When you look at the list of the world’s most powerful brands – Apple, Nike, Coca Cola, Disney – they’ve all had several decades to tell their brand stories. But time isn’t always a good thing. These brands have also had to constantly reinvent themselves over and over again to stay innovative and relevant to consumers.

Today, when we talk about brands, we’re no longer just talking about companies, we’re also talking about people. Politicians, actors, musicians, athletes – they all have their own brand. And, like their corporate counterparts, they too face the challenge of remaining culturally relevant to their fans.

While people as brands are different from products and services as brands, we believe that there’s a lot to learn from the marketing tactics of performers and public figures. And it just so happens that tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of one of the greatest and most unexpected marketing stories of the past decade: the surprise release of Beyoncé’s self-titled album.

Beyoncé rose to fame at a time when cell phones and the web were just hitting mainstream America. When she branched out as a solo artist in 2003, Facebook was in its infancy, YouTube were barely at conception, and Instagram was years out of development. Beyoncé has been in the public eye long enough to build a loyal fan base, yet she’s managed to evolve both her sound, style and overall marketing strategy in a way that is both innovative and – yes, I’ll say it – almost flawless.

Today we’ll take a look at the Beyoncé marketing playbook and share four of her most successful strategies that all brands can implement to refresh their marketing tactics and engage their fan base.

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1. Remind your fans where you came from

True Beyoncé fans know her life story (H-town child star, Destiny’s Child rise to fame, wildly successful solo career, marriage to Jay-Z etc.) as well as they know their own. She never lets her fans forget where she came from – both geographically and metaphorically. One of Beyoncé’s recent music video’s includes footage from her stint on Star Search at age 12, showing us one of her first brushes with rejection. Another includes home video footage from her childhood growing up in Houston. By sharing these intimate moments with her fans, Beyoncé’s telling us that she too has struggled, and that despite the lavish lifestyle she lives today, she came from more humble beginnings.

Brands who do this well:

Our client Bacardi launched a campaign last year utilizing the tagline “Some men are kicked out of bars, others are kicked out of countries,” to tell the story of the company’s history dating back to 1862 and their exile from Cuba. Bacardi decided to move their branding strategy away from the more traditional occasion-focused campaigns, and instead chose to highlight their unique brand history about overcoming adversity. This campaign allowed Bacardi to engage in a deeper conversation with their customers, and reposition the brand with some simple storytelling.

Tips for brands:

Consumers gravitate toward the idea of a brand journey, because we all have journeys of our own. Brands that can successfully build a meaningful narrative are more likely to create a deeper connection between themselves and their consumers, and in turn, build a stronger, loyal base. While it may seem counterintuitive, strategists looking to come up with a fresh campaign idea should actually try taking a look back at their brand’s original story for inspiration.

2. Diversify your presence across platforms

While many brands struggle to manage just a few channels, Beyoncé has a strong presence across nearly all major platforms. She boasts 21M+ Instagram followers, 66M+ Facebook fans, 50M+ views on just her most recent YouTube music video, and an ever evolving Tumblr page. In addition to social, Beyoncé has also carved out an impressive content strategy across TV, film, and live performances. She leverages video, sound, art and design to create unique content across each individual platform, yet always remains “on brand.”

Brands who do this well:

Nike has done a fantastic job of creating a distinct feel for each of their social channels, while ensuring that their brand voice remains consistent. Nike’s Instagram account is full of stunning landscape shots that inspire you to take your workout outdoors. They leverage Twitter to share short, motivational quips with campaign hashtags like #chooseyourwinter and the classic #justdoit. Their Facebook page acts almost as a lookbook to showcase apparel and new campaigns. By diversifying their content across platforms, Nike is casting a wider net, and allowing their followers to engage with different parts of their brand across every channel.

Tips for brands:

The most successful brand strategists understand the need to not only be present across a variety of platforms, but to have a unique strategy for each one. Take a look at how your competitors and aspirational brands represent themselves on different channels. Research the demographics: Facebook now reaches 45% of 65 year olds, while Twitter is most popular among 18-29 year olds. While maintaining brand consistency and a cohesive style across each platform is crucial, so is generating a diverse range of content.

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3. Share relatable moments

Beyoncé does an incredible job of being simultaneously untouchable and yet somehow, entirely relatable. The singer actively engages her fan base on social media by sharing intimate moments from her personal life. From images of her walking the beach with her daughter to drinking beers with her sister to home videos from her wedding day, Beyoncé has created an atmosphere of intimacy amongst her fans. And this sentiment doesn’t just translate into fan loyalty – these well-choreographed marketing efforts have also helped Beyoncé become this year’s highest-earning woman in music.

Brands who do this well:

Percolate client Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign is probably one of the most well-known examples of a brand capitalizing on this concept of “realness” and authenticity. The campaign has evolved since it launched over 10 years ago, but one of the things that has always remained consistent is their use of real, relatable women of all colors, shapes and sizes. Their 2013 Real Beauty Sketches advertising campaign (which became the most watched ad ever) brought an emotional realness to the campaign, by showing women that “you’re more beautiful than you think.”

Tips for brands:

Modern consumers are no longer fooled by glossy stock images and photoshopped magazine covers. AdAge reports that three quarters of online consumers don’t even trust ads in print publications. So the most successful marketers are now creating content that their consumers can truly identify with. Our client Amtrak saw this strategy succeed first hand, when their user-generated photos captured by our Fanbranded tool saw more than twice the engagement on Twitter than images shared from other sources.

4. Don’t underestimate the element of surprise

Almost exactly one year ago today, the world awoke to find that one of the biggest superstars in the world had dropped a new album, seemingly out of thin air. A stunning feat of secrecy that rivals Apple, Beyoncé achieved what most would consider impossible in the age of the Internet: no promotional interviews, no leaked tracks, no press releases. Just direct communication between an artist and her fans. Clearly the surprise release paid off, as the album went on to become the fastest-selling album ever in the iTunes store.

Brands who do this well:

Brands have leveraged this concept of surprise in plenty of recent campaigns. Two examples from our clients: Bud Light’s #UpForWhatever campaign takes spontaneity to a new level, engaging unsuspecting Bud Light drinkers in one of the craziest days of their lives. Heineken launched their Departure Roulette En Route campaign last year, which invited fans of the beer to drop everything and travel to an unknown location at the drop of a hat. The brand said the campaign “aimed to reward spontaneity and capture the genuine moment of facing an instantaneous decision.” The concept resonated: the video has over 3 million views on YouTube and continues to grow today.

Tips for Brands:

To really leverage the element of surprise, you have to have a solid understanding of consumer expectation. An artist almost always announces a date for their album release, which is why Beyoncé’s lack of any announcement worked so well. Look for things that customers expect from you, and then reverse it. This requires a lot of creativity, innovation and, without stating the obvious, excellent timing. Consumers get bored quickly, and brands will only benefit by keeping them on their toes. Strategists should be inspired to play on the unexpected to hit their brand message home.

In my day-to-day as a Client Solutions Associate at Percolate, I get to work with strategists from some of the world’s most successful brands. And while yes, I’m biased when it comes to Beyoncé since I am clearly a fan, I firmly believe the marketing tactics she’s used as an artist are just as applicable to the brands I work with. By having a strong, authentic narrative, a diversified content strategy that’s relatable and sometimes surprising, brands have the chance to reach new levels of innovation when it comes to their marketing.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia