The Radiohead Guide to Branding Excellence


By Christopher Craft, {grow} Community Member

Radiohead’s masterful management of their brand is a blueprint for excellence. The genre-blending band became icons through their extensive and diverse music catalog, but the deeper lessons lie in how they keep creativity at the center of their brand’s promise. They record creatively. They market creatively. They distribute creatively. They perform creatively. I’ve recently learned that two of my favorite authors and branding minds, Mitch Joel and Mark Schaefer, are also huge Radiohead fans. This discovery has inspired me to present to you “The Radiohead Guide to Branding Excellence.”

Push The Envelope

With their seventh studio album, In Rainbows, Radiohead self-distributed a digital version through their website and allowed people to pay what they thought the album was worth. This had never been done before. In true Radiohead fashion, they pushed the envelope. Radiohead embraced the dwindling popularity of physical music medium and didn’t allow developments in digital music delivery to pass them by. There are questions about the financial and distributive success of the experiment, but it was ambitious nonetheless.

Take your brand to the limits in the areas of customer service, product design, and delivery. Standing out trumps blending in.

Create a Window Through Video

Radiohead has always done a good job of giving their fans a window to view how they work and play in creative settings. You can almost get to know every band member through the various personal studio and basement performance videos that they’ve released. My personal favorite is Scotch Mist, which was released on New Year’s Eve 2007 in promotion of In Rainbows. The well-produced video shows Radiohead performing in raw form.

Use video to tell your brand’s story. Video appeals to multiple senses and allows your fans and customers to connect with you emotionally.


Radiohead made it big with their song “Creep.” But they mentally expunged it from their catalog and removed it from live playlists and sets by the time they released their second album, The Bends. They knew they had more to offer as artists. They’ve shown time-after-time a lack of fear of pivoting by going different directions with their music. On their fourth studio album, Kid A (my favorite Radiohead album), you hear the band’s heavy electronic influence – a sound they had tinkered with but had never fully unveiled on their previous studio albums. You can depend on Radiohead to always present something new by going in new directions with their music.

The only thing that’s constant in the world is change. Sometimes you know what’s best for your brand. If a pivot of any kind makes sense for your brand, plan it and execute it.


Radiohead is famous for allowing their favorite producers from various genres to remix their works post-release.

Putting synergistic and creative forces to work with your brand will allow you to do great things with others without worrying about competition.

Be Unapologetically Human

Yes, they’re master musicians (did you know Thom Yorke can’t read or write sheet music?) but they’re also very open about their humanity. Radiohead fans love the fact that they don’t take themselves seriously. Check out this video of Radiohead messing up live in concert and totally having fun with the moment. Their fans continued to support them through the song.

Humanizing your brand is a common best practice. Follow through by actually doing it and allowing your team, fans, clients, and stakeholders to join and help you during your “human” moments. The only way this is possible is if you build trust with your supporters over years of showing and proving.

Chris craftChristopher Craft is a speaker and the author of O.P.E.N. Routine: Four Components to Personal Branding Excellence. He’s also the Chief Visionary at Nao Media and Consulting, a digital agency for the sports and entertainment industries. You can follow Chris on Twitter, connect with him on LinkedIn, and circle him on Google+.

Illustration courtesy Flickr Creative Commons and Oktobr

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  • Clive Burrell

    Great article. Totally agree there about pushing the envelope. Good example to use although I would never have put Radiohead in this kind of category!

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  • Chrissie Designs

    Great points. Personalising is so hard to do but I know most people really like it. Starting a business blog shortly and will try and push my envelope and get more personal.

  • Thanks Chrissie!

  • I appreciate it Clive.

  • Raymond Morin

    Brilliant analysis! I’m a personal fan of Radiohead, and admire their musical creativity, as well as their creative way for marketing their product. Thanks Christopher for sharing your relevant point of view.
    One month after the digital launching of In Rainbows, in 2007, one of my french colleague and friend here in Montreal,Quebec, Guillaume Deziel, well inspired by this experience, try the same experience with the band he was (and still) managing : Misteur Valaire.
    Since this time, the current international success of Misteur Valaire putted him on the front scene, and he’s frequently asked to present conferences about his case. The success of Misteur Valaire (as Radiohead) is not only due to the this new social vision of marketing cultural products (without marketing). The creativity and originality of the music and the live performance of the band will always count for a large part. But the works Guillaume did (as well the Radiohead’s team) is for great part.
    I invite you to read one of his article, on his own website/blog, which is relevantly titled : Musique 2.0 – Donner, pour mieux vendre!

  • Clive Burrell

    No problem. Thoroughly enjoyed this. Will the follow up be music based or could it be relating business to the world of Transformers?! Considering how you would expect an indie band like Radiohead to almost be “anti” media they are incredibly savvy when it comes to the marketing of their stuff. Oh yes, I agree, Kid A is brilliant….!

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  • Alan

    Best point : BE HUMAN. Nobody performs like Tom York. You can tell he loves what he does and truly enjoys his music. I think this is another aspect of the band that companies can emulate. When you are in front of a client/media, really let your true colors fly and prove to your audience that you enjoy what you’re doing. Personally, I’m always more attracted to a company/brand that has happy employees. There is nothing worse for your brand image than miserable unhappy employees!

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