Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, CRO
As a recovering pop culture writer and a tech marketing professional, I’ve watched the slow, painful, totally avoidable collapse of the music industry from afar. Traditional record label sales models still lag behind the technology millions of people use to consume music, leading to lost profits for musicians and less content access for streaming services. It’s the artists themselves who have led the deconstruction of the music industry, integrating their new sales and marketing techniques into their audiences’ preferred platforms and ensuring they still make a living.
After breaking professional ties with her father, who served as her manager during her early career, pop icon Beyoncé is now one of the most successful chief revenue officers in the music industry. She’s driving an enterprise that relies on a single product presented in a variety of formats: audio and video albums, documentaries, fashion. She’s built a user base whose (sometimes unnecessarily aggressive) social media influence has been turned into instantly recognizable pop culture. She’s managed to make her art wildly popular and maintain an overwhelmingly positive brand image, even while courting controversy.
If Beyoncé’s work ethic rivals James Brown’s, then her digital brand fluency rivals Steve Jobs’. The combination offers a glimpse into how any cloud-based company can leverage digital channels to present a product, build relationships, and meet the expectations of a range of audiences. Here’s how this pop star turned her musical enterprise into a blueprint for effective SaaS sales and marketing.
Beyonce’s last few projects have been complete surprises – presented to the market fully formed, with no previews or teases of the work. By simply dropping her self-titled album on iTunes in December of 2013, she generated millions of dollars in earned media promotion and sold more than 300,000 copies in the first week of its release. And by making the album immediately available to everyone instead of giving a preview to critics, she gave her fans — arguably some of the world’s most loyal brand advocates — the opportunity to craft the narrative around her work. A fully-realized product will typically perform better and maintain more stickiness than a work in progress* and a company’s long-term customers are its best and most ardent advocates. Beyoncé had both, and won big.
Beyoncé’s approach to marketing takes full advantage of her ubiquity. The singer is setting a similar stage for “Lemonade,” an HBO event set to debut on April 23; announced Saturday, the special will air just days before she kicks off her world tour on April 27. Performing live, offering a long-form video on premium cable, and debuting an athletic fashion label — all within weeks — gives Beyoncé’s audiences a complete platform with a wide range of distribution channels. Watch videos on YouTube, or drink a Pepsi, or buy some Ivy Park yoga pants, or skip a mortgage payment and buy concert tickets — each channel also offers a different price point for the same product. It’s a workaround that demonstrates the inefficiency of traditional record label marketing and sets the standard for connecting with digital natives at scale.
The future of digital content, regardless of audience, is video: 93 percent of companies use video for sales and marketing. But there’s still value in premium content, no matter the format. Beyonce’s business partner and spouse Jay Z launched premium streaming service TIDAL in 2014, offering subscribers exclusive content and high-fidelity sound quality. The long-term success of the service may still be in question, but TIDAL provides Beyoncé with the opportunity to deliver the perfect product to her most loyal audience members: completely exclusive music and other content. That’s still relatively rare, even while various musicians are working to protect their art (and profits) by refusing to stream their work. “Lemonade” accomplishes the same goal from a different angle, making it necessary to have cable (or an HBO NOW account) to watch the event live. Offering paying customers the chance to access an enhanced product is an effective way to build closer, longer-term relationships.
The lines between software and music may be blurring, but the methods by which they’re sold are clearly the same. Beyoncé’s approach to music — as a complete platform, sold at various price points and accessible to everyone who wants it — serves as an example to SaaS companies how to be aggressive in both execution and distribution. The massive success of a pop star whose fame relies on a big voice and even bigger stage presence is clear proof that software companies must offer with a solid, irresistible product — and they have to know how to sell the hell out of it.