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Marketing (Taylor's Version): The Digital Strategy Era of Taylor Swift

Theresa Schempp
By Theresa Schempp

Taylor Swift has shattered the expectations of what it means to be a worldwide sensation. In addition to her music career, which has captivated millions for almost 20 years, she has also proven to be exceptionally business savvy and has propelled her music success through her use of strategic marketing. As TIME magazine put it when they named her their Person of the Year, “how many conversations did you have about Taylor Swift this year? How many times did you see a photo of her while scrolling on your phone? Were you one of the people who made a pilgrimage to a city where she played? Did you double-tap an Instagram post, or laugh at a tweet, or click on a headline about her?”

“Apart from being a skilled artist, Taylor Swift is also an extremely innovative marketer,” says Sandeep Patnaik, program director of marketing at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC). “Her brand positioning is immaculate and highly effective.”

Here are some examples of how Swift has utilized effective marketing within her music and brand, and how future marketing professionals can learn from her strategies.

Swift’s Eras Tour First in History to Gross $1 Billion

Swift has released albums since she was 14, and as she grew up in the spotlight, her singing and songwriting evolved. She has explored genres ranging from country to pop to folk. She announced her Eras Tour in 2022 and would perform songs from all her past albums in an epic three-hour show.

The Eras Tour proved to boost local economies at a level rarely ever seen. At the first concert of the Eras Tour in Glendale, Arizona, she generated more revenue for the city’s hospitality industry than the 2023 Super Bowl, which was held in the same stadium. This economic phenomenon has been called the “Taylor Effect” by analysts, and has resulted in politicians from countries including Thailand, Hungary, and Chile asking her to play in their countries.

Her Eras Tour announcement came as she is actively re-recording her past albums, whose rights were sold to Scooter Braun in 2019. Resenting the loss of control over her records, she decided to re-record her first six studio albums, dubbing them “Taylor’s Version.” In these re-recordings, she not only added some small creative changes to well-loved classics, but also added songs that originally were not included on the albums, enticing her audience and fanbase to stream re-recordings in a way that has never been seen before in the music industry.

“The new versions apart from being better than the originals also had the loyalty of her fanbase,” says Patnaik. “The strategy had huge benefits as not only was she free to use the new materials as she wanted, but also she got to keep the majority of profits accrued from the sales.”

Patnaik said businesses can learn from Swift about how to continue to generate revenue through past ventures.

“Repurposing existing assets to generate new revenue is an important factor to consider for businesses,” says Patnaik. “Swift savvily portrayed the re-recording as a fight against an evil corporation to regain her rights. She was communicative throughout the process and her loyal fanbase was deeply empathetic about her plight and rewarded her by buying the new versions of her songs.”

Intentionally Using Social Media Platforms and Gamification

Swift’s rise in her music career happened while social media began to gain popularity. Her debut album was released three months after the launch of Twitter, where many fans were able to find and connect with her and her music. From there, she has used all major social media platforms to engage her fanbase including Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr and TikTok.

“In all these platforms, the focus has been on her ‘core competence’ as an artist and as a musician,” says Patnaik. “She has perfectly used social media and digital music streaming services to keep her audience engaged and entertained. Using Spotify and Apple Music, she’s been able to deliver content instantly and often at odd hours by design.”

As a businesswoman, Swift has shown she is not afraid to take risks and has proven she understands the power of rebranding, Patnaik said.

“Swift’s ‘rebranding’ of her already successful brand is something that I find to be particularly intriguing,” says Patnaik. “In 2017, Taylor wiped clean her social media history on Facebook, Instagram, etc., and suggested that the ‘old Taylor is dead.’ It was a dramatic and somewhat risky move but paid rich dividends as she was able to refresh her brand image.”

From a marketing perspective, this could’ve been argued as a move that could implode her entire career, since she’d already built a specific fanbase around her old image. But the success proves how intentional and strategic marketing can catapult a business to an unprecedented level.

“The decision to transition away from her old brand image even when she was still very successful shows her risk-taking and strategic approach,” says Patnaik. “It also shows that brands need to be refreshed periodically to help them sustain in the long term.”

Not only has Swift been active on social media platforms, but she has also used gamification to further engage her fans. She has been known to insert “hidden messages” in her music videos and social media postings that could allude to either new music she may be releasing or the date she plans to drop a new song. This gamification encourages fans to interact with all aspects of her social media or appearances, because they don’t want to miss something.

