In the foreword for Think Like a Rock Star, Kathy Sierra talks about how rock stars want to make their fans better. Rock stars, unlike most brands, have a great connection and empathy for their fans and who they are as well as their wants and needs. I’ve blogged several times about how Lady Gaga consistently communicates to her fans (her Little Monsters) that she appreciates and loves them.
Now she’s upping the ante again: On the US leg of her Born This Way Ball tour, Gaga will have as part of the experience a bus that will provide free counseling for her fans. As she explains on Facebook:
At the BornBrave Bus you have access to professional private or group chats about mental health, depression, bullying, school & friends. There will also be food and games, DJ White Shadow andLady Starlight will DJ with host BREEDLOVE to keep the experience fun.
BornBrave Bus Is a place where mental health + depression are taken seriously w/ no judgement, FREE real help available to all. I feel like most kids don’t look for help because they feel embarrassed so mom + I wanted to break the stigmas around “help” and make it fun.
Now this move may draw some criticism and questions about these counselors and concerns over who they are and if they are qualified to provide counseling to troubled children and teens. That’s understandable, but what you cannot question is Gaga’s devotion to her fans as people, not just as customers.
And this is the difference between how many rock stars cultivate fans, and how many brands do so. At best, a brand will create an amazing product that delights its customers. Perhaps so that those customers evangelize the brand to other customers.
But rock stars go out of their way to show their fans that they appreciate their support. They don’t try to have a strictly transactional relationship with their fans, they strive to have an emotional one. That means they invest a lot of time and money in doing things that don’t directly generate sales. Like signing autographs for an entire day for free, or giving their fans a free concert or free counseling. These efforts are met with a confusing shoulder shrug by some marketers because they don’t lead directly to sales.
But that’s not the intent. The goal for the rock star is connect with their fans and strengthen that emotional connection.
Because that leads to sales. The rock star’s fans don’t evangelize the rock star’s music because they love it, they love the rock star. They love the rock star for their music, but also for how they love their fans, it means their devotion for the rock star is much deeper, as is their motivation to see other people support the rock star by buying their merchandise. When a rock star like Lady Gaga does something like offering free counseling to her fans, it communicates to them that she truly loves them, and as a result, it gives the fan a greater incentive to promote that rock star to others. The fans become vested in helping the rock star become better, because the rock star is invested in helping their fans become better.
But all this starts because rock stars don’t view their fans as potential marketing channels. The view their fans as special people that they truly love and strive to have an emotional connection with. Because rock stars have long understood that people don’t support someone or something because you give them a coupon or ask them to. They support things and people that they believe in, that they love, and that love them back.
Which is a big reason why rock stars have fans, and companies have customers.
Jackie Huba says
I love this. This is totally within the mission of her Born This Way Foundation and shows again how much she cares about her fans. Who else would do something like this?! Great write-up Mack.
Patty Crawford says
Mack – Great example that got me thinking. Rock stars have two things companies may or may not have: Passionate, creative leaders who rely on staying in touch with their right-brained abilities and a desire to innovate.
Mack Collier says
Hi Patty! Over the past few years I’ve done a lot of research into how rock stars cultivate fans so easily, because I was trying to figure out what their ‘secret sauce’ was so that we could apply that same methodology to how companies connect with their customers, so that they could more easily cultivate fans as well.
What I discovered was that there really wasn’t a ‘secret sauce’, IOW rock stars weren’t doing anything that most companies and brands could do, if they wanted to. IMO the big disconnect came in how both groups attempted to expand their customer base.
Most companies want to acquire new customers by marketing to them directly. That’s why most of their advertising budgets, product sampling, coupons etc etc is based on trying to win NEW business. The problem is, they typically don’t do anything to KEEP your business .
Rock stars are different because they typically focus on creating deep connections with their fans. With the understanding that by doing so, that their fans will acquire new customers for them! Rock stars let their biggest and most passionate fans do their marketing for them, which is why it is more likely to resonate, because that marketing is coming not only from people that believe in and trust the rock star, but also from people WE believe in and trust. Our friends.
Rock stars aren’t doing anything that companies couldn’t do, it’s just that most companies aren’t ready to truly embrace their fans and shift some/any control of their marketing messages to them. But the few that are willing to embrace their fans, are seeing big results.
DJ Waldow says
Hey Mack –
Man. I’m so conflicted with Lady Gaga. I love how she connects with her fans. I love how she is innovative, unique, dramatic, herself, etc … but, as a father of a young girl, I worry about how what she wears and how she portrays herself (have you seen some of her videos?) … I worry how that can negatively impact young girls. I recently watched a documentary – Sexy Baby (HIGHLY RECOMMEND – http://sexybabymovie.com/) – where one of the 12 year old girls went out with her girlfriend all dressed up like Lady Gaga.
Scares the crap out of me.
I realize this blog post is not REALLY about what I just commented on, but couldn’t resist sharing my thoughts, as a father of a young girl.
Mack Collier says
DJ I totally get what you are saying, and understand why as a parent some of the things she does/says/etc can worry you. To be honest, I there’s plenty of things she does that I don’t agree with either.
But as a marketer, I can appreciate how much she loves her fans. Amanda Palmer is another example of an artist that does some things I don’t agree with, but I totally love how she engages with her fans.
But if I were in your situation raising a young girl, I would probably have many of the same objections about Gaga and some other rock stars.
DJ Waldow says
Yeah. I get that … from a marketer’s perspective, Lady G is killing it. I’ve been a bit more on this “it’s time to stop objectifying women” kick lately. Again, probably more sensitive to it as my daughter grows up. Sorry for steering the conversation a bit in a “different” direction.