• Branding Lessons from Beyonce’s Album Release

While many of us were nestled down all snug in our beds, the most unexpected album of the year was released on iTunes on Friday, December 13, 2013. Mrs. Beyonce Knowles Carter released her fifth album, Beyonce. When I woke up this morning, my Instagram, Twitter and FaceBook feeds were full of surprise, adoration and acclaim from a lot of her fans. However, some of the media, were throwing a little shade at the surprise release that circumvented the traditional “album release” marketing plan (which often times heavily includes the media).

Full disclosure, I am not a full-out Beyonce fan. There are things I respect about her and I think she creates some good, catchy music. But I fall way short of the near worship I see for her on social media. But I can and do learn from everyone–including Beyonce. So as I was getting dressed this morning I thought of what are some of the lessons small business owners, brands, bloggers, vloggers, etc. could learn from Beyonce’s “surprise” album release.

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In my opinion, the reason some of the media reports seem a little less than approving of how Bey chose to release the album was because it did not require media outlets to hype up the release of her album. She did it under the cloak of darkness and her fans (and probably quite a few critics) responded exactly how she knew they would respond. Between her concerts, appearances, products and a little mystery–Beyonce has created a really strong brand. Whether you care for her or not she has done what strong brands do–delivered or exceeded the expectations of her customers/fans. She and her team have put into action the 3 C’s of Branding developed by branding expert William Aruda:

Clarity

Beyonce and her team have been very strategic about who she is and who she isn’t. And this is communicated in everything from her music to her charity work to the products she chooses to develop. Brands that are clear about who they are understand their unique promise of value (one of the definitions of branding). Even though I’m not a superfan, I have come to expect a super performance by Mrs. Carter–and to date she has not disappointed me (but I haven’t seen her live).

Question to think about: Are you clear about who you are as a brand and what it represents?

Consistency

The consistency of her performances leads even slightly marginal fans such as myself to tune in most times when she is performing and to download today’s “surprise” album (wait, do we still call them albums? LOL). Despite the changes in her life–entering adulthood, dating and marriage and now motherhood–Beyonce appears to give her all in business, on stage, in her music and at home. I am not familiar with all of her music, but I have yet to hear about an album of hers with lackluster sales due to the music not being stellar. At least one song on every album becomes the unofficial “anthem of the year.” And that consistency provokes us to follow her–hook, line and singer (I did that intentionally–smile).

Question to think about: Are you consistent (in quality and quantity) in the products or content you create?

Constancy

Whether we like or not, Beyonce is always around. I read somewhere online that she has now surpassed Kim K as the most googled woman on Earth (or some other major superlative).  We  want to know what she wears, drinks, buys, eats, etc. and she and her team happily oblige. We cannot forget about Bey because she has made herself unforgettable.

I find that a lack of constant engagement by some brands is often part of the reason their brand is not as strong as they would like. Their products or services are exceptional, their website sleek and user friendly and their presentation is of great quality. But you only see them online once maybe twice a week. I look at some brands posts and they have not posted anything online in 2 or more weeks. The brands I remember are the ones that are always on my Twitter, FB and Instagram feeds.

I know you’re thinking, “I can’t be online constantly. I have a business to run. Orders to fill. Another “paying gig” that I have to attend to.” As do I. But I post while standing in line at the cafeteria at work. I post walking to a meeting. I respond to comments while waiting for a meeting to start. I often will stay up an hour later to reply to emails or interact online. Where there is a will, there is a way. In this raging river of a movement called social media, being in front of your audience as much as possible is no longer optional.

If you struggle with constancy, there is scheduling software and apps like Hootsuite, Twuffer, Tweetdeck and others that will allow you to schedule posts to most forms of social media. Schedule one hour for yourself once a week and you can schedule your social media engagement for the entire week (unless something unexpected arises that you want to post). Try this for a month and I believe you will see an increase in followers, RTs, replies, likes, etc. With the right approach, this engagement can convert to sales.

Questions to think about: Do you think your followers would be more engaged if they saw you online more? When you have been engaged online, have you noticed an increase in inquiries and sales–even if it’s only slightly?

The reason why there is no less hype about Beyonce’s album than if it were talked about on Entertainment Tonight or E! is because strong brands do not have to rely on other people to create hype or buzz about them–they can create their own.

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If you notice above, I say “Beyonce and her team.” This is the one point of contention I have with some fans who declare that Bey is the epitome of black female success. I contend that a huge part of her success can and should be attributed to her ability to surround herself with the right people who can effectively carry out her vision. Please do not think for one moment that Beyonce is sitting up in front of iMovie cranking out the 17 videos she released with the album. Or even that she came up with all of the ideas and concepts related to her music or her brand. It was a TEAM EFFORT.  Check out the credits video for her album below.

