Several months ago, I spent the day in NYC with a dozen marketing leaders. One of the burning issues on the minds of these global leaders was how to best leverage the power of their existing brand advocates. We were all intrigued when Wendy Clark SVP, Integrated Marketing Communications & Capabilities for Coca-Cola, mentioned having Lady Gaga’s manager, Troy Carter, talk to the company about this very issue. We were so inspired that we invited him to join Bazaarvoice at our annual meeting.
Love her or not, Gaga has an enviable relationship with her fans. She is one of the best-selling artists of all time in large part due to the fervent advocacy of her most loyal fans. Her superfans – a.k.a. the Little Monsters – are her most fanatical advocates. Gaga’s loyalty marketing techniques are legendary, and businesses of all size can learn from them.
In our time with Troy Carter, he shared the following principles:
Know your advocates well
Gaga got her start playing gay clubs in NYC and has remained fanatically loyal to this audience at every touchpoint — advocating for LGBT causes particularly AIDS relief, writing lyrics about and politically pressing gay issues, and partnering with other gay celebrities to advance causes. Because she is consistent in all her interactions, it’s clear that this audience really truly matters to her, and her activism is authentic.
Understand the value of a superfan
Gaga’s superfans reward her. While many enthusiasts simply purchase her music on iTunes, Gaga’s superfans go all out. They want the full experience, and not only purchase her music digitally, but buy the CDs/albums, attend every concert, purchase merchandise, and bring other fans into Gaga Nation. The average sale from a superfan is huge, and her team tracks and measures these relationships throughout the year.
Know what motivates your superfans
According to Carter, Gaga’s fans are motivated by information and access. Discounts don’t do it for them. They don’t value typical rewards; what they want is intimate access to their musical hero. This inspired the team to create LittleMonsters.com, a niche social network for superfans only. Gaga and company felt communicating directly with five million super-engaged, true fans would have an even greater impact than 25 million+ casual fans she connects with on Twitter (where she’s the most-followed member of the entire network).
On LittleMonsters.com, Gaga and Carter reward her Little Monsters’ loyalty with information, and lots of it: sneak peeks at her tour schedule before it’s published, details about record releases, photos and videos of the singer backstage and in private settings, and other bits of info that haven’t been shared with her broader fan base.
Influence is another powerful motivator for these superfans. Every Little Monster has Carter’s private email address, and they use it to give input on everything from her hair color to tour schedule. The info is typically insightful and genuinely helpful, and Gaga’s team often acts on it. For example, because concerts are typically viewed now through the lens of a smartphone, fans actually see things differently than when they are just watching a stage. In a preview show, some of the Little Monsters emailed Carter that Gaga’s “grey hair” was unflattering. Her hair wasn’t grey – it turned out that the stage lighting made her hair look off – a legitimate issue for a performer known for her platinum tresses. Because Carter had real-time input, he was able to adjust the lighting before the next show. Carter communicates back to the fans when their feedback inspires changes, making them feel validated in knowing that they are making a difference.
Superfans expect an authentic experience: when you shill, shill smart
Gaga is authentic; her fans expect a consistent experience and set of values from her. Carter notes that Gaga’s fans have not only accepted but embraced her corporate endorsements when, and only when, they have been true to Gaga’s ethos.
Co-marketing with brands is only truly effective when there’s an authentic connection between artist and product. Her relationship with cosmetic brand MAC has been a winner. They “get” Gaga’s persona – she’s colorful and flamboyant, much like the brand. According to Carter, “I’ve never had a struggle getting her out of bed to support MAC.” The brand allowed Gaga full artistic license to create a Viva Glam lipstick, which has been one of the brand’s best sellers, and has raised a substantial amount of money for the MAC Aids Fund, a cause that’s near and dear to the artist.
Because the partnership was authentic to Gaga, she was able to rally her fans to support it, and they did in record numbers – not only buying the lipstick, but embracing the cause in other ways. Participants contributed self-portraits, shared information about HIV/AIDS, and encouraged friends to “live with passion and love with protection” across their personal social networks. Thousands of people participated in and supported the initiative.
Meet them where they are – literally and figuratively
Carter spends a lot of time determining how Gaga can best interact with her fans, and his credo is “meet your best fans where they are.” When Gaga is entering a new geography, her team does something atypical for the music business. They invest their time in the market – frequently spending a month exploring or, as Carter notes, “eating their food and learning their customs.” This time investment pays off with highly relevant performances that are attuned to cultural nuances.
Brands have an opportunity to learn from Gaga’s example. Your best, most active fans deserve the most attention. If you reward their loyalty with things that really matter to them, staying true to the values that made them love you in the first place, you are set up for long term growth. They will buy from you, contribute creatively, bring new customers into the fold, advocate for you when times are tough and help you become better. All you have to do is start the conversation.