lessons from lady gaga

In a recent post, I described a meeting I led for one of my clients that needed to engage its senior leadership with its brand. And I mentioned that I had started the meeting with a cheeky “What Can Brands Learn from Lady Gaga?” video.

Although I can’t show the video here, I did want to share with you the points from it, since I really do believe the Lady has a lot to teach us about brand-building. And the success she’s achieved in such a short time is admirable for anybody – and any organization – that’s looking for tangible results:

  • won five Grammy awards
  • 1st album “Fame” hit #1 on record charts in 6 countries
  • named Billboard Artist of the Year in 2010
  • on Time Magazine’s list of the 100 Most Influential People
  • is #7 on Forbes’ list of Most Powerful Women
  • sold over 22 million albums and 69 million singles worldwide
  • grossed $170 million on 137 songs in 22 countries in 1 year

Those are impressive numbers on the key metrics that matter for someone like Lady Gaga. How did she build such a powerful brand? Here are the top 5 lessons we can learn from the Queen of the Little Monsters:

#1. define a clear identity

“Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta” just wasn’t who Lady Gaga aspired to be, so she changed her name and assumed a new identity:
• a change agent
• a diva
• pop culture
• creative
• outré (definition: unusual and startling)

Companies need to clearly define their brand identity. While visual image is certainly an important piece of this (Lady Gaga wouldn’t be Lady Gaga without her unique looks), identity is much more than just a logo or look and feel. Brands must be clear about what they stand for – the values and attributes they want to be known for.

Companies need to ensure the brand identity is understood, embraced, and interpreted and reinforced properly by all internal stakeholders so that it is clear to the outside world. This is particularly important in today’s social media-dominant world where if you don’t define your identity, someone else will.

#2. be different

If there’s one thing Lady Gaga is, it’s different. She stands out from the sea of female pop artist sameness by looking, acting, performing, writing, and being different. “You have to be unique, and different, and shine in your own way,” she explains.

Differentiation is critical to brand-building as well. It’s important because our brains are hard-wired to notice differences. So differentiation enables you to stand out and get noticed – not a small feat in the today’s over-crowded marketplace.

More than that, though, differentiation also helps create brand preference by helping customers understand their options and giving them reasons to choose one over the other. And it helps companies charge higher prices. If people perceive an offering as special, they are willing to pay more to get it. Think of how at auctions it’s the one-of-a-kind items that people drive up the price for. Plus, if you offer something completely different from everyone else, customers can’t easily compare it to others and so you can set your own price expectations.

#3. tell your story by creating an experience

Lady Gaga is an entertainer, so she knows how to create a breakthrough experience that really brings to life who she is and what she wants to say.

Think about the 2011 Grammys. She was paraded through the streets and down the red carpet in an egg carried by staffers in revealing eggshell-like costumes. On stage, the egg hatched and Lady Gaga emerged, launching into a spectacular version of Born This Way. At one point, she played on a dramatic organ with disembodied heads balanced on top and, at the end her dancers stripped off their latex outfits. Talk about an experience!

Most companies, of course, wouldn’t want – or need – to create such a spectacle, but they do need to create customer experiences that stand out and send a message. Brand experiences should tell a story, appeal to the senses, and inspire — from start to finish. And, details matter (you can bet every moment of Lady Gaga’s time at the Grammy’s was choreographed.)

#4. stand for something bigger than yourself

The gospel according to Lady Gaga goes something like this, “I want women — and men — to feel empowered by a deeper and more psychotic part of themselves. The part they’re always trying desperately to hide. I want that to become something that they cherish.

Or in other words, “To everyone who says this is wrong to feel like this say, ‘I was born this way baby.’”

To her fans, Lady Gaga is more than a singer or performer. She is hope, love, inspiration, and empowerment. That’s why she’s able to create such a powerful connection with them.

Companies can develop powerful connections with their customers as well. For some, this is done by connecting the core values of the brand with customers’ core values. For others, it’s about calling people to a higher purpose to which the company and its customers aspire. The point is to recognize that, as humans, we all seek meaning in our lives.

#5. foster a community

Community is what creates impact for brands and for Lady Gaga.

Lady Gaga calls her community her “Little Monsters.” They love it; they love her. She’s written a manifesto and created an app for them.

She also uses different tools to engage, listen to, share with, and relate to them: Twitter (12.2 million followers), Facebook (42 million likes), YouTube (150 million views), etc. Her website features a wiki-style blog, Gagapedia, which features nearly 2,000 pages of content she and her Little Monsters have created.

These tools and tactics are powerful brand-builders. They help develop relationships that seem exclusive and personal, while fueling buzz and broad awareness. What company wouldn’t want to have a passionate community of supporters and evangelizers?!

To riff on her song title, Lady Gaga teaches us about brand romance!

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