Prince passed away last week and the whole world mourned. Even my mom called to ask what I thought of Prince and his music.
Of course everyone was surprised by Prince’s untimely death. He didn’t appear to be a troubled soul like Kurt Cobain. He hadn’t been battling cancer like David Bowie. He wasn’t diabetic like BB King. He wasn’t 94-years old like Pete Seeger.
Still, regardless of the cause of his death, one has to wonder why so many people were aware of Prince’s passing. Of course it’s easy to write it off to his talent and his fame but I think it’s something else. I think we all care because we all understand Prince’s brand.
Prince Rogers Nelson’s second album, his eponymous release, went platinum in 1979 and established Prince’s superstar status. Over his nearly 40-year career he sold more than 100 million records. Plus, he won seven Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe, an Academy Award, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In 2004 Prince appeared on stage with Tom Petty, Stevie Winwood, Dhani Harrison, Jeff Lynne, and others to honor the late George Harrison’s induction into that same hall of fame. When he was later asked how it felt to be the best guitar player in the world, legend has it Eric Clapton apocryphally replied, “I don’t know, ask Prince.”
Besides his jaw-dropping guitar chops, Prince played piano and 25 other instruments. He wrote, arranged, and produced all his music. He sang, danced, acted in movies and on TV, and even wrote hits for other performers. Those songs include Jungle Love for The Time, The Glamorous Life for Sheila E, I Feel for You for Chaka Khan, Manic Monday for The Bangles, Nothing Compares 2 U for Sinead O’Connor, Sugar Walls for Sheena Easton, and Kiss for both The Art of Noise and Tom Jones.
Yet despite all this, Prince had a singular brand that can be summed up in one word:
Or, as he sang on his Love Symbol Album in 1992, “My name is Prince and I am funky.”
If you think about Prince, and what you love about him, I’m pretty sure the word “funk” or “funky” would come up for you, too.
What’s amazing is that this single word is all it takes to describe a guy who plays 27 instruments, has written hits (funky and not) for more successful artists than you can name, has won virtually every major award for performance (there is no Tony… yet), and was ranked number 27 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
All this, and yet Prince’s brand tells you exactly what’s in it for you with one word – funk.
Volvo stands for safety. Apple stands for cool. UNICEF stands for kids. Nordstrom stands for service. Wal-Mart stands for low prices. Google stands for innovation. Amazon stands for convenience. Now think about your brand.
If all of these companies can pare their extremely complicated businesses down to such simple and emotional descriptors, what is your word?