can’t read or write sheet music?—but they’re also open about their humanity. Radiohead fans love that they don’t take themselves seriously.

Check out this video of Radiohead messing up live in concert, and having fun with the moment. Fans continued to support them through the song.

Humanizing your brand is a common best practice. Follow through by allowing your team, fans, clients and stakeholders to join and help you during your “human” moments. The only way this is possible is if you build trust with your supporters over the years.

Christopher Craft is a speaker and the author of O.P.E.N. Routine: Four Components to Personal Branding Excellence. He’s also the chief visionary at Nao Media and Consulting. Follow Chris on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. A version of this article originally appeared on {Mark Schaefer’s grow}.

Topics: PR

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