Well I was born in a small town
And I can breathe in a small town
Gonna die in this small town
And that’s probably where they’ll bury me
John Mellencamp’s career has been one of the most unique paths to success for any individual. He was signed at a young age and put out a few records that failed to catch on. He was young, married with a child, and doing everything he and his band could do to make it as a rock star.
He eventually found his niche making a hometown, garage band breed of music that came from his heart.
He touched a generation in the ‘80s and ‘90s and when that generation had kids, John’s music lived on and touched an entire new legion of fans.
While John’s biggest hits were occurring when I was only a young child, I remember hearing his songs on classic rock stations. His voice and ability had the rare trait of standing out on the radio or anything that played music.
He’s a true individual.
So what can a hunting business owner learn from John Mellencamp?
Let’s take a journey through his career and connect the dots between Johnny Cougar and the hunting industry.
Johnny Cougar (Doing whatever it takes)
John’s early career consisted of spending time playing in the typical barrooms and taverns. He was living in Indiana and traveling to New York to try and make the right connections that could land him a recording contract.
It wasn’t too long before he met the right people and landed his first record deal. A young guy with a recording contract and the power of a big label should have meant big things right?
Not for Johnny Cougar (John claims the name was done without him knowing).
After some unsuccessful albums he was released from the big label.
John eventually landed on Riva Records (Rod Stewart’s manager was founder) and found some success with a single (I Need a Lover) in Australia.
Another record followed that John says he isn’t proud of and then things started to get interesting…
Just like you, I, and every other hunting entrepreneur, John started out with a dream to make it big. He was willing to do anything it took to become successful.
Now it seems there are 3 ways to make it big no matter what you’re trying to succeed at:
- Early burst of success (although there is no such thing as overnight success)
- Long struggle, never catch on big, but have a small following
- Long slow climb to the top
John’s career had an early burst of success followed by a just-as-fast decline.
You may experience the same career path as John or you may create your own path via a similar approach to one of the three mentioned above.
It really doesn’t matter the path you take because yours will be truly unique.
What matters is your unrelenting drive to succeed.
Johnny Cougar could have given up after being dropped from the major label deal at a young age. He had had a taste of the big time with a short bomb of a career.
I’m sure there were a lot of people in John’s life telling him he couldn’t make it after that incident.
Are there people telling you the same thing?
Don’t let them.
Continue doing what you love and continue working for your success.
Your own career might start to get interesting itself…
American Fool (“3 good songs…and…filler”)
As with all legends, whether it’s rock stars, inventors, writers, entertainers, whatever: there comes a point when their lifelong work of experimenting and expanding into the unknown finds something that strikes people as unique yet impactful.
When successful people make it big it’s the result of many failures and one big success.
The true great ones continue to fail and succeed for their entire career.
The trick is to continue expanding yourself while trying to hit on something that connects with people.
When Johnny Cougar released American Fool he called it an album of “3 good songs…and…filler”. This is an interesting take on an album that would become of the staples of American popular culture in the 1980s.
So what did John find that connected with people?
The songs Hurt So Good and Jack and Diane were catchy, fun, sing-a-long, relatable, and unique.
There was nothing on the radio (No MySpace radio in 1982) that sounded like Hurt So Good. This song connected with adults (memories), teens (good times), and kids (sing-a-long melody).
Even though the rest of American Fool may have been “filler”, the two impactful songs on the album allowed John to stumble on his niche. He had found something that connected with people.
He had found his formula for success. The rest of his career would be spent refining the formula while continuing to experiment with new things.
The way John Mellencamp made it big was by testing, experimenting, and continually pushing the limits of the status quo until he found what connected with people.
The difference between you and the others that give up in your wake is your ability to continue to innovate until you find the formula that connects with the hunting audience.
Where others fail and quit, you will fail and continue failing knowing that no matter what you will eventually find something remarkable.
For the hundreds and thousands of oh-so-close rock stars there are only a few John Mellencamps.
