Whether or not you’re a long-time fan, you can’t help but be impressed when a musician debuts at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in the fourth decade of his career. This past month, Weird Al Yankovic was everywhere. How the heck did he do it, and what in the world does this have to do with good business practices?
1. He’s known for one thing, and does it incredibly well.
Even if he’s not on your playlist, you know of him. He creates funny song parodies and plays the accordion. His identity has reached the point where any new parody is automatically assumed to be his, until proven otherwise.
The takeaway: Do one thing extraordinarily well. What one thing does your company do that makes it the Xerox or Kleenex of its industry?
2. He may be weird, but he’s completely professional.
Zany? Sure. But he’s directed, arranged, and written songs for himself, and other musicians. He’s known for his musicality and devotion to his craft. He’s also known for asking permission of the artists he parodies, which isn’t legally necessary—he does it to engender goodwill.
The takeaway: Build your reputation as a consummate professional. It goes a long way toward establishing credibility and longevity.
3. He uses social media. He uses it very, very well.
Prior to release, a series of funny images of Weird Al’s latest album, Mandatory Fun, was sent to all the usual outlets you’d expect. But the real impact came at release time when he posted a series of eight videos over eight days of eight new songs from the album. And instead of trying to do everything himself, he partnered with well-established websites and media outlets to co-sponsor his videos. The only place to see his first video, “Tacky,” was on Nerdist.com. The next day, College Humor did the honors with “Word Crimes.” And then Yahoo! the next day, and so on. Was there a buzz? You bet. And through it all, he posted his own tweets and comments through his usual channels.
The takeaway: Social media is a powerful tool, but can be incredibly time-consuming. Businesses need to either have in-house or outside staff to take full advantage of its opportunities. You'll also want to protect your brand by ensuring that your messages always come across in your own unique voice (this is where style guides and strategies for both content and "tone and voice" come into play). A consistent presence on social media is much better than a disappearing act.
4. He employs an amazing backup band that serves to enhance his message.
Whether Weird Al is singing in the style of James Brown, the Crash Test Dummies, or Lorde, the music is incredibly like the original. That’s because his band is made up of hardcore professionals who are well-versed in a variety of styles. Talented in their own right, they aren’t afraid to dress up as a potato or in a Devo outfit if the situation calls for it. He gives them a shout out every chance he gets because he appreciates how much his success relies on their musicianship and dedication.
The takeaway: A successful business relies on a strong team.
5. He’s not afraid to try something new, but it always has his unique spin.
Song parodies? Of course. Full-length feature film? Definitely. TV show? Yep. Children’s book author? Made the New York Times Best Seller list. Voiceover artist? You betcha.
A petition is currently circulating to include Weird Al in the Superbowl XLIX halftime show, and I can guarantee that if he does get to play, it will be one heck of a polka party.
The takeaway: Cement your corporate identity with consistency. Don’t balk at innovation, or branching out, but don’t forget to bring the distinct enthusiasm that only you and your business can bring to the table.
6. He has longevity and an outstanding reputation on his side.
Weird Al does not reinvent himself every few years to jumpstart his career. He’s been doing his own particular brand of humor and satire since 1979, and does it well. But perhaps the most important testament to his success comes from his peers in the music industry who consider it an honor to be parodied by Weird Al—count Dave Grohl, Lady Gaga, and the late Michael Jackson among his many enthusiasts.
Still, my favorite story has to be when Weird Al was at a party. He was standing near one of his heroes, Paul McCartney, waiting nervously to introduce himself. But before he could speak, the former Beatle turned to his then wife Linda and said, “Hey! It’s Weird Al!”
The takeaway: A solid brand plus doing one thing well, can and will earn the respect of your peers. Even being “weird” Al does not preclude a career that embraces musicality and the time-honored respect that your colleagues and customers will appreciate.