Her Strategy, Deconstructed
Beyoncé Knowles-Carter is at the helm of an international brand. She’s sold 75 million albums as a solo artist, won 17 Grammys and has an estimated net worth of $350 million. No surprise she secured the top spot on Forbes’ 2014 “World’s Most Powerful Celebrities” list and made Time’s “100 Most Influential People” list in 2013 and 2014.
Add to that dropping an album without any promotion or marketing and Beyoncé proves to possess remarkable social media savvy and business acumen coupled with talent. Her unconventional tactics work: “Beyoncé” sold 828,773 copies in a three-day period and is iTunes’ fastest-selling record of all time.
Beyoncé’s impressive business model is even being studied by students at Harvard Business School. At this point, none of us can afford not to take a lesson from her playbook. We spoke to business, publicity, marketing, branding and organizing experts to find out how to apply Beyoncé’s prowess to your own business.
Drop The Marketing Speak
With exactly zero advance promotion, Beyoncé released her self-titled album just after midnight on December 13, 2013, by posting a video on Instagram with a simple caption of “Surprise!” Almost a year later, and it’s still hailed as game-changing. In fact, you could really call it a strategy of anti-promotion, since she essentially announced her album and sat back to watch it become a smash success. So, what can a non-Beyoncé entrepreneur learn from this power move? It’s all about letting your consumer knowledge guide your marketing approach, instead of relying on hollow talking points.
Keith Frankel, chief digital officer at Tablelist & Host of CreativeMornings Boston, says, “We live in a time in which the blast-as-big-and-wide-and-loud-of-a-message- as-possible tactics of yesteryear simply are no longer as effective. [Capturing] the shorter-than-ever attention span of today's audiences requires delivering something people actually want to consume in a way that is noteworthy and unique.”
Tracy Podell, director of marketing for PlutoTV and a social media and online video expert, points to the ALS Ice Bucket challenge as a similar example of success that avoids having “messages shoved down [consumers’] throats,” and instead values authenticity. “I’m sure there were plenty of authentic messages regarding the importance of donating to ALS prior to it, but none of them were nearly as effective. What made it successful was that it was a) authentic b) engaging, and c) it was highly personalized. With every nomination, you were calling out someone you knew to engage in this fun, silly activity for a good cause, and it literally spread from person to person,” Podell says.
Create a Personal Connection Through Social Media
In the 12 hours following Beyonce’s surprise album announcement, Twitter reported that she was tweeted about a total of 1.2 million times. The singer also has a massive Tumblr and Instagram presence, both of which are flooded with glossy, aspirational photos of her family and career. Her more than 18.5 million Instagram followers and counting has even landed her firmly in the top five most followed celebrities.
Publicity expert Melissa Cassera says that Beyoncé makes her fans feel “adored and respected by giving them exactly what they want: backstage photos, candid vacation snaps, etc.” It’s a personal aspect that consumers connect to, and you can apply that same methodology to your own social media presence.
Podell advises that there are simple ways to include a personal connection using social media. She calls online testimonials and reviews “enormously important,” and notes that in the absence of a personal referral, customer testimonials and reviews are how most people decide on a product or vendor. She says that business owners should encourage customers to “share their success stories on social media and on review sites,” and urges you to reward them with an incentive. Interacting with consumers on social media is key, says Podell, especially if customers have issues or are unsatisfied, saying that “sometimes your biggest fans were negative customers you were able to turn around.”
Focus on what your customers love talking and learning about instead of only posting about your business, says Podell. Here’s an easy guide: between one and two-thirds of your posts should be non-promotional, and should focus more on customer engagement than on promoting your specific product.
Tap the Power of Community
Beyoncé has a community of fans who call themselves the Beyhive, and have established Tumblrs, Twitter accounts, forums, Instagram accounts and Facebook groups with thousands of followers. Her announcement benefited from signal boosts from her legion of devoted super fans, who essentially promoted her album for her. So, what can an entrepreneur without her own Beyhive learn from that model? It’s all about the importance of building a community around your product or service prior to launching a new product.
Having Beyoncé’s fans carry out her promotion for her on individual social media accounts isn’t unlike convincing people to campaign for elected officials or legislation. Gabriela Domenzain, principal at The Raben Group and former National Spokesperson and Director of Hispanic Press for Obama for America explained how to get people invested enough to rally for you.
Domenzain stresses the importance of that ever-important personal connection; in this case, it’s all about presenting information in terms of how your product or service will improve a consumer’s life. Domenzain highlights a key strategy in political campaigning that absolutely mirrors Beyoncé’s business tactics: the idea of the bandwagon. It’s a critical mix of making consumers feel that the product or service will positively impact their own lives and also “weaving them into this larger community.” The goal is to make the consumer feel that by buying into your message, product or service, they are joining a larger community of people who have all discovered something worthwhile.
Don’t Be Afraid to Voice Opinions
In the past year, Beyoncé has become one of feminism’s most visible voices. After seeing her pose in front of that giant sign reading "FEMINIST" during her 2014 VMA performance, it's pretty safe to say her feminist views have become wrapped up in her brand. She demonstrates the benefit of adding a strong opinion – even one that is controversial – into your personal brand for the sake of rallying customers.
Kristen Domingue, a personal brand development expert, says, “Trend-wise we're seeing marketers and advertisers do two things to compete for customers over-saturated attention span: stand out by polarizing, or stand out through vulnerability.”
Your cause need not be political, especially if a political message is out of sync with your brand. Domingue stresses that the cause itself doesn’t particularly matter–-it’s your reasons for supporting it that will resonate with your customers. She says, “It can be saving stray cats, taking a stand for mothers having a life of their own outside parenthood or simply art that lights you up. Whatever it is, just make sure you're passionate about it. And share why.”
This is not to say that entrepreneurs should align themselves with a cause or movement simply for the sake of its trendiness. It’s important to remember Podell’s words about authenticity, and to know that consumers are able to spot insincerity. Being vocal about something you believe in can certainly have business benefits, but it’s in your best interest to pick something you can truly stand by.
There are pitfalls to taking a stand publicly that entrepreneurs should take into consideration. Domingue warns that “It's important to take a stand and to be a human while you do it.” She cautions against being “too preachy,” which can alienate consumers, and advises that you should “let people see your quirks, struggles and sense of humor. It goes a long way in making them curious about your ‘message.’”
Understand Your Brand Values
While your version of living your brand might look different than Beyoncé’s, it’s possible to achieve her strategy of fully embodying that brand across multiple platforms if you completely believe in the values that sustain your brand and articulate those values confidently and clearly.
Domingue explains that the key to a consistent personal brand is one that is well-defined from the start, with “1-4 MAX personal brand values that are aligned with who you already are.” According to Domingue, “we can clearly see one of [Beyoncé’s] core values is women's empowerment. Songs have been written about it, music videos done about it, she shares on Instagram about it.” And so, Domingue suggests that you “take a look at your life and decide what you stand for by how you've lived it.“
Beyond defining your brand and laying out a clear mission statement, it’s critical that you continue to go back to those values moving forward. As you make decisions for your company, continuously check to make sure they align with your brand values, and be able to articulate how each decision fits in with your brand. That way, your messaging will always appear consistent and confident.