You have to be willing to take the failure that comes before success. And then you have to be willing to accept more failure while building up your success.
I always like to refer to the story of LL Bean. When the original LL Bean catalog was sent out there were 100 orders. Of those 100 orders, 90 were sent back to Bean due to faulty construction. This would ruin most start-ups right? Not LL Bean. He took out another loan from a friend, rebuilt the boots and sent them back out to his new customers. And as they say, the rest is history.
Don’t give up before you reach your success formula.
And once you find it, continue building on your success all the while continuing to expand your own creativity.
John Mellencamp (Branding)
Johnny Cougar becomes John Cougar Mellencamp becomes John Mellencamp
The next seemingly logical step in the John Mellencamp Guide to Hunting Industry Success would be to talk about his string of hits through the rest of the ‘80s and into the ‘90s.
But that isn’t my style.
I’d like to take a step back and chat about the branding behind John Mellencamp.
Despite John’s claim that he wasn’t behind the handle Johnny Cougar, it stuck with him through his breakthrough success.
He may not have liked the name, but he did continue using it for awhile.
It’s an interesting case of branding. The record label that John was on obviously thought the name “Cougar” would be more marketable than Mellencamp. When he moved to his second label he became simply John Cougar instead of Johnny.
This lasted through American Fool until John convinced them too change it to John Cougar Mellencamp. And eventually with 1991’s Whenever We Wanted he became John Mellencamp.
It took John a long time to change his brand name, but during his entire career he was building his actual brand.
So how important is a name?
Your business name your actual name are what people call you. This has lead to some confusion throughout John’s career as some people still call him Johnny Cougar.
But what all of his fans recognize (no matter what they call him) is his music and his energy.
People connect with John and his music – not his name.
It’s often said that the most important part of starting a business is the name.
But is it really?
Sure your name is important for memory, uniqueness, and even things online such as SEO. But what is your audience really finding when they discover what you and your business have to offer?
They’re discovering your content, your product, or your service.
They will call the thing they discover by whatever name you slap on it, but what they actually remember is the thing itself and how it benefits them.
Your focus needs to be on the benefit you provide your audience – not on a name.
Figure out what you can create that will add benefit to your audience and then create the name, logo, and marketing designs to complement and take it to the next level.
The design and marketing of your product is just as important, but don’t forget about your customer. Let the design of you logo and other marketing designs connect with your customer and with you and your business.
Once you figure out what you and your business are about you can seek the help of great designers to help make your product attract even more people to your audience.
Farm Aid (Giving back)
In 1985 John helped start Farm Aid. The concerts have raised tons of money and more importantly they’ve raised awareness for the local farming community – something that used to be a staple of American production.
The motive was pure, some of the methods were not, but either way John was doing the best he could to give back to his audience.
He wanted to provide more than just a musical voice for individuals around the nation that connected with him.
Giving back in a charitable way is not far from what your business focus should be in the first place. In business, you’re trying to provide something that will improve the well-being of a customer. In return for your hard work you are hoping to benefit yourself through payment of some kind. You aren’t forcing anyone to give you anything. You are trying to take what the world gives you and create something of use for someone else and in exchange you expect the same.
Giving back for charitable reasons has the same concept, but what you expect as payment is self-gratification. You feel good when you do something beneficial for someone else. It makes you happy when others are happy.
Giving back is important – both for profit and not for profit.
The lesson is to always put your audience and your customer first no matter which goal you have for yourself.
Johnny Cougar certainly has had an interesting journey to success to become the John Mellencamp we know and love today.
His lessons of struggle, success, more struggle, and ultimate legendary status can be inspiration for any business owner including someone like you who wants to reach ultimate success in the hunting industry.
It’s nice once and again to look outside of our normal perspective and learn from the lives of others.
The one lesson I take from John’s success is to focus on what your audience wants and never stop until you succeed.
Accept and learn from failure.
Ultimately you will succeed.
And now…a list of great Johnny Cougar songs [all videos]:
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