“Swift has leveraged social media to create the ‘buzz’ around her music. She may provide cryptic clues or create a puzzle to generate interest and engagement with her target audience,” says Patnaik. “In marketing parlance, she uses ‘gamification’ to arouse and sustain a sense of mystery around her impending offerings.”

Swifties: How Swift Actively Engages her Fans

One of the major reasons that Taylor Swift has seen music success is through her millions of fans. Her fanbase is so loyal and engaged that they have been dubbed “Swifties” by the public. This fanbase community has been thoughtfully nurtured by Swift throughout the years and continues to grow with her popularity.

“Swift’s genius lies in the fact that even though she is a billionaire mega-celebrity, the average fan can relate to her,” says Patnaik. “In marketing terms, Swift’s nurturing of her fanbase exemplifies the best practices of the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) process.”

Swift has connected to a diverse fanbase and has a history of advocating for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and social justice issues. Many who listen to her have essentially grown up alongside her, and her music has resonated with different points in life: songs about love, loss, heartache, betrayal, confidence, and forgiveness.

She shares her struggles and failures in a transparent manner that her fans find authentic and relatable,” says Patnaik. “In her songs she shares her mistakes and failures; themes that resonate with the average listener.”

After the popularity of her Eras Tour crashed Ticketmaster’s website and ultimately led to a lawsuit by fans, Swift partnered with AMC Movie Theaters to release a movie version of her concert so that more people could watch the performance. Bypassing streaming services ultimately paid off, and her film gave AMC its highest single-day ticket sales in history. This move showed her business power and furthered her emphasis on building her community.

“Swift’s main emphasis is to promote a sense of community among her fanbase. Her fans have dressed up in themed outfits, traded bracelets, and it was as much a communal experience as watching the concert recordings,” says Patnaik. “This fits right into the integrated marketing communication channel strategy and a virtual experience is socialized to turn it into a community event.”

Strategic Partnerships for Marketing

Swift has a history of leveraging effective marketing not only to grow her own business, but the businesses she partners with. While many celebrity sponsorships show the celebrity in all their aspirational “perfection” and associate it with the chosen brand, Swift has instead turned this formula on its head and shown her “imperfections” in her marketing partnerships, an approach Patnaik says helps her develop strong brand authenticity.

“Her ‘brand authenticity’ is worth emulating. In her songs and interaction with her fans she is unafraid to show her vulnerable side,” says Patnaik. “Be it in the Target ad where she is bumped on the head with the basketball, or in the ad for Apple where she faceplants on the treadmill, Swift has willingly shown herself to be fallible and not flawless.”

Some companies have seen success just from their proximity to Swift. When Swift began dating Travis Kelce, tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs football team, the NFL saw a massive jump in game viewership. Swift has collaborated with the NFL in the past; her song was featured as the opening theme in the 2020 NFL draft, and she also did a promo for the 2020 Super Bowl. Her attendance at a game in October propelled it to become the most-watched Sunday show since the Super Bowl.

“The NFL has been trying for several years to attract a diverse fan base, especially women,” says Patnaik. “Having Swift attending the game already has spiked interest among the Swifties. Swift’s committed followers will diversify the NFL audience and spike attendance in football games especially whenever she is present.”

Learn Marketing Strategies at UMGC  

UMGC’s marketing programs are comprehensive and explore how marketing strategies like the ones Swift is using can be applied to other brands and businesses.

The bachelor’s degree in marketing from UMGC covers market analysis, the application of technology in modern business, globalization, digital and social media marketing platforms and strategies, and more. In the Integrated Marketing Communication (MRKT 354) course, students can learn to deploy various tools appropriate for the product or service. In MRKT 394 Customer Relationships in Digital Marketing, students can learn how to cultivate and maintain relationships with their customers and fans.

UMGC also offers a Master of Science in management with a specialization in marketing that covers marketing analytics, search engine optimization (SEO), and more.

Students can also choose an undergraduate certificate in digital marketing or a graduate certificate in multicultural marketing.

No matter which UMGC program they choose, students can prepare to enter their marketing era by earning a degree or certificate that can be applied to a variety of industries, from music to football and beyond.

Reference on this webpage to any third-party entity or product does not constitute or imply endorsement by UMGC nor does it constitute or imply endorsement of UMGC by the third party.