Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that Beyonce dropped her latest album last Saturday night, accompanied with an hour-long visual album with scenes depicting her smashing cars on streets and lighting a house on fire. Not only has the move lit up the media, but the Queen Bee’s album is earning her around $3 million
every 24 hours.
You may not know this (unless you have read my bio at the bottom of this page), but when I am not covering news in the local startup community, I am a graduate student studying communication at NC State. As a huge fan of Beyonce (and yes, I have a ticket to next week’s Raleigh show), I thought I might apply a few of the things I’m learning in class to explain her pretty impressive and unique marketing tactics.
I think entrepreneurs in the community might learn a few lessons from the Queen, and the whole new meaning she’s giving to the word “Lemonade.”
Be a pioneer.
Beyonce is many things, but one of the titles I would prominently use to describe her is pioneer. She has accomplished many firsts for a female artist in the entertainment industry. Releasing albums anonymously online was a major one, and many artists quickly followed suit.
She's also willing to try atypical distribution methods, like HBO and Tidal, which have niche audiences. Beyonce could have used iTunes, Facebook or one of the many other platforms where she already has a strong following. Instead she used her husband's streaming service which was relatively unheard of until last Saturday.
The takeaway is don’t be afraid to try something new and different from your competitors or those who've come before you. Entrepreneurs should be comfortable with this idea because they're already taking the risk of starting a new company they believe is new and different or a first.
Make it relevant.
What struck a chord with audiences across the world was the way Beyonce took issues that people care about and put them in the spotlight. No matter what you think about the Black Lives Matter movement, it centers around a relevant issue that needs to be discussed.
Any good communication plan can target a specific audience, but if you want to create that extra buzz for your product, tie it to a relevant issue or topic. It doesn’t need to be extravagant. For instance, Beyonce let family members of the young men killed by police give tribute to their lost loved ones. It was powerful, but not over the top. Social entrepreneurs might use their product to advocate for issues; but any entrepreneur can tie a marketing message to something relevant in industry or culture.
Timing also is everything. It was not a coincidence that Beyonce released the album days before her worldwide tour started in Miami. I think it is safe to say that if there were unsold tickets to her concerts, there aren’t anymore.
At the same time, there was still an element of surprise and it made those of us with tickets all the more giddy and excited for the experience. She made us feel more special because we’ll be among the first to witness her newest music live. That's a good lead into the next lesson.
Make it exclusive, but not too exclusive.
Beyonce didn’t release her new album on the Internet or iTunes like she has in the past. Instead she released it on HBO and also on Tidal, a music streaming service that her husband Jay Z has backed financially. She did a very clever thing in choosing these platforms. It’s essentially a tease, but it provided just enough access to excite people and build up anticipation for her public release on iTunes just two days later.
The key is to release your product or service in such a way that rewards certain early adopters or customers and lets the rest of your audience know it exists and begin to want it. This might help you command a higher price. Consumer marketing researchers John Groth
and Stephen McDaniel
call that the exclusive value principle
—the strategy's purpose is to allow you to increase prices on your products. Beyonce’s album is selling for $17.99 on iTunes, instead of the traditional $9.99.
Beyonce's strategy also aligns with the stealth principle. By keeping her release a surprise and her team under tight NDAs, she ensures little to no competition.
Sell your ethos.
In the communication world, ethos is a term that has been used since the age of Aristotle to explain a speaker's character. You can also call it personal branding. Beyonce is more than just her music—she is a brand. “Sasha Fierce”, feminist, businesswoman, these are just a few identities that make up her brand.
In all honesty, I love her music, but I love her brand more. This may seem like I am beating a dead horse, but you have to sell your brand and before you do that, you have to know what that brand is. This shouldn’t be a one-hour brainstorming session. You should spend weeks on it until you find the perfect ethos for your company.
Any new company should also understand that a brand isn’t stagnant, it is constantly evolving to adjust to the market. What you want your company to be one year may be different the next. Just be perceptive enough to realize when it is time to discuss the evolution of your brand.
Finally, if your product isn’t making the conversions you need, then your brand should. Not every Beyonce song makes it to the top of the charts, but her brand sells albums any way.
Tell a story that's relatable.
Beyonce did something amazing with her visual album—she told a deep and very revealing narrative. It’s a story many can relate to, one of betrayal and redemption. In the academic world, there is a whole field of research devoted to storytelling. Why? Because it works.
Now, it can’t be just any story. Consumers love to hear narratives that relate to their lives—the situations they encounter on a daily basis or ones they hope to be a part of some day. They want to be the hero that saves the day, the person who makes a moral choice or who does something adventurous. Beyonce’s narrative worked because many individuals have been in her shoes, loving someone even though he or she betrayed their trust.
In the end, Beyonce realizes that Jay Z is the love of her life and she has to forgive him. The fact that she is a strong woman who is capable of pain, forgiveness and redemption is a quality that many of us hope to see in ourselves. If you can’t tell a story that fits consumers into the narrative, sell one they can hope to be a part of. This is a strategy that a lot of nonprofits use to secure volunteers and donors. It works.
The key in any marketing strategy is to show consumers where your product or service can fit into their lives, where it can make life or work easier or more efficient. Beyonce provided ample ways for people to relate in Lemonade. She wrote her music and produced the video in such a way that her audience could feel and resonate with all of her emotions.
When developing your marketing strategy, do it in such a way that your consumers can feel what it is like to use your product or service. The emotions of relief or ease should be highlighted as much as possible.
Taking these lessons from one of the most successful women in the entertainment business might be the very thing your marketing strategy needs to sell your product or service.
Make sure to evaluate the climate in which you plan to market your company. Who is your target audience and what do they care about? What makes them feel like that can see themselves as part of your story? Figure out what your brand is and sell it, even if it means making lemonade out of lemons.