Authors: Efram Lebovits, Director, LEVEL5 Strategy Group and Bryan Noble, Analyst, LEVEL5 Strategy Group
Margaritaville. Cheeseburger in Paradise. It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere.
These Jimmy Buffett song titles invoke visions of sun-drenched bliss – imagery that momentarily transports fans of the 69 year old musician to a beachy paradise. But the care-free spirit Buffett exhibits on stage is in sharp contrast to the Buffett brand’s selective approach to business growth. Since Buffett’s first non-music business venture in 1985 with the opening of the inaugural Margaritaville restaurant, the Buffett Empire has grown incrementally to include a variety of offerings across several (somewhat) related categories culminating in over $1 billion in revenue annually. Margaritaville LLC, Buffett’s privately-held management company, has ventures in entertainment, retail, packaged goods, hospitality and charity.
Given Buffett’s business roots, one might assume that his success and longevity could be largely attributed to his musical popularity. But a brief look at the billboard charts indicates otherwise: Buffett’s 1977 hit song “Margaritaville” is the only song in his over 40 year career to ever breach the top 10, peaking at no. 8 – with the vast majority of his songs never reaching the traditional radio airwaves.
So if it’s not his musical popularity, what has been the key to Buffett’s broader business success?
Buffett and his management company are relentlessly loyal to the brand they’ve created
Jimmy Buffett doesn’t follow trends. Instead, Buffett has carved out a niche in his self-described “Gulf and Western” musical genre and every business decision since has seemingly been a natural extension of the lifestyle he showcases. He has a masterful understanding of his “Brand DNA” (the term we use at LEVEL5 to describe the guiding core essence of a brand), as well as the needs of his niche audience – “Parrot Heads” as they call themselves. In other words, Buffett doesn’t sell music; he sells a “tiki escapism” where all of his endeavours are underpinned/informed by that DNA. Buffett uses his brand to great effect in building out his business empire.
For example, the Margaritaville restaurant chain packages up live music and entertainment, boozy tropical drinks, an island-inspired menu and some kitschy / exaggerated décor. The restaurants are a physical embodiment of the escapist dream Buffett professes. And naturally, the establishments are located in warm and/or touristy locations – places that line up perfectly with the theme of ‘escape’. This model allows the chain to not only appeal to specific Buffett music fans, but more generally to others seeking ‘escape’ – all while reinforcing his brand.
Buffett is comfortable and methodical in his approach to growth
Buffett’s other ventures which include packaged goods and hotels don’t seem to have been established just in the pursuit of arbitrary growth goals. Instead, each decision seems to have been made after carefully weighing the needs of his niche audience and the upside potential – both dollar and brand. In so doing, each decision is ‘brand congruent’ and, as such, brand strengthening.
This brand based approach is also evident in Buffett’s charitable efforts. His Save the Manatee Club, which advocates for the conservation of Florida’s official state marine animal is a further example of managed growth. The conservation of Manatees may not have the same reach as other major not-for-profit organizations but Save the Manatees Club fills a space which aligns seamlessly with Buffett’s gulf-life persona.
The above demonstrates key components of building a great brand through active and thoughtful management. Buffett seems to live by one of LEVEL5’s key credos: “your brand is your business system”. His astute and disciplined use of his brand as a basis for strategic growth is something we applaud; it is after all a focus for us as we support our clients.
It’s ironic that the man who sang the words, “Indecision may or may not be my problem” has demonstrated laser-like precision in tapping into his brand and choosing how to grow his billion dollar empire. When it comes to developing a business system, Jimmy Buffett is living proof that a carefully managed brand can produce extraordinary results.
How well does your organization leverage its brand to build strategy and drive growth?