what lady gaga can teach you

I have a huge smile on my face as I’m thinking about what you and Google are going to think about the blog title. Yep. It’s me saying you can learn a few things from Lady Gaga. Take a deep breath and plunge with me (if you need to, you can skip down to the Disclaimers section before reading further).

Lady Gaga was not on my radar in any way until a couple of weeks ago. Logical-I love music but I’m a bit out of Lady Gaga’s target demographic. Here’s how I discovered Lady Gaga: the girls in my life keep me in touch with television through Tivo. I was watching American Idol with them a few weeks ago (OK, I was reading and American Idol was on).

The guest artist was Lady Gaga. No idea who she was, but I looked up to see this woman in a huge black veil with male dancers in 1950’s bathing suits singing about Alejandro (candidly I wasn’t sure if she was happy or sad about this Alejandro dude). Anyway, I asked the experts in the living room and they gave me the rundown: said she was sorta like Madonna, but not really. Didn’t think any more about it until I was catching up on Glee with our 13-year-old daughter.

A recent Glee episode had a lot of Lady Gaga, a lot. Nearly all the songs were Lady Gaga songs…and somehow they managed to get almost everyone dressed like Lady Gaga. Which I have to tell you is something of a fashion statement. I rewound a couple of times to listen to lyrics (most of which made me nervous). OK, Lady Gaga’s on my radar but mostly from a parenting standpoint if you get my drift.

Then I’m running through the Fast Company website this morning… guess who’s Fast Company’s Number 1 most creative person in business? Yep. Lady Gaga. Number 1.

Next thing I know I’m on the Lady Gaga website…and trying to figure this out. If you didn’t know, Lady Gaga is a huge marketing success. Huge. Gaga has her demographic all “gaga” over her. And that’s something I can learn from.

DISCLAIMERS, Let’s get the disclaimers out of the way, OK? I’m not saying that you or your children should emulate Lady Gaga’s lifestyle in any way. I’m not even saying you should listen to her music or watch her videos. I personally do not like a lot of what Lady Gaga represents. I’m not saying anything except you and I could learn a thing or two from Stefani Germanotta’s branding strategies.

That’s the first thing we need to learn:

Brand Name. Lady Gaga was born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. She even recorded under that huge but forgettable name (and had a band: “The Stefani Germanotta Band”). I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be discussing her if she’d have stuck with that name. A producer’s autocorrect mistake while texting is credited with the inspiration for Lady Gaga. You have to give Stefani credit for recognizing a good, good brand name when it was texted to her.

And you have to think about your brand name. We’ve worked with clients where the organization really was built around one person. They literally were the brand. On the other hand, most clients are really organizations led by individuals. Either way, your name is everything.

Say you have a common, plain or hard to pronounce name. Like maybe “Steve Thomas” or Oneicity or you’re a Rescue Mission (with “Union” in the name, maybe). You’ve got a Stefani Germanotta problem. I won’t recommend you change your name, but Lady Gaga and I would tell you that you have to find a way to hook your name into the mind of your supporters and constituents.

Assuming you won’t get a text message with the perfect brand name in it, what to do?

Well you can take what you do and connect that with your name. A great example of that is our friends over at Union Mission in West Virginia. Union Mission’s website is: WeFeedPeople.com. Any doubts about what they do? Or the basic concept of their mission? And the colors on their website are not traditional “mission” colors either. Everything about that screams we’re not like any of the other 1,000 Union Missions out there. Good for them.

So you have to think about how you will take your name and attach a powerful image, emotion or action to it.

“We save lives.”
“Rescuing children…”
“Rebuilding broken lives…”
Maybe you’re like everyone else but you’re very, very local.

You get the idea. The big mistake to make here is to assume that everyone else has a Stefani Germanotta problem but you don’t.

Oh, and another great way to solve a Stefani Germanotta problem–use disruption. That’s one of the reasons I write crazy blog posts like this one: Oneicity, Steve Thomas and Lady Gaga. Not exactly what you were expecting. Disruption is tricky, more on that later in the Gaga series.

Next time we’ll talk image and fashion lessons for your organization from Lady Gaga. I don’t know about you but I’m digging those bird cage hats!

