May 27, 2019 - Robert John Hadfield

KISS Your Strengths

Taking a Risk Using Your Unique Offering


In the early 1970s four young guys in New York formed the rock band KISS. Like most kids who form a band they were all music fans themselves and frequently went to see the New York groups that were popular at the time. But the four guys in KISS decided they could do something more, so they set out to create the band that they always wanted to see. And for them it wasn’t just the music, it was the show.

It didn’t take long before they managed to land a record contract, release and album and go out on tour. Somehow, in a time without the internet, word of mouth spread from town to town about their incredible show. A show which included a lead singer who acted like a Baptist Preacher, a guitarist dressed like he was from outer space, a bass player who breathed fire and spit blood and of course the facepaint.

As the word got out they started playing bigger and bigger venues. But even with their success as a live act, the first album barely sold any copies.

In less than a year they recorded another album, went on tour and had the same results; bigger venues and meager album sales.

So they recorded a third album and started another tour. By this time they were selling out 16,000 seat arenas across the country, but amazingly the albums still weren’t selling.

It’s important to note that in that era artists didn’t make money playing live, they made money selling albums. That was actually the point of a tour, to promote and sell albums. So, here they were, one of the most successful live acts in the country, and their record label was getting ready to drop them because no one was buying their records!

Then their manager had an idea that would change everything. The idea was to release a live album. He reasoned that the albums they were putting out didn’t have the energy and excitement of their live performances. He figured they should record a live show and put it out as their next album.

It seems almost too obvious today because live albums became such a common thing through the later 70s, 80s, etc. But at the time KISS made this decision, there was no precedent; no one had ever released a successful live album before. Not only that, but when KISS played live, it was just as much about what you see as what you hear, which naturally can’t be captured on a live audio recording.

So in an act of desperation, they recorded a live concert and prepared to release a double album. They called it “ALIVE!”

And to everyone’s surprise (and relief) the album took off and eventually sold over 500,000 copies; a Gold record. Suddenly their record company was completely on board with KISS for the long haul.

The album ALIVE! also set a new standard for musicians and record companies, from that point on a live album was often an important part of any artist’s catalog.

Gene Simmons from KISS often talks about the familiar term “Music Business.” He points out that the word “business” is just as critical as the word “music.” And there are some important business lessons to learn from ALIVE! The one I want to focus on is recognizing and emphasizing your strengths.

For KISS their strength was their live performance. They had energy and spectacle that no other group had ever had. They knew that was their strength, but when they recorded their albums, they approached them just like every other rock band. They were taking big risks with their live presentations, but they really weren’t taking any risks with their recordings. The two things didn’t match. There was disparity, and it showed in their sales.

KISS had an amazing product. It was a product with passion and energy that people everywhere wanted. But their recorded albums didn’t show it, and it almost cost them their career. When they emphasized their strengths in both their live and recorded presentations, everything changed.

But what is a strength? Sometimes a strength is simply anything that sets you above (or apart) from your competition.

This week I had a series of emails with a potential customer. We went back and forth on all the basics like file formats, naming, shipping, etc. And in our final exchange he asked a question about how competitive we were compared to another well-known company.

I took a look at the other company’s web site and read about them. The people who started that company were two entrepreneurs with some investors behind them. As I read through their bios I noticed that nothing in their background involved audio or video production, working with analog tapes, digital media, etc. As far as I could tell these two were just pursuing a business idea and had no real understanding or connection to what they were selling.

Interestingly, one of our biggest competitors years ago was a company in Seattle that had an investor and a couple of entrepreneurs, and they went out of business eventually.

The truth is, our processes are probably not all that different than these other competitors. So when I considered my exchange with the potential customer, I realized I had done nothing to emphasize our strengths. I didn’t emphasize our passion for analog media. I didn’t talk about our experience with the media and how we know what to look for to get the best results. I didn’t mention my thousands of hours of experience in recording studios doing audio and video production. I didn’t tell him that we are like an experienced pilot, if something goes wrong, we are the people you want working on your irreplaceable items.

But when it comes to something so personal, this type of differentiation can make a big difference. People don’t worry about price as much as they worry about whether or not the person knows what they are doing. I have seen dozens of companies come and go over the years in our space, but somehow we just keep plugging along. I have to believe it has something to do with our strengths. And it seems I need to do more to emphasize them.

Consumers search out the things that differentiate one product or service from another.

This week I attended orientation for a massage class I joined at Zion Massage College ( I listened closely as we went around the room and each person introduced themselves and explained what brought them there. I was the only person taking a single class, everyone else was committed to an entire year in order to get a certificate and become a licensed massage therapist.

As I listened I was especially interested in one person. She said that she had been looking at massage schools for a while and comparing what they had to offer. She listed all the typical things that she found in every school. Then she explained that she had ultimately decided to attend this particular school because of the unique things it offered. She proceeded to list the ways this particular school was different than every other massage school she had considered. She went on to say that she actually moved to this city in order to attend this particular school.

I don’t know for sure, but because of state laws and industry standards, I would guess that at least 80% of what you learn in each massage school would be the same. But that 20% literally makes all the difference.

Whether you are selling a product, selling a service or selling yourself (like a job interview) you need to find that thing that sets you apart. Remember that 80% of what you offer isn’t unique, so emphasize the small percentage of things that make you stand out. And remember, it may not even relate to the actual thing you are selling. In the case of KISS they were musicians who set themselves apart by emphasizing things that had little to do with music. They found a way to sell music by emphasizing something non-musical. There’s no reason you can’t do the same thing.

Consumers are constantly looking for something that differentiates one product, service or person from another. They WANT to find it; show it to them.


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