How To Build A Brand As Successful As 'Hamilton'

The hip-hop musical about one of America’s Founding Fathers is nominated for 16 Tony Awards, more than any other show in Broadway history.  It’s nominated in just about every category: Acting, writing, directing, dance, music and design. The Broadway production is sold out well into next year and is the hottest ticket in town.  A recent article in The New York Times Magazine estimated that the show earns $500,000 a week and could surpass $1 billion in ticket sales in New York alone.

How did the creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, build such a successful brand and what can we learn from him?

 

- Create Something New: The idea for Hamilton started when the creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, read a biography about Alexander Hamilton and saw someone who embodied hip-hop.  It’s a thought that I doubt many people have had.  Deciding to compose a show around the historical figure, he decided to ditch the “traditional” Broadway songs and instead focus on hip-hop.  Here’s a great Spotify playlist exploring some of his influences, which range from Big Pun to Julie Andrews.

 He didn’t start writing a musical for the exercise; he was inspired to create something new and interesting.  I see a lot of startups just copying an existing idea, in order to say that they created something. After working for Gymsurfing, I had a lot of startups reach out to me to help them grow their sales.  The overwhelming majority of them weren’t bringing anything new to the table.  Most of the elevator pitches I heard went something like this, “We’re the Uber for X or we’re the Classpass for Y.”  Not only were these ideas unoriginal and uninspired, but similar companies already existed.

Inspiration doesn’t come every day, so sometimes you need to wait for the right idea in order to be successful. 

A recent article in Rolling Stone described Miranda’s meeting with LL Cool J. “I remember asking him, ‘Are you going to make any new music?’  And he said to me – this is a great quote and it’s always sort of stayed with me – ‘I don’t want to make something that isn’t a classic.’  But the way he said it was, ‘I want to work in marble.’  That really stuck with me.  So when he came to the show, I said, ‘I tried to work in marble sir.’”

 

-Set A Lofty Goal: The goal doesn’t need to be formal or involve elaborate bar graphs but it does need to seem unattainable. Miranda’s goal was simple:  To have the hip-hop community embrace his show.  Not an easy task, considering the hip-hop and theatre worlds rarely crossed paths. He measured his goal by tracking who attended his show and listening to their feedback.  Some of the attendees that loved his work were Andre 3000, Jay Z, Beyoncé, Eminem and Nas.  

And don’t sell yourself short.

As famed self-help guru Norman Vincent Peale once said, “Shoot for the moon.  Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

 

-Be Bold: In 2009, Miranda was invited to perform music from his Broadway show, In The Heights, at the White House. Instead he performed the first song from The Hamilton Mixtape, which would later become Hamilton's opening number. 

Promote yourself or your product on the biggest stage that you’ve got and don’t be afraid to ask for the sale.

It’s funny that throughout my sales career, I’ve found the hardest part of any sale is simply asking for someone to buy your product. It’s because the thought of someone rejecting you can be terrifying. 

When Lin-Manuel met Star Wars director J.J. Abrams, he asked him if he could compose some music for the film, which Abrams excitedly agreed to.  Miranda told Rolling Stone, “Ask the thing you want to ask your hero while your hero is in front of you!  Don’t be a dick, don’t be obnoxious.  But also know that you may never get that opportunity again.”

You may not be standing in front of J.J Abrams or President Obama but when you get a chance to sell yourself, or your product, you need to find the courage to be bold and take a chance. 

Hey, the worst they can say is “no” or maybe turn your mic off!