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Learn From The Pros KISS Principle | Part 1

(By Richard Morales)
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                    We would be KISS, or we would be nothing.

It’s hard to believe that four guys who look like they just ascended from hell—clad in outrageous makeup, black spandex costumes, and platform shoes—could become an endearing thread in the fabric of American music. KISS invaded the music scene in the 1970s with hard-hitting rock-and-roll tunes and shows that broke the rules of the concert experience of that day. It wasn’t long before legions of kids sang the band’s songs and sported its makeup, much to the dismay of parents who wished they would behave more like those nice Brady kids on television.

But following KISS became a lifestyle for a lot of fans. Much like the Grateful Dead’s Deadheads, the KISS Army, as its most dedicated fans were known, followed the band from city to city in full makeup and dress and communed with other zealots.


KISS’s rise to stardom didn’t bring with it a number-one record or great critical acclaim. Nor did the band go on to win a coveted Grammy award, or many other major awards, for that matter. KISS did, however, win over fans and score big at the cash register, generating hefty profits for the band. 

The beauty of the KISS equation for mass acceptance and financial success is in its foundation of simplicity.  

-          Have vision;
-          Define an image;
-          Talk to people;
-          Give them what they want;
-          Package it with a dose of fantasy;
-          And make them a part of something bigger and more exotic than they could be on their own.  

But simplicity doesn’t mean absence of strategy, nor does it mean anything less than precise execution. 


KISS made the transition from fledgling to icon with the aid of a host of strategies from which bands, marketing managers, and record labels looking to enhance their fans experience can learn. The KISS saga focuses on: 

-          Building a fan base by capturing markets that competitors deem secondary
-          Capturing a unique position in the market by developing the entertainment value of their product experience
-          Developing a two-way relationship with customers that not only lets you connect to fans but lets fans connect to you
-          Creating a vehicle for your customers to participate in and live your brand
-          Creating and licensing a brand to expand global reach and adoption. 

Ø      Creating a KISS experience 

Just as it would be wrong to describe Southwest as just another brand of airline, it would be wrong to call the KISS product just another rock-and-roll brand. Admittedly, KISS never set out to be the best musicians the world has ever known. Nor did it set out to change the world with deep social messages and complex lyrics.  

KISS did set out, however, to give people the best rock show they’d ever seen. And it did set out to change the standard for concerts—focusing on the entire entertainment value of the event the band commandeered each night. The band also set out to connect with fans and make gobs of money along the way.  

Band members would make a connection to audiences from the stage, giving the fans something to talk about for weeks and remember for years. Unlike other bands before them, KISS brought fireworks to the stage, along with fire-breathing tricks, simulated blood, and unleashed craziness—tactics that focused more attention on the musicians and the overall concert experience rather than the music itself. 


KISS’s makeup became an important part of the aura of its brand. The fans started writing the band, believing that the group wore the makeup all the time. They wanted to believe in the fantasy, and out of respect to what fans wanted, explains Simmons, the band decided to keep the makeup on in public—at all times. It became central to the mystique of the brand.  

The makeup also provided an important relational component to the KISS brand. Not only did it communicate an image from the band to its fans, it gave fans a way to communicate back to the band, participate in the brand, and complete the two-way communication cycle. 

“Something definitely was going on between the fans and the band, a kind of you-are-us we-are-you; without you, we are nothing,” says Simmons. 


What KISS brought back to the stage was an element of surprise— a sensory overload kind of surprise. To this day, KISS combines creativity, escapism, and surprise into one action-packed event. The combination leaves audiences temporarily deaf and dumbfounded, but permanently delighted. Creativity and surprise are what some industry insiders say is missing from many musical acts today.  

Pushing the envelope of creativity and generating the unexpected can be risky and may not always work. However in the case of KISS, it certainly did.


Updated: May 14, 2008

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