Propelling Your Loyalty Program to Rock-Star Status: Lessons from Lady Gaga

May 15, 2013

We don’t often cover pop culture or music industry superstars like Lady Gaga on the Kobie blog but a new book by loyalty expert Jackie Huba published earlier this month offers some striking insights that could (and should) be readily adapted to other businesses. For all of Lady Gaga’s musical talents, one skill is routinely overlooked: her ability to foster legions of fans with almost evangelical zeal.                                                                                                                                                                              

When was the last time your brand boasted 33 million Twitter followers or had 55 million Facebook fans?  I thought as much.

The book, Monster Loyalty: How Lady Gaga Turns Followers into Fanatics, highlights several of Gaga’s greatest branding accomplishments including:

  • Her focus on “one percenters,” the most dedicated fans.Lady Gaga Status Loyalty Program
  • The emotional connection she makes with fans by acknowledging and publicizing her beliefs.
  • Connecting fans through common experiences, heightening Gaga’s passion.
  • Her decision to call her strongest supporters “little monsters,” an affectionate term engendering exclusivity.
  • The embracing of shared symbols.
  • Gaga’s apparently genuine caring for her fans (as much as they care about her).
  • Feeding the content generation beast with largely positive stories that keeps her brand relevant and timely.

Of course, Gaga isn’t the first artist to attract mass appeal through effective branding. Fifty years after their first US chart topper (and 43 years since their breakup), The Beatles remain in high demand. Their albums sell across generations – a Pew study found Rock ‘n’ Roll the most listened to subgenre for those aged 16-64 – and the defunct band’s Facebook page has over 33 million likes.

She’s also not the first artist to name her fan base. Justin Bieber fans are “Beliebers,” Beyoncé has the “BeyHive,” Taylor Swift calls her legions “Swifties,” and who can forget the original “Deadheads,” who literally followed The Grateful Dead everywhere. 

The difference with Lady Gaga, however, is a matter of degree and forethought. The Beatles, for instance, didn’t popularize the Mop Top haircut envisioning its mass adoption whereas Gaga and her team have carefully controlled her image from the get-go, relying heavily on social media to achieve that critical mass.

But if adapting Gaga’s (or others’) success seems too remote for your brand’s loyalty program (after all, it might be hard to make your financial services customer rewards programs as popular as “Born this Way,”), Apple Inc. embraces much of the above list. Apple strongly caters to its already loyal fans, the company is imbued with Jobs’ sense of brand purpose and new product announcements feel more like theatrical blockbusters than media events.

To my knowledge, Lady Gaga has never attended any marketing or branding seminars and doesn’t have a major in business communications. But I think Huba, Apple, The Beatles and anyone else would agree that her seven-point plan of attack is an approach all brands across all verticals could emulate. Whether you’re John Deere, Calvin Klein, or Victoria’s Secret, brands must engage their particular niche first, find their unique story and tell it – before branching out. In other words, this isn’t the time to put on your poker face. Effective loyalty marketing requires genuine experiences and reciprocal relationships with extreme transparency and authenticity.

My advice: read Huba’s book. Think about the Lady Gaga brand. Think about how you can up your brand’s loyalty game using these tactics. And then share your thoughts with us in the comments below.