 And beyond the special appearances and directors are producers, production assistants, camera people, audio technicians, wardrobe stylists, makeup artists, chefs, caterers, drivers, graphic designers, publicists, social media managers, nannies, lawyers, accountants,  assistants–get the point?

If you are a brand owner without a “Team BEY” in place, do not fret. Do not think you are not a success or that you will not accomplish your goals. If you do not have Beyonce’s resources, do not do yourself the disservice by trying to measure your efforts next to hers. Remember for some of us, slow and steady will win the race. It may take you a year to accomplish alone or with limited help that it takes someone less time with a team. And that’s ok. Recognize where you are and start working toward building your team (volunteer or paid).

As brand and business owners, we should understand that at certain points and times we will need assistance in executing our vision. I am personally at that crossroads now. If you cannot afford to hire everyone you need, you can “employ” the services of your family, close friends, interns and volunteers to help with the execution of projects and your vision. And there is always Fiverr for deliverables such fliers, book covers, intro videos, etc.

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Mrs. Carter said in the video above that she wanted to release something directly from her to her fans. Your customers, subscribers and followers want to feel like they “know” you and can relate to you–whether you have 100 followers or 100,000. As your follower base grows it can become difficult to allow notifications to come to your phone (your battery would always be on 1% LOL) or to answer every comment on all of your social media platforms individually. but having an authentic connection as possible is vital for brand loyalty. Beyonce rarely, if ever, responds to the “haters” because her fans come to her defense–in droves. That is because she has been masterful at making people feel they know her or could grab coffee with her on a Saturday morning while Blue Ivy sits in her lap. For as long as feasibly possible, you should remain in charge of replying to your social media. Sure, a WELL-TRAINED intern or paid staff may be able to post on your behalf (in your “own voice,” so it sounds like it comes from you). But you should attempt to respond back to inquiries, compliments and comments yourself. This allows you to get to know your followers. Nothing should be more embarrassing than meeting a follower who recounts a conversation to you that they actually had with your intern or assistant. Don’t be that guy/girl…

3 ways to increase brand loyalty through audience engagement

  1. Answer their questions and reply to their comments. If you can’t do this individually, look at the most commonly asked questions and answer them in a blog post or video
  2. Giveaways. Who doesn’t love FREE STUFF?
  3. Always remain approachable. Your customers, followers and subscribers are a SIGNIFICANT reason of your success. “Love on them” as much as possible–without too many people in between (i.e., handlers).

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The fact that few (if any) knew of the impending release of Bey’s album is probably one of the most crucial lessons I learned from this release.  I listed this last because this can only be done successfully if your brand is strong, you connect with your audience and you have a team and/or a plan in place to help in the full release all the details. In planning events (especially in the natural hair community), a near full release of details is required to increase buy-in, sponsorships and ticket sales. Perhaps a goal for brand owners and event planners should be to have such authentic relationships with people where the mere mention of an upcoming project or event sends emails (of at least an inquiry) to your inbox. To have a phenomenon like this to occur, requires a consistent, authentic engagement with your audience, sponsors, vendors, etc. It requires providing such a quality experience with your brand (through events, online engagement, customer service, videos, providing information, etc.) that anyone who engages with you will be ok not knowing all of the details, because they are confident that you will provide a memorable experience. The fact that no one knew or have heard any of the songs on Bey’s album did not stop them from downloading almost 80,000 copies in the first 3 hours (according to Billboard). The element of surprise can be a strong selling point when you have a strong brand.

Tips to create a strong brand

  • Develop and maintain authentic relationships with vendors, other brand owners, sponsors, etc.
  • Communicate consistently with your audience via social media and email
  • Demonstrate consistency in the quality of your deliverables
  • Engage on social media as much as possible so your audience doesn’t have time to miss you much 🙂
  • Shout out followers, sponsors, fellow brand owners (this business is built on reciprocity)
  • Surround yourself with volunteers and staff that will positively add to your brand’s quality

There are always lessons to be learned and gleaned from those we admire. Besides Beyonce, look at people like Oprah, Usula Burns (CEO of Xerox), your mentor at work, the lady that sells Mary Kay in your church–you can find people everywhere making trailblazing strides in their fields by demonstrating their unique promise of value.

Beyonce did something no one else has successfully done before with the release of her visual album. As you are building and maintaing your brand, I leave you with this quote from Crystal Black Davis:

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6.13-picI am Adeea Rogers (also known as The Trendy Socialite)–an event planner turned social media crusader and information maven who loves working with individuals in the natural hair community especially on creating, developing and maintaining their brand presence (on and offline). My purpose is to develop thought leaders in their individual area of passion and expertise. Take a few minutes to leave a comment and share this post with your friends!

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