Lady Gaga is one of the most well-known pop artists in the world, which is no surprise given her vocal talents and often bizarre wardrobe. She’s sold 23 million albums, won five Grammy awards, and been named by Forbes as one of the world’s most powerful celebrities.
But behind the public persona lies a shrewd and calculating business professional, a marketing machine which has turned music lovers into a worldwide legion of diehard fans eager to buy her music, her concert tickets, and any and all products related to her. Is this simply a classic case of loyalty marketing and customer cultivation? Perhaps. Apple aside, few businesses can claim a base of zealots anywhere near the same scope and scale.
In Monster Loyalty: How Lady Gaga Turns Followers into Fanatics, author Jackie Huba argues that Lady Gaga has not only created a brand, but is cultivating a fanatical group of consumers that will follow her for the next two decades of her career and beyond.
In four short years, Lady Gaga has built an army of passionate fans that numbers in the tens of millions around the globe. According to Huba, Lady Gaga didn’t become the success she is today based solely on her talent. She did so through the message she inspires and the community she has built around that message.
The Loyalty Playbook
Huba distills seven key strategies from the Gaga approach, which, while individually effective, become a solid business blueprint when taken together:
- Focus on Your “One Percenters”: Gaga spends most of her effort on just one percent of her audience, the highly engaged super-fans who drive word of mouth.
- Lead with Values: Create an emotional connection with customers by showcasing what you believe in.
- Build Community: Connect your most loyal customers with each other to strengthen their bond with you.
- Give Fans a Name: Gaga calls her fans her “Little Monsters.” A name gives customers a way to self-identify as part of the group. In fact, Gaga now has her own social network, little monsters.com.
- Embrace Shared Symbols: Shared symbols help customers bond by creating a collective experience.
- Make Them Feel Like Rock Stars: Become a fan of your fans and find ways to make them feel special.
- Generate Something to Talk About: Make your business “word-of-mouth-worthy” by continually giving your fans reasons to talk about you.
5 Insights to Gaga
While these seven lessons seem sensible enough for a pop star, they beg a bit of insight and explanation in order for businesses to learn from them. Here, Huba answers a few questions:
Lady Gaga has such a specific brand and audience. What can the average businessperson really learn from her?
Gaga’s business of show business may be very different from the “average” business, but her focus on growing through devoted customer loyalty is a universal business objective. Most business people know that it’s far cheaper to keep a customer than to get new one. Gaga gets the math. It’s her overarching philosophy to focus on her core advocates, the super-fans, the “Little Monsters.” These advocates will ultimately be evangelists who bring in new customers on their own. This customer philosophy is one that businesses would do well to learn from Gaga.
How do more practical companies partake in her business philosophies without going over the top?
The best ideas sometimes come from the unlikeliest sources, and whether you love her or hate her, you can’t ignore what she has accomplished. I think it’s important to study what she does, how she does it and why, because there are ways to replicate her success in more traditional business settings. In every lesson from Gaga in the book, I highlight how traditional companies—from Whole Foods to MINI—are applying her methods to their customer bases, without having to wear any dresses made from meat.
You call her Little Monsters “One Percenters.” Can you explain this concept a bit more?
The idea of the One Percenters comes from our research during the early days of online community and social media. I looked at online communities and tracked what percentage of members in those communities created content—in other words, who was most engaged.
I found it amounted to just 1 percent of the total community members. This was surprising. The amount of super-engaged community members did not follow the usual 80/20 rule. We discovered that the volume of content creators was much smaller, at just 1 percent. That’s a very small part of the community, and yet it was creating most of the value for the entire community. Our thesis is that these One Percenters are a business’s most diehard customers—the ones who really love the company, buy new products as soon as they are released, give them as gifts and evangelize the company to everyone they know.
“Little Monsters” is a great fit for Lady Gaga, but can you give an example of how a business might “give fans a name”?
One of the best examples of a brand naming its fans is Maker’s Mark, the premium bourbon company out of Loretto, Kentucky. Bill Samuels, Jr., son of the founder, was looking for a way to better connect with the brand’s fanatical customers and created the Maker’s Mark Ambassador program.
Ambassadors are brand evangelists who volunteer to tell others about the product, and encourage bars that didn’t carry the brand at the time to do so. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of Makers Mark Ambassadors who receive custom business cards and fun holiday gifts from the brand, and gather for events at the distillery in Loretto each year.
What’s the most surprising thing you learned while studying Lady Gaga?
Lady Gaga’s business sense impresses me, but her passion for changing the world for the better through any means possible is what truly inspired me to study her. She is influencing an entire generation of young people to stand up for each other, to be more tolerant of differences and to be brave in the face of difficulty.
I have spent hours and hours reading fan comments about how she has changed lives for the better. I have cried watching YouTube videos of kids saying they thought about hurting themselves or ending their lives, but that her belief in them, a woman they don’t even know, kept them from doing it. They listen to her music, especially “Born This Way,” and they feel better about themselves. I believe that if there was ever a candidate to continue Oprah Winfrey’s legacy of inspiring people to live their best lives, it’s this five-foot-one, 26-year-old in a studded bikini.
Give Monster Loyalty a read, because there’s a lot to learn from Lady Gaga. It is trust that engenders loyalty, and there isn’t a business or individual on the planet that couldn’t improve their trust quotient.
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Matthew E. May is the author of “IN PURSUIT OF ELEGANCE: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing.” He is constantly searching for creative ideas and innovative solutions that are ‘elegant’ – a unique and elusive combination of unusual simplicity and surprising power.