Greta Van Fleet (GVF), just released their debut album and it’s getting a lot of critical attention, but not necessarily for the right reasons. If you’ve never heard them, GVF sounds unmistakably similar to Led Zeppelin. In fact, GVF sounds so similar that people are asking if they should just be discarded as a cheap knock-off and not celebrated as some sort of revival. This raises an interesting question: Where do we draw the line between imitation as a bad copy, and imitation as the source behind an authentic voice? What does that difference mean for professionals and how we market ourselves?
First, we should apply Seth Godin’s definition of authenticity to this conversation. Seth defines authenticity as “consistent emotional labor.” There’s no argument that the band sounds like Zeppelin (they really do), but we also know they had to work pretty hard to get to that caliber of performance. Zeppelin was a really great band and they aren’t easy to copy. The members of GVF don’t think they’re just ripping them off. They admit to being fans, but they clearly put in their own work to get to their level. This leaves the audience to make a choice – are they authentic? Will they be celebrated? So far, the charts say yes.
Regarding professional services, this is similar to the difference between offering commodity services and customized service. We all do our best to imitate Led Zeppelin level quality in our fields, but our audience will decide how to value whatever twist we put on top of it (if any at all). Sometimes people just want the old, familiar thing at a low, low price. Zeppelin is playing on a transistor radio somewhere right now, basically for free. In our world, the web has plenty of free financial calculators. These are commodities. Alternately, sometimes people want something custom. More nuanced services can command premium prices due to the value of their perceived authenticity. The audience who doesn’t want to just turn on the radio but wants to go see a live rock band is going to be drawn to what GVF offers. The audience who doesn’t want the free calculator wants to talk with a professional for a personalized experience. We are responsible for creating that experience. This is the real business lesson from GVF – they are fulfilling a role the market wants, and they don’t care if we don’t approve because somebody else does.
It is a myth that anything appeals to everyone. GVF’s audience isn’t the classic rock crowd that saw Zeppelin perform decades ago – it’s their kids. The aesthetic and experience has drawn them in. For the professional, our services don’t need to be for everyone, but they need to deeply connect with someone. The best thing that can happen to a great product or service is for it to find a market that loves it. Opinions on GVF may be divisive, but they are modern proof that what we make and who we make it for matters more than ever. All we have to do is put in the work, even if at its core it looks a lot like work someone else already did.