Music has become a digital experience. With the ability to stream music anywhere, at anytime, and for free, record sales have dramatically declined. Why buy a product you can experience it for free?

British band “The xx” combated this with the release of their third record, entitled “I see you”. The artistic direction behind their brand and album launch captivated audiences world-wide.

Their brand engaged fans by pulling them in to make you feel like you are part of a world they created, motivating them to purchase a record they may have otherwise just experienced digitally for free.

It started with an “X”

British band “The xx” recently released their third record, entitled “I see you”. These guys put a lot of thought into the consistency of their artwork and packaging. All three of their albums have adopted the same template featuring a large “X” on the cover. The colour, texture and graphics used in each of the three albums differ, but the “X” design remains the same.

What took the band’s latest artwork to the the next level, is the element of engagement it offers” fans. The packaging of the album features the signature large “X”, but on this occasion the “X” featured on a high-gloss, mirrored cover.

The digital release of the album portrays the reflections of the three band members as they peer into the artwork. The nature of the reflective packaging causes the mirror images to be distorted, creating a unique reflection.

The physical pressing of the record is mirrored packaging, minus the bands members’ reflections. The band encouraged fans to take photos of themselves in the reflection of the record and share the photos on Instagram. What it lead to was nothing short of incredible.

An ingenious engagement

Fans began getting involved as soon as the record was released. They enthusiastically took their photos in the album cover and posted to social media, immediately creating a buzz.

The texture of the mirrored surface makes the images distorted. It provides a level of abstractanonymity, encouraging everyone to take part. This also means the images focus solely on the band, rather than the fan featured in the reflection.

Most people experience music digitally these days. The album concept adopted by the “The xx” was an ingenious way to ensure the hard copy of the album was digitally relevant. Rather than the design experience ending with the hard copy hitting the shelf at home, fans get a further experience with the album – an exclusive experience that the digital customers miss out on. It’s like a little added bonus for fans who forked out extra. This experience allows them interaction with the band, as well as with other fans. The result? An artistic collaboration of sorts… and a lot of publicity for the record!

I thought this was pretty cool. So cool, in fact, that the record has been upgraded from my Spotify collection to my vinyl collection.

Consistent branding, consistent engagement

The mirrored theme of “The xx”’s new album is infused through every element of the band’s marketing and touring. It features everywhere, in every offical image or video.

All print marketing is printed onto mirrored paper. Fans around the world are seeing those ads and taking photos of their own reflections in them, which they then post to Instagram. The band encourages this engagement by interacting with their fans, regularly reposting the images and commenting to thank individuals (or the page admin is at least!).

The mirror theme continues to their live shows. The guitars are mirrored, and their live stage setup even features a mirrored floor. This creates amazing light interaction during shows.

Every live performance, advertisement, interview, social post – every single element of the band’s marketing has been touched with the same brush.

The band has engaged fans by creating a little world that they can be part of and through brand consistency, that world remains a constant. Which is, I think, what all good brands do.

What is the brand and business value?

I believe a brand should create a world that captivates and engages. It makes the interaction with a brand much richer and, most importantly, it makes it memorable.

When talking about music with friends, I talk about this album. Not only because it’s a good album, but because I am engaged and inspired by the whole artistic direction. It resonates with me and causes me to want to delve deeper into the band. Friends with similar musical taste may check the record out based on my recommendation… either way, I end up promoting the product for free. Exactly like everyone around the world has been doing with their social media posts.

The band has created a cult-like following. People are intrigued, connected and talking about the level of artistic flair. They’re even purchasing a product they can experience for free!

Finally, I was pondering how to answer the following question: “What if I wasn’t an existing fan of the band? Would this album have meant anything to me?”.

The answer must be yes. If I had only stumbled upon “The xx” following the release of this album, there is no doubt that the album would have, on “face value”, drawn me in. And, much more so than any of their previous albums could have done. It’s true that the actual music would have ultimately drawn me in, but what grabbed me was the branding and artistic direction.

The creativity behind the use of brand connected with me and led to me paying for the physical copy of the album. If the album was not marketed in such a way, it would be destined to live out its days in a Spotify playlist, right next to all the other music I like, but don’t love enough to own.

It just goes to show that strong branding and creative marketing are powerful tools.