Damn it, Beyoncé: Now all the pundits will say marketing is unnecessary

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By Francis Moranbeyonce

It didn’t take long after music megastar Beyoncé dropped her latest release onto Apple iTunes with no advance warning or usual hype-fest for the armchair pundits and marketing deniers to trumpet that marketing was now dead. It’s a variation on a theme I excoriated a few weeks back where the same know-nothings tell young companies they don’t need to do marketing, they just need to go to SXSW.

In fairness to the NBC article linked above, it does go on to acknowledge that Beyoncé is a never-ending marketing machine who has spent the better part of 25 years building one of the most forceful brands in the entire global cultural marketplace. And in fairness to Kevin Roberts, the Saatchi & Saatchi CEO who was ever-so-briefly quoted in that article, his point was much less about what Beyoncé did and more about the new power consumers enjoy in the marketing equation that obliges brands to build relationships with consumers rather than just bark at them. ”She delivered intimacy. She delivered social connectivity. She delivered a transaction you can buy,” Roberts said in the original Bloomberg news piece from which the NBC article took a single provocative snippet.

But the damage will have been done. From this point on, self-proclaimed experts who don’t know what marketing is and who believe you can simply build a product and the marketplace will flock to buy it will point to Beyoncé’s actions and say, “See, you don’t need to do any marketing to move hundreds of thousands of units.”

In fact, Beyoncé has done nothing but around-the-clock marketing for decades. Issuing her new album in this fashion was a carefully designed stunt clearly intended to generate massive buzz precisely because of its seemingly un-marketing approach. It was, in fact, brilliantly savvy marketing.

At its core, as Brad Wheeler points out in his review of the album in today’s Globe and Mail, it is an excellent product. Indeed, he says, the product had to be good because “if there’s anything worse than a dud, it is an audacious one.” And there is no better marketing move than a product that aligns perfectly with what your marketplace is seeking. Beyoncé has perfected this art, one that every technology startup needs to master.

Second, the product was launched in a manner that was guaranteed to attract attention. This was easy for a global branding juggernaut like Beyoncé but it would be a really tough one for any little, unknown startup to replicate. And yet, some try to go that route and wonder why nobody paid any attention to their big marketing stunt.

Bottom line: As I keep saying, marketing is really hard to do and it costs a lot. Beyoncé has spent years investing heavily in both. What the wrong-headed will call her non-marketing is, in fact, simply the payoff that can come only after years of actual marketing. Nicely played, Beyoncé, but I’m not looking forward to how startups are going to try to claim to be able to do the same.

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