Question - which brand has the ability to captivate young people around the world? Has the audacity to disrupt systems? Turn its fans into evangelists while overcoming set-backs that other brands get vilified for?
You’d be forgiven for thinking that this article is about Apple, Disney or Nike – global lifestyle brands that have transcended the products that they sell; stable organisations that are synonymous with quality and trust, clear visual identities, offering a well differentiated and high-quality product.
But the answer is Beyonce – a singer who came from modest means - the daughter of a hairdresser and photocopier salesman – to become a global power brand, somehow, embodying the same attributes that brand managers work tirelessly to achieve.
We'll be deep-diving into the 'Beyonce brand' in much more detail – together with releasing lots more unique data and reflecting on what it means for marketers - in our talk at Millennial 2020 (click here to win a pair of tickets!), but today we'll skim through some facets of her brand, what makes it so strong and what lessons we can apply to youth marketing from the way she manages her celebrity.
Where others wildly oscillate in popularity, Beyonce’s celebrity remains steady, and near top of mind:
Since December 2016, we’ve been tracking the most popular celebrities amongst 16-24 year olds in the UK, as part of our State of the Youth Nation insight tool. Above we chart the ‘top ten’ celebrities mentioned when we ask the simple question, “who is your favourite celebrity?”. A new sample of 1000 take part in every wave, every 60 days and the sample is representative of the UK population. Above charts the ‘top of mind’, unprompted celebrities.
As you can see from the orange trend line above, Beyonce is never far from the top of the list. But more tellingly, her popularity remains steady and consistent where other stars oscillate wildly as their publicity machines whir into (and out of) action. Significantly, Beyonce has released no new albums since early 2016, no tours since late 2016 and just one new single in Autumn 2017 (Perfect, duet with Ed Sheeran). Her popularity and consistency belies her activity and is independent of the media circus that most stars rely on.
So what’s the secret sauce behind Beyonce’s brand and why have her fans, the beyhive, remained so loyal?
Consistent talent, applied creatively
Few would disagree with the contention that Beyonce is both a talented singer and highly creative. But it is the consistency with which she applies her creativity to her talent which allows her so much licence, and this underwrites her capacity to be a brand rather than a pigeon-holed artist associated with a single genre. She has been able to channel her vocal talents into a range of styles and promote them across a range of media. There is no surprise when she takes on pop tunes, soul ballads or “wordless ecstasies” (in her latest album). In embracing the range of styles she is able to attract the support of a broader audience, building trust and affinity with the many, not the few.
Beyonce's public declarations are few and far between. Unlike many pop stars her personal disclosures are carefully measured. But she also knows when to share. For example, her recent announcements about her twins were massively shared on the internet. But she constantly guards against over-exposure, and in so doing protects her allure as a celebrity. Her brand is enhanced by what she shares, because the content she posts is meaningful and therefore more impactful.
Paradoxically, part of Beyonce’s consistency (and brand strength) is born from her inconsistency; her willingness to surprise and delight. Her eponymous 2013 album, “Beyonce” was released with practically no promotion at all - a marketing stroke of genius. Her next release, "Lemonade" in April 2016 seemed to offer a voyeuristic peak into her marriage – which seemed to be falling apart. Whether genuine or not, it seemed to provide a portrayal of a celebrity relationship going through the same traumas we all encounter.
Each time she makes a major creative contribution, it’s with its own unique spin. It’s not just about rebellion or insubordination, it’s about disruption, originality and personal honesty. But there are core values that run through all her disruptions. She always appears authentically committed to the idea of women’s empowerment.
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Authenticity in message and meaning
The brand of Beyonce stands for something, just like Nike and Apple. While Nike is more than a running shoe (it’s decisiveness, it’s encouragement), Beyonce is more than an R&B singer. She’s a performer, a feminist, and civil rights activist.
At the 2016 Super Bowl she paid homage to the Black Panthers by wearing a black beret and ending with a black power salute. She has also performed on tour in front of a giant screen with the word ‘feminist’ on it, and last year she announced her college scholarship programme to allow young women to study creative arts or African American studies. At a cerebral level, Beyonce fulfills her fan base's 'higher-order needs', keeping her audience engaged long after they've physically moved on.
Strategic brand extensions
When Beyonce releases a single she often has one that is geared toward her urban fan base and then another geared towards the pop airwaves. This strategy has allowed her to stay true to her core and extend her reach and highlight Beyonce as a true artist.
As her music can stretch, there is little or no cognitive dissonance when she puts her name to a fragrance (the incredibly successful Heat) or a clothing line (Ivy Park, largely sold by TopShop) or a jewellery line (Third Crown) or a myriad of other licensing arrangements.
Ideas to take back to your team
Beyonce is an inspiration to many, with her consistent staying power and authenticity. She isn’t afraid to speak her mind and has a message that resonates with young people.
Here are three ideas to help improve your youth marketing based on the power of Queen Bey:
- Talk about what you care about, not just your product – young people want to know what you value and what your brand stands for. Show that you can engage with real issues in an authentic, relevant way, and strive to make changes that will improve society for everyone.
- Examine your social media posts – Take a breath and look at your social media posts and question the underlying messages behind them. Are you oversaturating your audience or delivering an inconsistent message? Aim to be impactful and aspirational rather than applying a scattergun approach that confuses your target consumers.
- Take creative approaches to reach new audiences – While remaining true to your brand, engage with your target market in new and innovative ways. Young people respect bold brands who are open to challenging the ways things are done. But avoid being too rebellious or anti-establishment – focus on innovation and simplicity.