If you see a picture of Guns N’ Roses with their big hair, sunglasses, and edgy vibe, you’ll likely find yourself suddenly humming “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” or “November Rain,” along in your head. Isn’t it crazy how something as simple as a picture elicits memories of these ballads?

This memorable connection happens in part because of the band’s clever positioning: which you too can use to successfully market your own brand.

It’s no secret the music industry is extremely difficult to break into. But think back to the mid ‘80s, when the airwaves were covered with ‘glam pop’ and synthesizers were all the rage. It must have felt almost impossible to break in as a primarily guitar-based rock band. Guitars back in those days were heavy metal, not top 40. But Guns N’ Roses leveraged exactly that difference in their sound to stand out in a completely different way. Music fans of the ‘80s didn’t even realize how much they needed a rock revival until Axl Rose and Slash reminded us by riffing their way to the top.

So how did they create a successful brand going up against the likes of Madonna while in the footsteps of Kiss?

Obviously, Axl Rose has a very unique voice. His nasally sound is exactly what singers are trained NOT to do. But his voice worked because of the way it sliced through the thick guitar chords.

It was Slash’s influence which truly took them to another level. He excelled at using highly complicated music theory to pushed the boundaries of guitar soloing, and gave us extremely unusual, even otherworldly riffs as a result.

Slash worked hard to cultivate his ‘slacker, rock n’ roll party vibe.’ Every single photo from that era features a bottle of Jack Daniels, pack of Marlboros, and so much hair we never actually see his eyes. In interviews, Slash says things like “The guitar solo itself is a one-take, spontaneous kind of thing” (Guitar World Magazine).

But in reality, his solos reveal a highly educated, expert-level understanding of music theory. His “Sweet Child O’ Mine” solo sounds otherworldly because he plays it in D Mixolydian Mode over a G-major song, then resolves the solo into E Natural Minor scale, which isn’t something guitarists figure out without reading a few books on music theory and practicing their advice. Regardless of his interview in Guitar World, I don’t know a single composer who believes Slash didn’t know what he was doing.

In short, Guns N’ Roses made rock music, but they did it better and contrasted their sophisticated melodic songwriting with a total slacker, drug addict image. This contrast completely set their brand apart, creating so much tension that, much like Slash’s actual solo, we can’t turn away.

So how can we utilize this strategy for our own brands? Don’t let your brand get lost in the shuffle. Ask the following questions to learn what key shifts your brand can make to create a strong solo in the marketplace:

  1. Who are my competitors?
  2. What are my competitors known for?
  3. What can we do differently, perhaps even becoming more interesting in the process?
  4. How are my brand’s goods and services unique? What does my brand do better than anyone else?

When positioning, keep it simple. Guns N’ Roses wanted to rock (and do it better than anyone else) so they rolled into a great position. Highlighting the contrasting values inside their own brand, they created something intangible, yet refined.

And you’ve probably already felt this intangible quality a bit deeper inside. When your products and insight come together, new contrasts are formed, practically overnight and are practically bizarre feeling at times. But it’s exactly these contrasts inside your own business that can make you stand out. Because strong contrast is so interesting. So compelling. So you….