This post is a part of our 10 Elements of an Influential Brand series where we cover the essentials to building a powerful brand. Follow this series to learn how to attract an audience, keep them engaged, and turn them into loyal fans.
As much as people fear the unknown, we are equally driven by an innate curiosity to learn and understand it.
While being direct and forward about what your brand is selling can be effective, mystery can be used to help your brand spread organically. When done well, vague descriptions and lack of information can intrigue fans, creating awareness and excitement.
As they say, sometimes less is more.
Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter describes mystery tactics as "seduction," and told BusinessWeek:
"You cannot make people excited by giving them everything. It’s a process of tempting, of teasing, of creating desire."
In a highly connected world where everyone is constantly sharing their thoughts via social media, over-familiarity can backfire. If people know what to expect from you, then they will eventually take it for granted. Whereas, the unknown, the unexpected, and the mystique of something new can be powerful.
So how do you successfully nail the element of mystery?
Empower Your Fans
In his book, The 48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene says:
“Humans are machines of interpretation and explanation; they have to know what you are thinking. When you carefully control what you reveal, they cannot pierce your intentions or your meaning.”
So what happens when fans don’t fully know what you’re thinking or what your intentions are?
If fans are curious and hungry for answers, yet you continue to withhold information, then they will seek answers from each other. This can lead to a community of people developing their own theories, digging up random clues, and trying to decipher any piece of content they think might be relevant. Ultimately, mystery will help your brand grow through organic word-of-mouth and your fans will do the marketing for you.
This example is a snippet from our book series, The Primer: Music Marketing 101
It’s important that your fans are given an opportunity to discover and speculate.
Strategize and develop a mysterious storyline and plan that feeds off people’s imagination. Determine what details you will share and how much information you’ll withhold from the public.
Maybe you’ll do teaser trailers and short clips on instagram. Maybe you’ll promote an upcoming tour or album with cryptic images spread across a few cities.
You can choose to tell the story across multiple platforms or a single platform, but you have to tell a consistent story that’s easy to follow or connect the dots. For example, you can have mystery content in your music videos, on social media, or a physical poster or flyer. Or you can tell a story on your snapchat with seemingly random yet somehow connected moments.
No matter where you share your mystery content, make sure that the theme and message triggers fans to have the same mood, response, questions, and hunger for more each time.
Maybe you’ll decide to divide up the content as pieces of a puzzle that form into a complete narrative. If you spread that across platforms, then you’re leaving it up to your fans to discover the deeper meaning.
This is very rewarding, especially for those fans who figure it out early and earn the bragging rights as a “real fan” or someone who was on the wave before everyone else. The trick is to let fans gossip with exclusive knowledge that they think other fans don’t know about yet.
Key Tactics You Can Use
The following are some ways that you can create a feeling of scarcity.
Don’t explain everything you share. Seduce your fans with a teaser video, photo or blog post that alludes to something. Give them a taste but not the full meal.
Have a cliffhanger or “To Be Continued” at the end of a music video, song or teaser.
Go radio silent. You may have had a massive year full of attention, but then you go dark on all communication. This will make fans wonder what happened or what’s about to happen.
Keep your personal life completely private, especially if it contradicts your public persona and image.
If fans are asking questions, make sure you answer in a way that encourages them to ask more questions.
No matter if you use one or all of these techniques, make sure there’s a balance.
Don’t be so mysterious that you’re not accessible. Be tasteful with your mystery and provide the right information that encourages fans to guess what’s next but not be able to pinpoint exactly what you’re planning.
Although it might seem like only well-known and established artists can successfully pull off the mystery tactic, it’s possible for unknown artists to accomplish this too. In fact, an up-and-coming artist can establish and define their entire brand with mystique.
The Weeknd is one of the most legendary examples of building a brand with a shield of enigma.
For a while, he only gave fans music and elusive posts on Tumblr, Twitter and YouTube, but he made sure that he didn't reveal basic facts about himself. Fans had no clue whether it was a single artist or full band.
House of Balloons tweet
In an attempt to put the music and the aesthetic of the brand at the forefront, The Weeknd was able to establish an authentic image and values which eventually led to a cult following of fans who passionately shared or admired the lifestyle of his music.
The lyrics in the songs were the only context that fans had, so they believed his stories about sex, excessive partying and drug taking. By being anonymous, The Weeknd silenced any competing narrative or image that wouldn’t support the life he was portraying in his music.
As always, you need to have a quality end product to reward the fans who follow and engage with your mysterious plot. If you’re album, tour, merch, music video, etc. is poor quality, then your fans will feel like they wasted their time. They should be rewarded after waiting and speculating for so long.
Quality can make or break you when it comes to the use of mystery in your marketing.
If there is significant hype built up prior to a release and the music doesn’t live up to it, then it will easily be forgotten. Or worse than being forgotten, you'll disappoint your fans by not living up to hype you created. At that point, fans will doubt anything you put out in the future.
Predictability can become boring.
If a brand is growing, experimenting, and pushing forward, fans will anxiously wait to find out what’s next. In a loud and crowded market, a bit of mystery and stealth can help your brand’s story stand out and be memorable.