Have you ever worked for months on a product that achieved no success?
I know I have. And it’s incredibly frustrating.
What does it take to really succeed?
To build a product that is truly remarkable?
A product with raving fans?
As the most followed person on Twitter…
…with more than twice the number of followers as Oprah and 50% more followers than the president of the United States…
Lady Gaga can tell you.
Have a Purpose That Inspires
In today’s hyper-connected world, it’s never been more important to know WHY.
Why should I pay attention to you? Why should I buy your product? Why should I work for you? Why does your startup exist?
In an interview, