If Porcupine Tree Can Create Advocates, So Can You

Steven Wilson - Porcupine Tree

Porcupine Tree is the best band you’ve never heard of. They also serve as a pretty good object lesson in how to deliver great experiences that turn customers into advocates.

This UK band headed by singer and guitarist Steve Wilson have produced some of the most amazing music ever put onto CD. With a catalog that spans twenty years and covers multiple genres including ambient, acoustic, psychedelic and metal, Wilson is never content to let Porcupine Tree stay in one place. He has continuously reinvented the sound of the band while at the same time maintaining the lush vocal harmonies, catchy melodies and soaring lead guitar work; characteristic trademarks of Porcupine Tree.

Porcupine Tree is not a ‘brand” you will hear about through the US music industry. They don’t have songs on commercial radio and they don’t play large venues. Nevertheless, their popularity in the US is steadily rising, primarily through word of mouth promotion from their fans who, almost universally, are advocates for the band.

What can businesses learn from a band like Porcupine Tree? Let’s take a look.

Start with Great Talent

Progressive Rock compositions are often more elaborate than the standard rock or popular verse-chorus based song structures, and the arrangements often incorporate elements drawn from classical, jazz and avant-garde music. This typically requires a higher level of proficiency on the part of the musicians. Porcupine Tree does not characterize their music as progressive rock, but they have clearly been influenced by the genre and are all highly accomplished musicians.

Delivering a great customer experience takes work and skill. It doesn’t matter whether your business is retail, food & hospitality, manufacturing or any number of services, having top talent is critical to being competitive. If the people that your customers interact with aren’t as good as they can be at delivering your product or service, your customers will know it and will eventually find a better alternative.

Set Expectations and Execute Flawlessly

In live performances, Porcupine Tree executes their music flawlessly. Each member plays a distinct role that, when combined, creates an experience that is greater than the sum of the parts.

Many artists today substitute Production for Performance. Modern recording studio technology makes it very easy to engineer heavily produced content, making an average performance sound great. Unfortunately for many artists, what sounds great in the studio does not always come off that great in live performance. Concert attendees, who may pay hundreds of dollars for a ticket, expect live performances that sound like the recording. This is extremely difficult to execute and many artists resort to using pre-recorded tracks to compensate for what they cannot reproduce live (can you say Ashlee Simpson).

Porcupine Tree fans know that the performance will always be “live” and executed flawlessly. Before recording their most recent album, “Fear of a Blank Planet”, the band toured for six months playing the material live. In the studio, the band essentially recorded the what they had already been playing for audiences, ensuring that subsequent live performances faithfully reproduced the recording.

Your business customers have high expectations. To deliver a consistently great experience, you have to ensure that each member of the team knows and plays their part flawlessly. Production is important, but great performances require practice.

Surprise & Delight and Keep It Fresh

I mentioned earlier that Porcupine Tree has continuously reinvented itself. This has not been done blindly. The musical directions that Wilson has taken the band reflect not only his changing personal tastes, but that of his audience. It is this spirit of innovation that has kept the band from becoming stagnant and has allowed them to gain new followers over the years.

Porcupine Tree tours constantly, stopping only occasionally to record new material. Each time they perform, there is new material, even if there is not a new full-length album. For example, In Spring ’07, they toured the US supporting the release of “Fear of a Blank Planet”. They are now touring the US again and the performance includes several “archive” pieces that were not played on the first tour, as well as four new songs that were recorded in July and recently released. Although I had seen the band in May, I knew that the October show would have some Surprise and Delight element.

One of the most critical competencies for businesses today is the ability to adapt to the ever-changing marketplace and to the needs of customers. Businesses must be able to “sense” what’s going on around them and “respond” appropriately. For some businesses this may mean continuous reinvention (Is Starbucks a coffee shop or something else these days?), but like Porcupine Tree, it’s important to maintain the “characteristic trademarks” that set you apart. Over the short run, it is also important that each customer experience has an element of Surprise & Delight. Strive to exceed their expectations in some way.

Are you doing these things in your business? If not, then why arent you? After all, if Porcupine Tree can create advocates, so can you!

Photo courtesy of Fusaka


4 comments so far

  1. Chris Wilson on


    The Porcupine Tree is a great band.

    I myself have used music references on the Fresh Peel. The music industry can be a model of change, specifically the bands you have never heard of like Porcupine Tree, because they have to deviate in order to survive. The business world could learn a lot from bands like them.

    Like Seth Godin said after Radiohead’s recent album release, “this is the sort thing I’ve been talking about for seven years and many unknown bands have been doing for at least that long.”

    Lets quit looking at what it takes to make it middle of the road. If you do what everyone else does then that’s where you will end up – Middle of the Road.

  2. Mike on

    Nicely done and some killer analogies to boot.
    I do have to disagree with the part about radio not supporting PT though, has I have been playing them every chance I get on my radio show. Although I’m not on a “big” station I was for almost 20 years and I played them then, starting w/Stupid Dream. (Piano Lessons to be exact.)
    This band hasn’t peeked yet, but I know they will… Again, great job…

  3. Doug Meacham on

    Hi Mike, Thanks for the comment. I glad you have a station that plays PT. I’m actually happy they haven’t gone big as I enjoy seeing thin in small venues.

  4. My 4X4 « NextUp on

    […] Porcupine Tree […]

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