Back in 2003, Stefani Germanotta was an an unknown first-year music student at NYU trying to get her career off the ground. And, now, 8 years later, the renamed Lady Gaga has turned into one of the most successful musicians and marketers in history. And, let's quantify Lady Gaga's success over this time: (i) over 13MM albums sold and 51MM singles sold; (ii) 12 Grammy nominations and 5 Grammy wins; (iii) $90MM in earnings in the last year alone; and (iv) over 43MM fans on Facebook and 13MM followers on Twitter (and counting). It is pretty incredible that a 25 year old could acheive so much artistic and business success in such little time.
But, how exactly did she do it? What lessons can us entrepreneurs take from such a meteoric rise. To me, it comes down to the following drivers of her success: (i) she took a page right out of a proven playbook (e.g., Madonna); (ii) she always keeps her followers guessing and wanting more; (ii) she produces a very high quality product; and (iv) she has a sincere personal relationship with her customers/fans. Let's study each of these points in more depth below.
Lady Gaga was not the first female mega-popstar. She was clearly preceeded by many others, including one of her idols, Madonna. Madonna was cutting edge for her day (the 1980's and 1990's). She surrounded her music with controversial subject matter, videos oozing with sexuality, and costumes that would make any mother blush. And, she was the pro at staying relevant in an industry littered with one-hit wonders. As she got older, she took bold chances to keep her name at the forefront of her industry (e.g., leading role in Evita movie, music collaborations with hot stars of the day, like Justin Timberlake). But, what Lady Gaga did, was take that Madonna playbook, and put it on steroids. Lady Gaga became more than simply another "over the top" music celebrity, she also became a fearless fashion icon and a revered cheerleader/role model for her fans. Time will tell if Lady Gaga will withstand the test of time, like Madonna has. But, she is certainly off to a great start with an already proven playbook.
But, unlike Madonna, who seemed to reinvent herself every year or two, Lady Gaga appears to reinvent herself every couple months. She always has her fans and the media guessing what she is going to do next. Have you ever seen crazier outfits (e.g., her famous meat suit she wore to the Video Music Awards in 2010)? Of course not. And, that unexpected craziness keeps her front and center in every People magazine, E! News broadcast and every other entertainment media outlet, all further fueling free publicity for Lady Gaga and pounding home her already "bigger than life" persona.
But, honestly, none of this would be possible if Lady Gaga didn't deliver an absolutely great product. She insists on writing all of her own music. Her songs are well-written with a great beat. Her concerts are an amazing spectacle and production. If the quality of the product wasn't there, people wouldn't buy into all the other craziness in isolation. Even if you took away all the pomp and circumstance, Lady Gaga would still be selling a ton of albums. But, the pomp and circumstance adds to her story, and has her selling even more.
But, perhaps, Lady Gaga's biggest success is not her music or her fashion sense. It is her uncanny ability to connect with her fans, at a very personal level. She affectionately refers to her fans as her Little Monsters (more marketing genius), and she has positioned herself as their leader and champion, for those that cannot champion themselves. She stands up for all who have been bullied or teased for being different (almost as if she has personal experience of her own in this regard). So, she is more than a musical artist to her fans. She is their leader and role model, giving people a voice that otherwise would not have a voice of their own. This is pretty powerful stuff, resulting with Lady Gaga accumulating 56MM fans/followers on Facebook/Twitter (a very large platform to communicate her various messages).
I am a huge fan of Lady Gaga--the musician, the fashionista, the humanitarian and the businessperson. All with an aura of authenticity that makes it credible. There are plenty of valuable lessons in Lady Gaga's success that we can all apply to our businesses.
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