Come on, marketers. Somehow the Kardashians are figuring this out before we do. Building an audience, listening to those loyal followers, and then monetizing the group is today’s brave new way. Unfortunately, though, old habits really do die hard. And of course, there are systems and processes, software, and personnel structures that would need to change. Moving too quickly could upset everything (and everyone). It’s true.
But don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s not doable. Tons of media companies have sprung up with an audience-focused approach—and profited handsomely.
Instead of ogling your favorite business publication’s audience monetization methods (snooze), let’s take a fun detour today. Let’s check out the ultimate audience-first content marketers: celebrities.
Their content marketing strategy is usually obvious, if accidental—simply tell a great niche story on screen, on field, on air, or in song. Then go on tour, possibly pen a memoir or two, be kind on social, and stay sober (enough) to repeat. According to the Content Marketing Institute’s definition of content marketing, there is only one thing left to do—monetize. The most successful business people alive are celebrities who consider ticket sales and royalties a means to an end. To them, the initial album or movie purchase is just the beginning.
Let’s take a look.
Gwyneth Paltrow used to be known for her acting skills and on-screen achievements. After building an audience, she leveraged her influence to start a wellness, lifestyle, and product company called Goop, and apparently, it’s going well. Last year, the brand secured $10 million in series B funding and hosted the first annual “In Goop Health” conference. It sold out quickly, and this year’s elite Goopfest tickets are nearly double the cost. From skin care to jewelry, home accessories, and books, the goop shop has it all.
Something changed in a few well-positioned viewers the night they found themselves watching a season finale of Game of Thrones while sipping a goblet of official Game of Thrones wine. There’s just something magical about an immersive experience that followers—especially the most loyal—relish. This is also why an actress’s custom perfume is the oldest trick in the book. Truly, you can never un-live a great feeling. Bon Jovi obviously had this audience monetization method in mind when he launched Hart N Dagger, the official denim line of the man himself.
Image attribution: Bon Jovi Productions, Inc.TM
For guys who “will never wear skinny jeans,” the apparel brand lets middle-aged men be anything other than the old, tired guys they see their peers becoming. Forget the traditional merch table: This idea gifts loyal fans an ongoing, identity-level experience.
Another obvious direct revenue model is the engagement of sponsorships and advertising. Not so obvious, though, is how to build that audience first. Corporations could take a lesson from Chance the Rapper, who doesn’t charge a dime for his music, and never has. He’s the first hip-hop artist to win a Grammy (or three) without selling a single album or file. Partnerships with Apple, KitKat, and H&M generate more than enough cash—$33 million last year—to empower him to keep going, ignoring attractive offers from record labels in lieu of freedom. His goodness and generosity is inspiring a generation of talented hip-hop artists to rely less on the upper management of the music industry and more on the gift of their craft. Michelle Obama awarded Chance the 2017 Humanitarian Award, and Fortune named him one of the World’s Greatest Leaders. His loyal audience, reputation, and art are what make him valuable, something every corporate marketing team should consider.
Image attribution: Julio Enriquez
Corporations can learn a lot from comedians—and not just humorous comms. Steve Martin’s Comedy Masterclass is an awesome audience monetization idea that goes beyond the predictable residuals most screen actors expect.
Have you ever seen a famous CMO keynote at a marketing conference and wondered to yourself, “Doesn’t this person have a day job? Shouldn’t they be running their marketing department?” The answer is yes, they have work to do. However, they’re a prime exhibit of audience monetization—by way of teaching and inspiring others. Who knows, maybe they learned it from Steve Martin.
Lovingly called “premium content” in the corporate world, special access to a celebrity’s behind-the-scenes musings are often worth paying for. In 2014, Kim Kardashian teamed up with app developer Glu Mobile to launch Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, a game that rewards players for making emblematic lifestyle choices like who to hang with at a SoCal party or which D-listers to ignore. Your friendly, helpful mentor is none other than Kim herself. In the first two years, the addictive game raked in over $100 million, according to Niccolo de Masi, the developer’s CEO. As the user navigates fashion choices, event RSVPs, and their own oddly meta audience-building activities, Kardashian-West surprises protagonists with little-known insider information and celeb introductions that connect the user to her and usually result in a level-up.
Katy Perry was not invited to sign a $25 million dollar contract with American Idol this year because of her talent (product), albeit impressive. It was her loyal followers the network wanted to tap. Since she had just broken the world record for the first person with 100 million Twitter followers, you can bet those fans were a factor. As predicted, her fan base is following her to the new medium, begging the question of who benefits more. Again, here are two media companies working together to “brandscape” a mutually profitable customer experience. There’s no reason corporations can’t do the same.
Today, the business model of a newly launched content brand looks a lot like many of the largest media companies out there. Corporations seem stuck on mimicking buttoned-up publishers, though, instead of drawing inspiration from novelists, sports players, songwriters, actors, and screenwriters. For many generations, these celebrities have been some of the best storytellers our culture has. At least, to their niche audiences, they’re worth their fanatic following. And to marketers, a fanatic following is a valuable asset.
Destabilization in every industry allows us to ask some wild questions:
What about your brand? Is your company a products and service company? Or a fascinating personality to watch? A remarkable storyteller with flaws, struggles, triumphs, and more? Or just another logo?
Media outlets and celebrities have been monetizing audiences in creative ways for hundreds of years. Why, then, are we marketers still asking shareholders for a slice of the corporate budget?
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Featured image attribution: Clem Onojeghuo