3 Loyalty Lessons Marketers Can Learn From Musicians

Fostering customer loyalty has long been among marketers’ highest priorities. With  expanding choices, and today’s consumers’ general empowerment, truly loyal customers are hard to come by. Data helps, and rewards help. But, the game has changed. Today’s customers are simply fickle when it comes to brand loyalty, and that goes for nearly every business in every industry.

There is progress, however. Many businesses and industries are experimenting with different ways to cultivate loyalty. Success stories abound, but few seem to look toward the recording industry and its recent penchant for producing fiercely loyal customers; customers who will pay hundreds for an album, or even protest for an album’s release.

Here are three lessons I believe marketers can learn from musicians.

Sometimes, no marketing is the best marketing.

Word of mouth has always been a powerful marketing medium. Its power has risen exponentially with the advent of social media, so much so that artists are legitimately benefiting from releasing albums with little to no promotion. Beyonce’s self-titled fifth studio release may be the most notable example of this, but it’s certainly not the only example.

Carolina rapper J.Cole released his third album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, last December with little promotion outside of an announcement three weeks before the album’s release. Cole sold nearly 400,000 copies of the album within the first week of release, and another 100,000 by the second week. Similarly, R&B provocateur D’Angelo broke a near 15-year hiatus last December with the surprise release of his third studio album Black Messiah. Along with universal acclaim, the album sold more than 100,000 copies in its first week.

Give the people what they want, or else.

Few musicians have had a more public, troubled relationship with their record label as Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco has with Atlantic Records. The rapper announced that he had turned in Lasers, his third album, to Atlantic in early 2010. The record was released in 2011, but not before fans petitioned the label. The petition amassed more than 5,000 signatures within a week, growing in number until Atlantic finally conceded a March 2011 release date. Still, thousands of fans gathered outside Atlantic Records’ New York office in a peaceful demonstration supporting Fiasco and the forthcoming album.

This happened again last year with Fiasco’s fifth album Tetsuo & Youth. Though announced in 2013, Tetsuo & Youth didn’t have so much as a rumored released date by October last year. That changed when Anonymous, the infamous hacktivist movement, took to Twitter, threatening to hack Atlantic if it continued to withhold Fiasco’s album. The record company relented soon after, and granted Tetsuo & Youth a January 20, 2015 release date.

Leverage the advocacy.

The great thing about loyal customers is, well, their loyalty. When people are truly passionate about a brand or product, they will go to almost any lengths to make it known. The various trending album and song titles are one example of this. Another is the rising trend of charging premium prices for music.

Artists such as Eminem, Nipsey Hussle, and The Wu Tang Clan have each released music that retailed for $100 or more. Nipsey Hussle sold 1,000 copies of his Crenshaw mixtape, even after a free digital release of the same product. Following Hussle’s example, Eminem sold out of deluxe packages of The Marshall Mathers LP 2, the Detroit rapper’s eighth release, which ranged from $40 to $300. The Wu Tang Clan is rumored to be in talks to auction a secret album for millions later this year. Combine these examples with the steady rise of vinyl record sales, and it becomes clear that music fans are more than willing to pay a premium for their favorite artists’ work.

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