While brands and companies regularly turn to consulting firms and other business specialists in search of new ideas and approaches, creatives of all types have a lot to teach us. A look at the career of international pop star Madonna will provide a telling example.
Across her 36-year career as a singer, songwriter, music producer, movie director, fashion designer, fitness chain co-founder, and philanthropist, Madonna has been one of the most influential artists of her generation.
The ‘Queen of Pop’, who turned 60 on August 16th, has made an impact far beyond her role as a singer. There are valuable lessons marketers and brands can learn from the trails she blazed on her way to success. Here are a few:
TAKE RISKS TO REACH THE TOP
“Don’t go for second best, baby. Put your love to the test, you know you’ve got to” – Express Yourself, Like a Prayer, 1989.
Madonna is known as an adventurous, risk-taking entertainer who pushes music industry boundaries “over the borderline” (to quote her early single). This spirit led her to embrace ambitious music videos in the early years of the medium, and it was evident in her late-career decision to leave Warner Brothers Records, her home since her debut album in 1982. She followed that with a 10-year deal with concert promoters Live Nation which included distribution of her albums and merchandise, despite the fact that Live Nation was not a music label. In the process she forged a new paradigm in a changed market where album sales are no longer the hallmark of success.
What we can learn: Marketing is all about taking calculated risks to create new outcomes. When you rely on the same old marketing strategies, you’re likely to run into diminished returns in a changing market. You may still be making a profit, but some of your risk-taking competitors may fail, others are likely to gain on you. By jettisoning old formulas in favor of intelligent response to new conditions, you can find potential opportunities where others may miss them.
FIND THE RIGHT MEDIUM FOR YOUR MESSAGE
“All you need is your own imagination so use it that’s what it’s for” – Vogue, I’m Breathless, 1990.
In the early 80s, Madonna saw potential in the nascent MTV and used her visionary, cinematic music videos to drive it to unimagined success – for both the network and herself.
Soon she did the same with her concerts, pioneering the concept of a “full package” performance that would prove influential to pop stars for generations to come. She brought on artistic choreographers and dancers, lighting experts, and stage design crews whose work would result in some of the most lauded (and highest-grossing) tours of all time.
Recently, she’s proven more adept at using digital media than most artists of her generation. Her ticket sales include free digital downloads of the album, and in 2016 her music video was the first to reach 100 million views on the streaming platform Vevo. Meanwhile, her Raising Malawi charity has harnessed the power of social media for humanitarian ends.
What we can learn: These days there are so many platforms a brand can use to boost its image, but getting the most out of them depends on understanding what they do best. It’s important to stay informed about all of the options available, and to seek out those that best fit your brand’s image while facilitating the kind of content that your target audience want.
BUILD YOUR USP AND MAINTAIN IT
“Starlight, star bright, first star I see tonight” – Lucky Star, Madonna, 1983
Across her career, Madonna has used her voice not just to sing, but also to speak out against injustice. She has always promoted equal rights and freedom of expression while opposing discrimination of all kinds. Her advocacy has made her an icon women’s and LGBT rights. This care and support have created devoted fans who continue to attend her concerts over the years.
What we can learn: Brands that have a significant history can’t help but represent something. If they can make that reputation positive, it becomes their Unique Selling Point (USP). A strong USP characterizes your brand and distinguishes it from others, which will create devoted adherents whom you can count on for long-term support.
REINVENT BUT DON’T FORGET
“It sways and it swings and it bends until you make it your own” – Jump, Confession on a Dance Floor, 2005.
Madonna has constantly reinvented herself throughout her career, transforming her musical and visual style while retaining her essential personality. Her reputation as a pop chameleon allows her to stay relevant despite changing trends, attracting new generations of fans without alienating the old ones.
What we can learn: Brands shouldn’t lean on old habits, because their potential customers certainly don’t. Appreciate that trends and preference change with the times, and this isn’t something to fight. Rather, learn to embrace the ever-changing world and find your place in it.
AKKARAT KATAKUL IS A CONTENT SUPERVISOR AT VERO IN BANGKOK. HE SUPPORTS THE ACCOUNT TEAM IN CONTENT DEVELOPMENT AND STRATEGY. EVEN THOUGH IT CAME OUT BEFORE HE WAS BORN, MADONNA’S EPONYMOUS DEBUT ALBUM (SEEN IN COVER PHOTO) IS AKKARAT’S MOST FAVORITE.