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Digital strategy lessons from Lady Gaga

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2nd May 2014
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Whenever there is a list of innovators in the world of digital business, it's the same old culprits that crop up time and time again - think Amazon, Google, Apple and the like.

These brands are often relied upon to pave the way for others to follow, but sometimes it's worth venturing off the path; inspiration can come from some pretty unsuspecting places. Such as Lady Gaga. 

Or so Jamie Anderson, professor of strategic management at Antwerp Management School and self-asserted Lady Gaga fan, thinks. He believes that behind this artist’s eccentric persona is an exceptionally intelligent, forward-thinking and highly perceptive digital strategist – whether she's wearing a meat dress or not.

So, what has she achieved with digital? Almost 42 million twitter followers, a comparative number of Facebook fans, and the title of the first musician to hit 1 billion YouTube views. That’s not to mention her $190 million net worth, which, helped along by social media, she built in less than five years. It took Madonna over three times as long to reach the same figure. “This is not an accident,” asserts Jamie. “What is behind this lady as a performer and a brand is a strategy – and it’s a digital strategy.” 

“This lady shows us that the pillars of a customer engagement strategy are actually very, very simple,” said Jamie, speaking at the Garter Customer Strategies and Technologies Summit in London this week, using this unlikely case in point to back himself up.

The Edge of Glory

As we have seen in the papers and on the TV, Lady Gaga is hardly one to do things by halves. This means that her product, i.e. her voice, wasn’t enough on its own – something that businesses in the modern market are beginning to understand. So, she got herself a name and an image: a brand, to you and me. And she does a good job of living that brand, taking the term 'gaga' to new levels of madness - not to mention popularity.   

But crazy she sure ain't. Crazy people wouldn’t be able to make and market an album which would become one of the most successful in history – receiving six Grammy nominations and a place among the fastest selling records of all time – in the era of the single. When The Fame was released, iTunes had already come along and made it unnecessary to buy a whole album just to get the track you wanted. To shift hers, then, she had to make each song nothing short of excellent in it's own right.

It wasn't just her songs she focused on either, but also her music videos. She optimised them by turning them into elaborate stories, which conveniently ran for the same length of time as the human attention span. (Seven and a half minutes if you’re asking). She had clearly done her research and was leaving nothing to chance here. 

Excellence only comes from having the whole package, then. And, excellence is a must to differentiate yourself in a market where the consumer is getting harder and harder to please.

Born this Way

To get your audience to really buy into your brand and its ideas or products, you have to be authentic, argues Jamie. Why? To generate “an empathetic relationship with people who understand not just what you do, but why you are doing it.” Jamie thinks empathy plays a key part in these three principles of followership:

  1. Identify your values: find out what yours are and stick to them. “People don’t want to follow robots, they want to follow people. So, as a brand, you have to understand what your values are. And stick to your values”. Gaga buys into this in a big way by refusing to work with people who go against hers. This sense of integrity can begin to generate trust, something that many businesses are looking to rebuild with their consumers.
  2. Give people a sense of belonging. Gaga talks of ‘we’ as opposed to ‘me’, giving her fans the feeling that they are all part of something exciting.
  3. Have a vision – when your vision resonates with your audience, you can transform them into followers. Gaga constantly talks about what she wants her music to achieve and her followers buy into this and support her for it.

Paparazzi

Why does the Paparazzi follow Lady Gaga? They want something that other people don’t have – they want an exclusive. This is also, in part, why her social media fans follow her. “If you really leverage digital, it’s not just about empathy; it’s about giving something back,” said Jamie. It’s about exclusivity.

“What Gaga does is she uses these digital platforms to make us feel special. Because if you follow her on Twitter, if you’re her friend on Facebook, she gives you stuff that she doesn’t give to other people. That’s why the world's press, if they want to understand what’s going on with lady gaga, they have to follow her on social media, not wait for a press release because she doesn’t give them. So that creates a feeling of exclusivity.”

Love Game

Traditional business models have been thrashed by the digital revolution – it’s now all about building good relationships, not transactions. Here, Gaga is, Jamie argues, ahead of the curve yet again. “Lady Gaga doesn’t sell albums, she sells brand alliances,” he says. “If you look at her revenues today, more than 60% are non-album based.”  

And to help build these relationships, this social-savvy singer spends her time, not by pushing transactions, but listening to what her audiences want. Just like so many businesses, she does this using analytics. Having her music on Spotify is not a way for Gaga to make big bucks, but to gain invaluable insights into how to please her fans-cum-customers. Then, in turn, she can shape her commerce using this information. In her case, it’s working out what music people want, what they’re interested in and what they enjoy.

So, don’t let her pokerface fool you; this is one switched-on and well-informed lady with a carefully thought-out branding strategy. Ironically, she's about as far from gaga as you can get. With many businesses currently dying a digital death, it may well be worth taking a leaf out of her unconventional book. It’s earned her 42 million Twitter fans. Who wouldn’t want a slice of that pie?

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