Lessons from brand Gaga

In this guest post, Jaid Hulsbosch finds lessons for marketers in controversial performer Lady Gaga.

One of the leading brand innovators in global business today is a young woman called Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta – also known as Lady Gaga.

She is an artist and a brand and her team are clever marketers. They are showing businesses how to build a successful global brand in record time in today’s fragmented media environment.

Thanks to Germanotta’s success, the words “brand” and “branding” are now well understood by more and more people. As someone who works in the industry, it makes it much easier when you explain what you do to create value for clients.

For those of us in brand and marketing, there are several key lessons to be learned from her success.

In less than four years, Lady Gaga has accrued a more than one billion views on YouTube averaging 85 million views per month. Her earnings for 2011 are estimated to be $100m or more.

Gaga has reconfirmed that true brand creation is about identifying a unique, ownable positioning and developing a personality that tells everyone what you stand for. She has also reminded us of the importance of creating a compelling story and a narrative that underpins everything you say and do.

She reminds us of the importance of engaging with your customers on an emotional level. Lady Gaga stands for creativity and advocacy for everyone and anyone who has felt different – her “little monsters.”

She is doing what all great global consumer and business brands have done – employed good storytelling to connect and engage directly with their customers.

Throughout history, great companies have used storytelling techniques to engage consumers. Starting with Ford, Cadbury’s, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s to today’s technology brands, Apple, Google, Facebook, EBay, to fashion brands like Louis Vuitton and Hermes. All have great brand narratives with depth and meaning for their customer base.

They all stand for something important in the minds of their customers and often act like consumer advocates through the language they use and the promises they make.

Great brand narratives also pitch one hero against another. The famous 2006 “I’m a Mac” ad campaign perfectly captures the Apple versus PC truth – you are either one or the other and by identifying yourself as a Mac or PC person, you are telling the world a lot about your values.

Some brand narratives simply celebrate the human spirit. For example, Virgin’s post punk, entrepreneurial spirit has enabled it to move from the record industry (a good move, considering what’s happening to the music business now) to travel, to mobile phones, fitness centres and more.

You may not be a Virgin customer, but we are all interested to know what the next installment of the story will be. And part of us wishes we were more entrepreneurial.

The best brand narratives are broad, allowing fans (or consumers) to interpret stories in their own way, using their imagination.

The other lesson from Gaga is that brands must constantly change. Great brands continually evolve, surprise and delight. And they use design to express different sides of their personality, giving fans (or consumers) visual cues or shortcuts that are far more powerful than words (just read mythologist Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces).

Technology has long been the driver of growth in music and just about every other industry. Gaga has reminded us that successful brands must always connect and communicate with customers whenever and wherever they are.

Her message resonates with her fans and she has perfected the art of connecting with her fan base on multiple social media platforms. She projects leadership and excites loyalty in others.

While it is easy to dismiss pop culture, the truth is that all businesses – whether is the local cafe or a new global technology company – need a brand story, a brand vision and a succinct brand promise. This is what consumers connect with and ultimately buy into.

The clearer a brand is defined, the easier it is for businesses to create effective marketing communications. The more clearly companies are aligned with their brand promise, the more people understand and appreciate what they are trying to achieve and why they should stick around. This extends to employees, with brand reputation being a magnet for talent.

Business will always need creative agencies to help them articulate their stories, because great storytelling is a creative pursuit; it is often about subtlety and nuance.

But in a fragmented, fast-moving world over-loaded by information you have to be careful not to just articulate your story through wordy ads, but instead consider how the story is expressed through all consumer touch-points, from the form and shape of the packaging to the sound of the staff to the scent used in the store to the texture of the seating.

Gaga proves brand stories succeed when they are consistently expressed in everything you do.

Jaid Hulsbosch is director of branding agency Hulsbosch


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