Visual album. 14 songs, 17 videos. And the fans didn’t see it coming at all.
On December 13, 2013, without a preceding marketing campaign, Beyoncé Knowles dropped a visual album on iTunes. The self-titled LP is an instant critical and commercial success, easily beating the total sales of Beyoncé’s last record.
But contrary to what some believe, the release of the visual album does not demonstrate that marketing is dead. Yes, the album’s strategy was unconventional, but BEYONCÉ shows that marketing is even more important than ever. Here are seven marketing lessons you can learn from the “Single Ladies” singer:
1. Do something unique.
Today’s music industry is very single-driven: It’s customary for pop acts to release a lead single a few months before an album drops, promote that single on radio, release a video for that single, and perform it on TV shows and concerts.
But Beyoncé’s approach to this visual album skipped this strategy.
There were no lead singles. She created videos, but she did it for every single track. And there were no prior performances of any of the songs. Most importantly, even the radio industry was surprised by the album’s release.
The results were phenomenal: BEYONCÉ shattered iTunes records on its first week, selling 828,773 copies within three days and going number one in 104 different countries.
For marketers, this is a reminder to not play by the rules all the time. People would like to be surprised. Your tactics today may be working, but what are you doing to keep things interesting for your target audience?
2. Create a great product.
Simply put, BEYONCÉ is the “Crazy in Love” singer’s most cohesive and creative record to date. Even Pitchfork, known for snubbing many mainstream artists, gave the album a rating of 8.8 out of 10. The writer had to say about this about the album:
Call it a coup or just another victory for her mammoth PR apparatus, but consider the alternatives: The strategy probably would have failed if the quality wasn’t there, and the album could not have achieved such an impact without its rogue—in spirit, at least—method of distribution. Beyoncé was unleashed upon the world in a way that could only succeed right now, with an aim to make the audience consume it the way it would have long ago. It’s a line that could be ripped straight from the mouth of an investment-drunk tech startup founder, but it’s true: Beyoncé seized the powers of a medium characterized by its short attention span to force the world to pay attention. Leave it to the posterchild of convention to brush convention aside and leave both sides feeling victorious.
Pitchfork’s review mirrors what most of the the critics—and more importantly, the music fans—say about the album.
No marketing tactic can sell a product if the quality isn’t there. So before you even think about social media, content marketing, or a newsletter, evaluate the offering you’re selling to see if it’s actually something people will love.
3. Have a solid team behind you.
Beyoncé couldn’t have created BEYONCÉ without a great team behind her. From some of the most exciting writers (including The Dream, Justin Timberlake, Pharrell, and Boots) to a solid marketing team that hammered the deal with Apple, Ms. Knowles had a lot of help. Keeping the videos a secret also meant having not just the most creative people, but also those who can keep their mouths shut.
Emerging trends such as the wearable technology means that CMOs today need a strong team that understands and that can implement multi-channel marketing. Just like Beyoncé, you need not just a creative and talented team—you need one you can trust.
4. Invest in videos; think multi-media.
As a so-called visual album, BEYONCÉ is inherently very visual. In addition to the elaborate music videos, the album’s promotional push also includes stunning photos from each song/video, as well as a “Self-titled” mini-feature on YouTube.
If your marketing efforts still rely on one or two types of media, you’re doing it wrong. From micro-videos (e.g. Instagram, Vine), to photos (Instagram), from infographics (Visual.ly) to audio (podcasting), there are many ways marketers today can entertain and educate their audiences. Using several of these mediums can help increase brand awareness and attract leads.
5. Embrace social.
Can you guess where BEYONCÉ was first announced? Not through a traditional press release. Not a press conference. It’s not through a big TV event either.
The surprise album came through a 15-second video on Beyoncé’s Instagram account.
That’s right—not only did Ms. Knowles skipped releasing official lead singles, she also bypassed traditional means of announcing the album.
And it’s not like she didn’t have the chance to announce the album on a more traditional platform. She was at the 2013 Super Bowl. She sang for Obama’s inauguration. She probably could have been at the VMAs, if she really wanted to. Instead of all of this, she chose to make the announcement by talking directly to her fans.
The “Drunk In Love” singer has been investing more on social recently. She uses her Tumblr account to give a glimpse of backstage action from the Mrs. Carter Show World Tour. She also does this on her Facebook page, where she shares videos from fans and (of course) news about her. On Instagram, she shares pics both from her tour and her personal lives. Admittedly, many of the photos she shares aren’t completely candid, but they do provide a sneak peek into the life of the superstar.
Stats show that social media can help drive sales, so if your business is still not tweeting, Facebooking, or pinning, you’re probably already behind. Start figuring out how you can use social to help amplify your marketing message and (more importantly) to engage customers and prospects online.
6. Be authentic.
As a long-term fan, I can honestly say that BEYONCÉ is her most honest record. In “Flawless,” for example, the singer asserts her surprising feminist stance, telling people, “my sister told me to speak my mind.” In the sexy RnB songs “Rocket” and “Partition,” she shares details of her sex life like she hasn’t before.
The most surprising thing about BEYONCÉ isn’t its promotional push but it’s content. Jay-Z’s better half goes where she hasn’t before, trading the big anthemic songs with more honest and even political music.
I’m not suggesting that your business should start sharing details about your sex life, but the lesson here is to be more authentic. Being polished and professional can only take you so far. The most exciting brands today (Zappos, Google, etc.) resonate with people because they’re willing to be quirky and show the human side of their business.
7. Get your ducks in a row.
The release of Beyoncé’s latest album may not have had a traditional release plan, but the marketing push once the album was out was superb.
Within minutes, the “XO” singer practically took over iTunes as the site promoted the new album using three banners on the home page. Her back catalogue was also promoted as her previous albums were immediately placed on the front page. A press release was sent a little later to give the media some information to report. At the same time, Beyoncé posted the first “Self-titled” video on her Facebook page.
For my fellow marketers, the lesson is pretty clear: for major campaigns, get everyone in your team involved, and make sure they all know their part. A seamless release can only happen by having a solid strategy and a team that can execute it flawlessly.
BEYONCÉ‘s release was unconventional, but given its tremendous success, I suspect that other artists—and marketers from many industries—will be using it as a case study in the future to demonstrate how taking a risk sometimes pays off. This project reiterates the need to rethink conventional marketing tactics and to embrace new ways of getting your messages and products out there.
What other marketing lessons have you learned from Beyoncé’s visual album? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.