The world of business is changing. Fast.
With the Recession finally releasing the world’s economies from its steel vise, we have seen a tremendous increase in the number of new businesses coming to market. In 2012, there were 514,000 new business owners entering the fray, and this number continues to increase. The attitude towards entrepreneurship is shifting away from the sticky swamp of recessionary stagnation and moving into a phase of growth.
But what does this mean for startups as we reach the midpoint of this new decade? It means increased competition and an even greater need to differentiate ourselves. It means that virtually no company is irreplaceable. It means that, right now, there is someone out there, in his or her living room or garage, carving a silver bullet with your company’s name on it .
So, how can startups in a healthier economic climate ensure their own success? The answer lies invariably in branding and keeping focused on a core mission. In writing this article, I challenged myself to find a megabrand that established itself during the tough post-2007 Recession period. Tricky. Having given it some thought, however, I have found what now seems like an obvious subject for this article. A brand that seemingly arrived from another galaxy and decimated all other competitors in an extremely crowded marketplace. I am referring, of course, to Lady Gaga.
Lady Gaga is a subject of intense debate, particularly in online circles. Perhaps the most polarizing figure in popular music to emerge in the last two decades, her presentation of music, fashion, technology, and social reform has been received with equal doses of hearty praise and vitriolic criticism. The songwriter-turned-pop-phenomenon ascended to pop supremacy in a few short years, solidifying her place in the social consciousness along the way. She became the ‘superstar(tup)’ of her generation.
Though certainly polarizing, there is no denying the power of Gaga’s omnipotent ‘superstartup,’ both culturally and entrepreneurially. Below, I have listed some key lessons from the Lady’s success that new business owners can use to smoothly navigate the tumultuous waters of a new, post-Recession world:
It’s Always Been Overcrowded
I often find myself debating with friends the differences between our parents’ lives and our own, particularly as they pertain to starting up businesses. There seems to be an overarching belief that “things were different back then,” that is was easier to succeed in the less technologically innovative world of yesteryear. Nonsense; the only difference between then and now is that we are more acutely able to use these new technologies to monitor what is happening in respective industries and innovate around the trends to which our competitors fall victim.
When Gaga broke into the industry, she faced the titans of pop music—Beyoncé, whose critical acclaim and sales were comparable to few others; Britney Spears, who was experiencing a surprising career surge following an infamous 2007; Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, and Rihanna, all of whom had racked up impressive singles sales by that point. Then, all of a sudden, there existed only one name in the pop arena. Lady Gaga didn’t step out into an empty field; rather, she razed a crowded landscape to the ground.
Dare To Be Different
It goes without saying that Lady Gaga is not your run-of-the-mill pop singer. Musically, she incorporated dance beats into her songs in a way that had not yet been made accessible for radio. Stylistically, well… the ‘meat dress’ speaks for itself. While her competitors signed deals with the more familiar Pepsi and Sketchers, Gaga elevated herself by aligning with avant-garde fashion houses like Alexander McQueen and tech companies like Google. Whether it was by dressing in charcuterie, electronics, or in nothing at all, Gaga differentiated herself from all others in her market, and she drew our attention because of it.
Think Social (Embracing the Virus)
In my final year of college, I proposed to my Marketing class the existence of a phenomenon that had existed for decades, but that we could only now observe numerically. It was called ‘Social Virality’, which held that companies’ messages were being increasingly spread not through typical communication avenues, but through experience, by which the image of a company ‘infects’ customers’ perceptions of that company. Ultimately, this results in customers subliminally spreading these messages through social media.
Gaga is the perfect example of this. She utilized the power of social media to create a subculture of fans—connected to one another via the Internet—who would act as self-proclaimed brand ambassadors. The one-time leader of all social media used the platform advantageously and was able to ‘infect’ all four corners of the world (which, of course, led to the ultimate fan title of ‘Little Monsters.’ How much would you spend to have an entire group of people name themselves in honor of your company?).
Focus on Customer Retention Early On
Seems pretty straightforward, right? As you earn your first customers, ‘infect’ them with your brand, have them infect others in their network, and then keep them informed of new opportunities as you grow (while rewarding them for their loyalty and early support). This is the way that business will progress this century, of that I am sure. However, it often surprises me just how many companies still focus on customer acquisition instead of retention (despite reports that indicate that 70 percent of companies’ metrics show that it is cheaper to keep present customers than to acquire new ones).
Lady Gaga was clever at the beginning of her career in working closely with fansite creators to ensure that, even when the lights went out in New York, someone in Seoul would be spreading her message. By offering these brand cheerleaders perks, such as exclusive access to her events, she ensured that there was always a global network of rhetoric behind anything she did. These early adopters, whose websites receive upwards of 500,000 clicks per day, were inarguably a massive force driving the success of the Gaga ‘superstartup.’
Don’t Be Afraid of The News!
What I mean by this is that, every day, with the immediacy of digital information sharing, the world is becoming smaller, and social causes are coming to the fore in a way that we have never seen before. Malala Yousafzai’s experience advocating for female education in areas of Pakistan has been broadcast across the globe with slashing swiftness. The Gay Rights and Feminist movements have enjoyed unprecedented exposure during the last decade due to the transparency of today’s world.
Startups everywhere must be savvy in how they communicate with the world, and Lady Gaga is the perfect example of a new name aligning itself with a social movement in a mutually beneficial way. Few can question, for example, Gaga’s advocacy for the gay community, and this associated link has served her well in growing her base of customers. Gaga’s example shows how important it is to know who you are and what your company is, and to stand behind causes that align with your core values. It can provide exposure and loyalty among your early phase customer base. Keep these lessons in mind, and who knows; maybe yours will be the next ‘superstartup.’
Arthur Joseph McKey is a Director of Programme Development for the Consero Group. A Fulbright Scholar, he graduated from Trinity College, Dublin with a Honours Bachelor’s Degree in business, economics, and social studies. In his role at Consero, Arthur cultivates groups of delegates, conducts pan-European/American market research, and writes programme agendas for the company’s Forums, leading the Programme Development operation in EMEA.