So what about you? Did you learn anything from Stefani? How have you addressed the name problem either personally or in your organization? I love hearing what you think.

Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

(photo credit: Domain Barnyard)

Picture of Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

16 thoughts on “what lady gaga can teach you”

  1. Deborah Gohrke

    Gohrke…rhymes with “turkey.” Oh, what to do…what to do…

    And next you’re going to talk image and…FASHION.

    Feel my pain.


  2. This was way rad. I have often admired the marketing behind various artists such as Gaga, so I am looking forward to further discussions. I think this would be an awesome seminar at CLA next year!

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  4. Jen, I can imagine the angst now among CLA participants… “What?! The nerve of those marketing people to think that Lady Gaga can teach me something.”

    I too experienced (somewhat painfully) the Glee episode. I remember one of Will Shuster’s lines catching my attention. During the episode he was doing some research on Lady Gaga and discovered that she has a whole team of creative types with her all the time and work together to think of her acts. My take away, greatness – however you define it – is rarely incubated in solitude.

    Oh and just to make things clear now, you will never get me in a red shower curtain with those pointy shoulders to promote EGM.

    Thanks for the post Steve.

  5. I have started using a single name for myself….”Scapegoat”. I figure they’re going to blame me, anyway. Always good to have a brand that explains what you do. HA HA HA HA.

    Seriously, though, hiding behind a brand can be good and bad. If the brand is known well enough, the people behind it can change, and the brand can survive. (IBM, GM, Coca-Cola, eBay.) However, if the brand is too restrictive, it can be difficult to do something else. Hypothetically: What if the folks behind “WeFeedPeople.com” decide to clothe people….bathe people…..or find jobs for people. Then they have to reconsider their “brand”, or worse dampen the brand by saying “Feed” means something more than food.

    It’s a tough problem. A brand can be the success or the death of an organization.

  6. @Jen–I am almost certain that CLA isn’t ready for the Gaga Brand Strategy seminar…but I’m thinking I may go ahead and buy that URL just in case. Maybe we should think about a book before we do the seminar.

    And John Hull, almost certainly one of your co-presenters has a great costume idea, see his comment above.

  7. @John–Love the costume idea. You are in!

    Seriously, I’d forgotten the Glee reference to Gaga’s traveling creative team. So true that greatness comes from a community or team or tribe.

    Thanks for the comments. And I’m thinking if you were really committed to your team, wearing a red shower curtain would be a small price to pay for complete creative integration!!

    Thanks for keeping the thinking coming.

  8. @Scapegoat (Brad)–The great thing about being the one everyone blames is that you have complete job security!!!

    The wefeedpeople.com people do do more than feed people (sorry for that insane sentence). Interestingly they talk about feeding people physically and spiritually. So, they’ve opened it up even with the URL.

    You used the word, “hiding” as in hiding behind the brand. I am curious about that. I think one can hide behind a brand/logo/whatever or that can be the window or lens people can view or understand your organization. Without getting to esoteric, like a lens it is possible to shape the perception of your organization by how it is branding, by the story that rests at the center of the organization, by the narrative that is the DNA of the organization.

    Totally agree that brand can be life or death. I choose life. :).

    Thanks for the great comments.

  9. Hiding was the word I thought of. Obfuscating. Abstracting. That’s not a negative.

    Turns into an isomorphic example. Think this way….Kentucky Fried Chicken worked GREAT as a brand, until such a time as they started providing grilled chicken, salads, and things not originally in the core competency of their recipes. Thus, they changed the legal name to KFC. People called it that, anyway, but now they are no longer Kentucky Fried Chicken…they are KFC.

    Walker-Ritcher-Quinn (a good Seattle company)…after Walker Ritcher and Quinn all retired, they changed the name to WRQ. Same company, but their brand was out of date.

    So, a better example is “The Coca-Cola Company”. Coca-Cola is no longer the only thing they make. However, it is the recognized brand. Ranging from soft drinks to coffee products, and so on. The CEO can change…the executives can change, and even the products can change, all “hidden” behind the brand.

    Understand, I’m totally behind the WeFeedPeople.com model…totally!!! And I commend them for what they do!

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