Man crush aside, I have an immense amount of respect for Trent Reznor as a musician and as a businessman. Reznor has proved time and time again that he ‘gets it’, and that with a little ingenuity and innovation, anyone can ‘go it alone’ and be successful. Trent Reznor is renovating the music business industry as more and more artists leave the big name labels in favor of producing and marketing their own music – and he’s leading the path with unique viral marketing that generates buzz, gets the fans involved and interacting with each other, and ultimately leads to huge profits.

Most recently, after hanging things up with Nine Inch Nails, Reznor’s made his way quickly back to the music scene with his wife Mariqueen as the front-runner of the new band, How to Destroy Angels. The band released their (completely free) six-song EP on Tuesday and leading up to the release, Reznor and Co. released audio snippets on their website and short HD video clips of the album’s recording on Vimeo and Youtube. Their first single “A Drowning” was released exclusively on Wired.com. Their first full-length video was originally released on Pitchfork.com. The band has been extremely active on Facebook and Tumblr, taking in fan questions and answering many of them directly.

In short – they are using the web to their advantage. They are a prime example of effective ‘Social’ marketing. They understand that in this day and age, people want to interact and be a part of marketing campaigns. They’re creating a buzz and leaving breadcrumbs that creates an ‘adventure’ for fans to take part in. They understand that a mass-market approach is no longer effective – they’ve clearly spent a lot of time doing market research, considering where their fans are and the best way to target them in their neighborhoods, rather than expecting everyone to come back to them.

And this is nothing new – The last several Nine Inch Nails were marketed in very unique (viral) ways. With Year Zero, the band created a cryptic website with hidden messages, printed t-shirts with secret codes, left flash drives containing the complete album in public restrooms, and used Google Maps to point fans toward free tickets and other items.

Like the new How to Destroy Angels EP, Ghosts and The Slip (two other recent Nine Inch Nails albums) were also released free of charge. Reznor clearly understands the power of ‘free’ – but you’d be kidding yourself if you think he’s not making bank on all of this.

Reznor appreciates the value of providing ‘free’ content (this concept applies to any and all businesses out there). But he’s not giving it all away. With t-shirts, posters, and ‘special’ album releases (With Ghosts, Reznor released a $300+ limited edition version that sold out within the first 24 hours), not to mention the profits from touring and playing live shows – Reznor is using the ‘free’ model to fuel and drive sales – and it’s working brilliantly.

How Trent Reznor “Nails It” with Viral Marketing

  • He understands our ‘pride’ in music: Remember when you used to love that one band before they got big? Now they’re on top 20 and you’re calling them a sell out? We’re all quick to brag about how we loved “X” band “before they got big”. We take ownership and pride in our love for music – and by releasing clues here and there, Reznor is encouraging his fans to ‘discover’ the music and spread the word for him.
  • He embraces the tools and trends: This goes back to the old-school music-sharing debate (think Napster) – while many of the ‘big names’ and labels in the music industry are STILL reluctant to embrace that music IS being shared all over the web, Reznor understands what’s happening out there, and instead of fighting the trend, uses it to his advantage. He’s a big part of the change, and because of this, finds himself two steps ahead of the game.
  • He values the power of community: Trent Reznor knows that his best marketers are you and I. The fans. Not a TV commercial, not banner ads plastered all over the web. He completely understands that we, as consumers, value and respond to the opinions of our peers MUCH more readily than we do a blanket ‘branded’ message. Writing a post like this and linking to the new (free) How to Destroy Angels EP is much more effective than a banner ad in the side bar. It’s common sense, people.
  • He provides something for free, without giving it all away. This is the big one. If you think Reznor is a sucker for providing music at absolutely no cost, you’re nuts. He’s effectively giving something away, but is offering a ton of ‘accessory’ products, not to mention continuing to build upon his massive e-mail list. He’s one smart dude.

What do you think?

Is Trent Reznor in a unique situation due to his long standing Nine Inch Nails fame? Do you need to have that ‘established’ recognition to drive a viral marketing campaign such as this? Can an up-and-coming artist (or business in general) be successful through viral marketing? What examples do you have of other businesses who ‘get it’?

(Photo c/o How to Destroy Angels on Facebook)

About Matt Cheuvront

I empower folks to do the work they want to do and live the life they want to live. I also watch entirely too much Saved by the Bell, run marathons, and drink plenty of craft beer. Check out the work my company is doing at Proof Branding.