The best musicians in the world cannot be slotted into genres.  Take The Beatles for example.  There are numerous questions on internet forums and discussion sites that ask the question, “What musical genre were the Beatles?”.  This usually leads to a lot of debates, but here is a sample answer that really makes my point: “It is difficult to pigeon hole the Beatles so easily since they covered a lot of musical ground including Rock and Roll, Rock, Hard Rock, Country, Blues, Ballads, Psychodelia, Instrumentals, Soul, Folk, Indian, Symphonic, i.e.. not stuck in the rut of just one musical genre. However, it is most commonly accepted to assign them as ‘Rock.’”

Isn’t that amazing? And inspiring?  Could that be the reason why The Beatles have endured as one of the most successful bands (and brands?) the world has ever seen?

Closer home we can see the versatility of Gulzar.  Here is a video that is a compilation of some of his greatest hits.  It straddles the entire spectrum from soulful poetry and ghazals to raunchy item numbers.  Is this why Gulzar is such an evergreen favorite?

What’s the lesson for marketers from this?

We believe that the world’s most successful brands always end up crossing genre boundaries.  Take the iPhone, for example.  Is it a phone or a computer?  And is Starbucks a coffee bar or a youth hang-out?

In India we have the success of the Indian Premier League (IPL).  Is the IPL just a cricket tournament or is it a reality show?  It seems to have elements of the latter too.  Even if you ignore the additional drama caused by show cause notices and corruption scandals, the tournament had a generous sprinkling of Bollywood stars, business tycoons, dance, music, parties and what not.

The process led way to marketing is to define the category that you are going to be in.  To follow closely the best practices of that category.  To monitor the progress of the brand by monitoring market shares in that category.

But this leads to heartbreak as your me-too brand fails to truly challenge the established leader who had the first mover advantage.

The Unplugged way to marketing is to find a way to remix two different categories.  And thus create an all new category.  One in which your brand has the first mover advantage.  Where you define best practices and where market share is irrelevant.

The Unplugged way is difficult to do, but if you pull it off, the rewards are magnificent.