Our increasingly meta society has developed a critic's eye for the marketing of entertainment. It's commonplace to hear the newest number-one album decried as no more than a product of effective promotion.
Well, even if you don't jump on the hip-hop bandwagon and join the millions who have made the genre the nation's dominant cultural force, you can easily learn valuable marketing lessons from these contemporary entrepreneurs. And if you're able to apply them to your brand, you might, to paraphrase 50 Cent, get rich and not die tryin'.
1. Be proud of your roots
We're a culture that loves underdogs. Knowing that Nelly came from the St. Louis ghetto makes his fans more than happy to support his lavish lifestyle; they appreciate the hard work he's put in to make it.
Your brand may have a similar rags-to-riches story. Whether it's staying active in your home city (right down to adopting a highway or holding a bake sale for a local school), opportunities abound to leverage your brand by tying it more closely to its hometown. Doing so will put a premium on your brand in the eyes of your most loyal customers.
2. It's not just about the music, yo
A generation ago, singers and songwriters who valued pure musical ability over appearance were abolished from the mainstream by MTV. Today, rappers are better than anyone at acknowledging every facet of their being as an opportunity to market their core product—their music. Fans know what kind of car Ludacris drives, what kind of clothes he wears, even that he prefers Burberry cologne.
Everything your brand does presents an opportunity to market. Are your delivery trucks, your packaging and your point-of-sale materials driving your key marketing message? Are your sales reps indicative of your core customer—do they live and breathe your brand or merely the act of selling? Audit your entire organization for marketing effectiveness.
3. Be seen with the right playas
Who is Bentley Farnsworth? He's a bona fide rising music star and is signed to endorse Courvoisier cognac. But he has yet to record a single song of his own. He has, in fact, generated no creative output. But he has associated with the right people, having appeared on screen in videos by OutKast, Usher, and P. Diddy, dancing with his now-trademark parasol.
Being seen in the right places can make your brand seem much bigger than it is. Seek out partnership opportunities with distributors, wholesale or retail vendors and complementary products that put your brand in good company. Bring your brand's version of the parasol and you'll stand out like Bentley.
4. Send out much love to the old school
Some deride sampling as a cheap theft of someone else's creativity. In actuality, it's just effective marketing—taking something new and wrapping it in an element that is familiar to your customers.
As you create your brand's identity and marketing materials, look for ways to incorporate familiar elements. (A word of warning: don't go overboard, or consumers will lose your brand amid all the familiar trappings. Borrowed interest can be dangerous if not used judiciously.)
5. Find a protégé
Dr. Dre “discovered” Eminem, who in turn “discovered” 50 Cent, who in turn “discovered” G Unit.
If your brand is successful, how do you plan to stay that way? A proven way to stay on top is to bring an influx of new blood into your organization. It could be a strategic partnership with a startup, or it could be hiring fresh blood into your sales and marketing team. Either way, the fresh outlook will help evolve your brand over time as you keep your brand current and in front of fresh customers.
6. Extensions don't have to dilute the brand
You're not worth your salt as a rapper without acting roles on your resume and a clothing line in the works. But taken on their surface merits, very few hip-hop forays into arenas outside of music can be deemed successful—Eminem's turn in “8 Mile” and P Diddy's Sean John line of clothing are notable exceptions.
However, line extensions can be used, in essence, as marketing loss leaders. Line extensions should be complementary to your core product—and, ideally, able to drive attention back to that core product, just as the film “8 Mile” offered Eminem the opportunity to star on the soundtrack.
In addition, if the extension can be produced without diverting significant resources away from your core product, and if avenues exist to promote the extension (trade press, etc.) in a manner consistent with your core product, you can quickly gain additional exposure for your brand.
7. Get the word out
The common thread between all of these tactics is a concerted effort to put your brand in front of customers in as many innovative ways as possible. It's not enough to have a great product—just ask the singer-songwriters in the unemployment line. It takes a conscious decision to out-hustle your competitors to put your brand in your category's No. 1 slot.
Perhaps the disadvantaged circumstances of many hip-hop artists give them an edge that they are able to deploy in this area. If you consider your brand's humble beginnings, maybe it will ignite that same fire in you.
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