What Lady Gaga can teach marketers

What if every marketing program was guaranteed to succeed — and what if success was measured not in the number of Facebook “likes” or retweets, but how well a marketer followed the path of Lady Gaga?

I must admit I’m not “gaga” for Gaga. I prefer Indie music to stylized pop. But while Gaga doesn’t top my playlist, her success as a marketer and builder of relationships with fans is impressive to a brand marketer like myself.

The stats don’t lie; Lady Gaga has sold more than 10 million albums. She has more than 24 million Twitter followers and over 1 billion video views. Simply put, Lady Gaga is all about establishing what I call “curious disbelief,” and she can teach marketers a lot about brand building.

Let’s start with a definition. “Curious disbelief” is simply getting consumers to: one, pay attention; two, care; and three, act. I’ll take each individually in the form of three questions you can ask yourself to see if you’re doing it right.

1. How do you get consumers to pay attention?

We’re more and more connected across multichannel platforms and through mobile devices. Everything is faster and this shift is reshaping marketing communications.  A few examples:

Amazon Price Check is changing how consumers shop and interact with retailers, providing both information and shifting the balance of control. Television is seeing a radical shift. From live viewer experiences like what MTV did with the second screen connecting live TV through mobile devices to the impact Twitter has had on what is now called appointment TV.

This multichannel convergence forces us as marketers to change our perspective. We need to think, plan, organize and communicate in the same way our consumers do.

2. How do you get consumers to care?

You need a great product or story. Sounds simple, but when you look at recent retail failures like Borders and Circuit City, or challenges that companies like Groupon and Yahoo face, you can see it’s easier said than done.

These brands prioritize the consumer experience and deliver it with flawless execution:

  • Trader Joe’s: Those that love Trader Joe’s really love Trader Joe’s. It borders on the evangelical. The retailer has perfected a quirky, well-priced product assortment that makes every shopping trip an adventure.
  • lululemon: By building a community of passionate women around the yoga lifestyle and pants that “make your butt look amazing,” lululemon underscores its culture with great product and design.
  • Square: Square has turned every iPhone into a connected payment device. It’s simple, seamless and has transformed and empowered small businesses.

3. How do you get consumers to act?

Establish a highly personal connection and cut through the clutter. I’ll take you back to my days leading brand marketing for Kmart, where our challenge was to do just that, while also building consideration.

Kmart surprisingly had a great story to tell, with improved product quality and design, and a staff of talented in-house designers. So instead of running a thirty second ad or spending money on billboards, we hired a team ofSundance-winning documentary film makers to tell our story. This was Kmart’s opportunity to differentiate; 150 videos and more than four million views later, along with solid industry praise, Kmart was able to foster a personal connection with customers and differentiate from the “sameness” within big box retail.

Here are three takeaways to “get some more Gaga” in your marketing:

  • Be shockingly different: Love her or hate her, Gaga is different — and an open book.  And with Kmart Design, all content was unscripted, exposing our flaws. This led to an honesty that resonated with consumers.
  • Poke the box: The title of Seth Godin’s recent book about initiative and making a difference is also what makes Trader Joe’s and Gaga so special. Both don’t follow trends. They lead and have the guts to fail.
  • Make them uncomfortable: This especially goes for selling an idea internally. Don’t ask permission. With Kmart Design, I filmed the pilot episodes and tested with consumers, making it impossible for senior executives to say no. With Lady Gaga, her actions make many uncomfortable, but there’s no doubting the impact.

Whether you’re a legacy brand fighting for survival like Kmart or a startup in an emerging space like my current employer ed? — or even a mega-superstar, Lady Gaga — the idea of building curious disbelief transcends.

Jeff Fagel is VP of marketing and brand development at 
ed?Follow Jeff @jf1216 or connect on LinkedIn.


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