How The Grammy Awards And Brands Deliver The Ultimate Experience

Tell me, other than "content is king" is there a more overused term right now than "customer experience?"

But as much as the term is overused, that does not diminish its importance and no one knows that better than those entrusted with the keepers of the Grammy Awards brand flame, namely CMO Evan Greene and VP of Marketing Communications Neda Azarfar.

Last fall I spoke to both of them for a piece I did entitled "Think This Is A Seasonal Brand? Think Again." Perhaps the most SEO-friendly title but the point of the piece was too pull back the curtain a little and show a side of the brand not many people were aware of. Trust me, it's a good read and not because I wrote it, but because you can learn about just some of the amazing things they do when it's not "Grammy time."

Paging Mr. Hammer, Mr. MC Hammer

For the past 6+ months, however, it's been Grammy time, to paraphrase Mr. Hammer. That's how long Greene says they "strategically plan" for the following year's telecast. He reminded me, however, that The Recording Academy, which he says is the foundational bedrock of the Grammy brand, is in fact a 365-day-a-year organization. "We are hard at work year-round, offering music education for the next generation, providing a safety net to musicians in need, advocating for music creators, and ensuring that music remains a valued part of our culture."

That's exactly what I was referring to re: my previous article on the types of work the brand does.

However, this is about the show, literally and some of the brands involved in making the Grammy Awards the spectacular experience that it is. And rest assured not just any brand will do when it comes to working with the Grammy brand.

"The Grammys are an iconic, established brand with global name recognition and as stewards of the brand that represents the best in music, we work to uphold that," says Greene. "We are driven by the integrity of the brand fit, rather than the economics of any given partnership. We are in the privileged position of being able to choose the brands we want to work with -- brands to which the Grammy can bring great value."

Greene said the brand partners they work with not only reflect positively on the Grammys, but also open up new opportunities for us to penetrate previously untapped marketing channels which enables them to reach new audiences.

"Our brand partners not only reflect positively on the Grammys, but also open up new opportunities for us to penetrate previously untapped marketing channels, enabling us to reach new audiences. Unlike many properties or rights-holders, the financial component is always secondary to the high caliber of the marketing/brand fit."

Their list of partners is impressive to say the least.

One such partner is CIROC Vodka, who for the second year in a row was the official spirits sponsor of the Grammy Awards. Dan Sanborn, Senior Vice President of Culture and Partnerships, who says the brand is highly selective when it comes to brand partnerships, believes the Grammy partnership reminds him of "the ultimate collaborations that make the Grammys great."

"From Eminem and Elton John to the Foo Fighters and Deadmaus - each year, the Grammy Awards celebrates these unforgettable pairings. In the same vein, CIROC's partnership with The Recording Academy and the Grammy Awards is the ultimate duo, marrying the liquid and modern luxury lifestyle of CIROC with the Grammys' legacy of support and celebration within the arts and music community."

Then there is Intel, who provided the fuel behind the mind-blowing David Bowie tribute performed by Lady Gaga. "She is an avid and early technology adopter of technology so we wanted to bring together the best technology with the best performer to create an amazing, unforgettable, innovative experience," says Steve Fund, Intel CMO. "This is the first time a brand and artist have partnered on a performance within the Grammys' broadcast."

This year in fact, marked the first-of-its-kind partnership centered around putting innovative technology in the hands of some of the most cutting edge artists to create the "Next Generation of Grammy Moments" according to Fund.

Raja Rajamannar, CMO of MasterCard -- who provided some very lucky cardholders access to a a series of concerts and special events during GRAMMY Week right up to the event itself -- says it's all about a universal passion for music.

"With that in mind, we decided to leverage our long-time partnership with The Recording Academy and celebrate music as a passion. This year, we provided our cardholders exclusive, insider access to GRAMMY winning artists and experiences leading up to Music's Biggest Night."

And what would the GRAMMYs be without sound? Enter Harman. "From audio speakers, to amplicifcation, to signal processing to the actual lightghting, Harman's brands power the show," says CMO Ralph Santana. "And JBL, a Harman brand, sponsors the Clive Davis party as well as the pre/post GRAMMY reception. But it goes beyond the brand sponsorship to the actual equipment that we use to power the show."

Social Partnership

During last week's telecast, the Grammys partnered with Billboard and Instagram to "provide millions of music fans access to the Grammy Awards and its A-list pre-ceremony events through the digital photo and video sharing platform" as per Colin Stutz on

"This partnership evolved from simultaneous conversations that Billboard was having with both Instagram and The Grammys," says John Amato, Co-President, The Hollywood Reporter-Billboard Media Group. "The three organizations have a history of working with each other. This weekend, Billboard and The Grammys brought music, and Instagram brought the music-rich platform and millennial audience."

Then there's the brand with the golden arches. McDonald's provided not only food to the stars backstage during the show but also to everyone who attended the Grammy Celebration After-Party. "We know our consumers love music and the Grammys is the perfect opportunity to connect with them," says Deborah Wahl, CMO, McDonald's USA.

Measuring Up

As to what the Grammys look at it in terms of metrics when it comes to measuring all that goes into the experience, the obvious one is TV ratings, but it goes a lot deeper than that for them, says Greene. "We are keenly focused on sentiment, engagement and social conversation across a wide and varied cross section of music fans."

Azarfar says looking at metrics however is only half the picture and that the goals set initially need to be factored in.

"For us--in no particular order--our goals are to drive and sustain tune-in; and to increase awareness and appreciation of music and music issues," she told me. "What you didn't hear me say is that our goal is to increase the social conversation."

"The Grammys are already the biggest social television event," she adds. "Our focus is not just on the volume of the conversation, but the context and content of that conversation. What's happening to cause that volume? 'Does it have anything to do with our brand or our mission?' For instance, if the numbers spike because there was a wardrobe malfunction, does that really constitute success for us? On the other hand, if we see people talking about music advocacy issues because we did a good job complementing Neil's (Neil Portnow, President and CEO of The Recording Academy) speech with relevant second-screen content--even if the numbers aren't huge, those interactions mean a hell of a lot more."

"So we pay attention to whether--beyond fueling it--we're actually informing the conversation? 'Do we hear our messaging echoed back to us?' Substantive brand messaging will never be a "Top Moment," but it should be a moment."

She cautions marketers however that "optimizing for big numbers can lead well-intentioned marketers down a path of stunts and gimmicks."

"So any conversation about metrics must start with goals. After all, the metrics I consider important may be different from the metrics you consider important. And, perhaps, that's just as it should be."

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