Parton me, do you know Dolly?

learn from marketing Sep 06, 2022

Let’s talk about Dolly Parton.


Ms. Parton is a marketing genius. She is careful, thoughtful, calculated, funny, and straight up GENIUS. There is a lot we can learn from not only her business acumen, but her lyrics, relationships, and projects.


Parton’s father was an illiterate farmer who Dolly said was one of the smartest people she had ever known. Her mother had twelve children by the time she was 35 and was often ill. When you hear Dolly’s music, you can understand how she understood what it was like to be “dirt poor.”


In 1959, at the age of thirteen, Dolly made her first guest appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. She recorded a few songs over the next four years, with lackluster success, then packed up her bags for Nashville immediately after graduating from high school.


One of my favorite stories about Dolly Parton is how she met her future (and current) husband at the Wishy Washy laundromat on her first day in Nashville. Carl Dean was 21 and drove up in his white Chevy truck to tell her that she was going to get sunburned in such a revealing outfit, then continued to chat with her as she folded laundry.


"My first thought was I'm gonna marry that girl," Carl said in a statement for the couple's 50th wedding anniversary last year. "My second thought was, 'Lord she's good lookin'. And that was the day my life began. I wouldn't trade the last 50 years for nothing on this earth."


Carl had no interest in the entertainment industry and reportedly told her after a red carpet event in 1966, “Dolly, I want you to have everything you want, and I'm happy for you, but don't you ever ask me to go to another one of them dang things again!"


She has won dozens of awards for singing, songwriting, acting, philanthropy, and is in over twenty Hall of Fames. Her net worth is reported at over $500 million, although many reports believe it is much higher. 


All of this is amazing, but what can you learn about marketing in the social media age from Dolly Parton?


  1. Point it out first.


Answering objections before they are brought up is a successful way to sell a product and create a fan, but one that many businesses and individuals are afraid of. Why are they afraid? Because they don’t want to put “negative” concepts in the minds of their prospects. Which is totally understandable, but also very short-sighted.


Dolly Parton famously said, “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.”


Not everyone can be as cleverly self-effacing as Dolly, but she took the wind out of the sails of anyone or any publisher who would want to take cheap shots at the way she looked. She did it first. And we all loved her for it.


“I'm not offended by all the dumb blonde jokes because I know I'm not dumb - and I'm not blonde either.”


Does this make you, the audience, feel defensive? Or does it make you feel sympathetic? Look how she didn’t point out any one joke in particular or ask for anyone else to come to her rescue. She rescued herself, with confidence and a little humor.


Could you do that for your product or company? Instead of complaining that people don’t get it or haven’t tried it or aren’t reacting the way you hoped, turn it around and explain it in a way that answers objections before they are asked.


Examples: “We have never been accused of being the cheapest protein bar on the market, but that’s probably because we taste so good and our fans know our bars are worth every extra dime!”


“Are there other courses out there that have more content? We don’t own any of them, but have heard they exist. We have also heard from thousands of students of our course that they appreciate how much time they saved and that they learned more in the first module of THIS course than they’ve learned in entire courses from other experts.”


“If you’re new here, I am going to warn you that I share a lot of deals in my Stories. Like, probably more deals than you’ve seen anyone else share. Times ten! Ha! It’s because I get so excited about saving you money on good stuff and I cannot hold back.” 


  1. Keep important things private

You don’t owe anyone your personal life. Often in social media for the sake of “authenticity” people will share more than they need. Authenticity is overrated. People don’t WANT authenticity… they want consistency and results. We don’t want the person who comes to repair our AC to tell us why they were late, that their kids are sick, that their car hasn’t been washed in three months. We want them to come in, fix our AC, give us a deal, and be available if something happens to it again. Maybe they leave us some lollipops for the kids… awesome. There is dependability and then there is over-disclosing.


Remember how Dolly’s husband said he didn’t want to show up to red-carpet events? He didn’t. And for the most part, they kept a lot of their personal lives private. But that doesn’t mean we don’t feel like we know Dolly or that she isn’t “real” to us. She is authentic where it matters.


“Don't get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”


  1. Credit isn’t as important as creation.

Have you heard that HUGE hit of a song by Whitney Houston, “And I Will Always Love You”? Do you remember when she sang it to Kevin Costner and just took the whole world for a ride? Man, that Whitney Houston was one of the greatest singers to ever record.


You might also know that Dolly Parton wrote that song and originally sang it. Did you know that? Here’s what you won’t ever read: Dolly trying to get people to know it was her song first. In fact, she didn’t even know Whitney had recorded it until after it was on the radio (she gave permission to Kevin Costner beforehand).


Here is a little snippet from CMT about it: 

Parton has always praised Houston’s version of the song, noting, “I will always be grateful and in awe of the wonderful performance.” She has also expressed her gratitude to Costner for including the song in The Bodyguard.

“She said something to me off the record, so I won’t ever repeat it, but it was so beautiful, and it was so Dolly,” Costner said. “It was generous and it was funny — everything that she is — but it was a big thank you. It was a big, fat thank you.”

Companies, brands, individuals can easily come across as a pouty child when they want people to know “We did that FIRST!” as they stomp their foot on the ground. Instead of being the one to tell everyone else you should get credit, let credit come to you… while you are busy creating MORE things people will copy or redo or cover.


There is a lot we can learn from Dolly Parton about marketing and how to create a brand that LASTS a really long time. It’s not about being the only one or the best one, but creating something that your fans, customers, and followers can count on. It doesn’t matter that there are other singers, other blonde women, or other theme parks. What matters is HOW you make people feel, to keep creating your best content, and connect in genuine ways. 


Some final quotes from Dolly that may inspire you today or another day:

“I know who I am, I know what I can and can’t do. I know what I will and won’t do. I know what I’m capable of and I don’t agree to do things that I don’t think I can pull off.”

“The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain!” 

“Being a star just means that you just find your own special place, and that you shine where you are. To me, that’s what being a star means!”