What Joe Diffie's "John Deere Green" Can Teach Us About Branding
Updated: Mar 28
IN MARKETING, YOU'RE JUST A BILLY BOB LOOKING FOR CHARLENES.
90s-era country star Joe Diffie wrote some iconic songs, and "John Deere Green" continues to live on as one of his best. It was a perfect song for my fiance and I to hear recently as we drove through the fields of south-central Minnesota on our way back to Saint Paul.
But it's not just entertainment - it's a learning experience! As we listened on our drive, I realized that this song is an ideal medium through which to teach my entrepreneur and small business clients three things about branding:
Know Your Audience
I suspect most of you already know the song, but just in case (link to the lyrics if you don't want to listen):
This song is a quintessential example of the storytelling that late 80s/early 90s country music did so well, but within the love story are a few key lessons that entrepreneurs and small business marketers can take to heart when building a brand.
Know Your Audience
Billy Bob painted a love letter in green - easily one of the least romantic colors. It's the color of jealousy, for goodness' sake! Girls would hate it! The whole town said he should have used red! They called him a fool!
But guess what?
It looked good to Charlene.
Billy Bob didn't care about "the whole town," so he didn't ask them. Charlene was his target audience. He liked it, and Charlene liked it, and that made them a perfect couple.
In marketing, you're just a Billy Bob looking for Charlenes. Not everyone will like what you do. Some will actively disparage you for doing it. But if you're authentic and speak to your target audience, some lovely people will feel a connection with you - and you'll find each other much faster than you would otherwise.
It's easy to ignore the idea of having a "brand color" when you're first starting out, because there are roughly a billion other things that are taking your time and attention and what does it matter anyway?
Here's why it matters: When you first heard the song or its title, you immeditely knew what color it meant. It's not "forest green" or "kelly green" or "grass green" - it's John Deere green.
When you use a color consistently, it becomes part of your brand. You can tell which commercials are Target's before you even see a bullseye, and you can hear "John Deere green" and immediately get that rich green image in your head. It takes time to build that association, so start now.
Not only did Billy Bob choose an atypical color, but he chose one that literally can't be covered. The heart keeps showing through.
Who you truly are and who your brand truly is will always bleed through. Instead of trying to paint over it - again - try to embrace it and make it look as good as possible.
This is best illustrated by a company I worked with for nearly six years. It was a manufacturing company that was on the forefront of many new technologies, and management was really interested in focusing on the technical advances. Great idea, on paper.
The problem was that customers didn't like the company because of the technology. That was a perk, and a reason to justify purchases. They liked the company because of the people: enthusiastic about the industry, customer-oriented, and helpful.
Once we leaned into those values by highlighting customer stories and advocating for positive industry-wide causes, customers responded even more, becoming brand ambassadors and lifelong advocates.
Quick note that we didn't completely forego showcasing our technology - it was still important to highlight. But we didn't embrace it as our brand persona the way we'd been encouraged to. We knew that our heart would show through.
These are some fairly silly associations, of course. It's just a song that I've extrapolated from. But the greater point I'm trying to make is that marketing information and inspiration can come from anywhere, even decades-old country songs. Keep an eye open and let it all in!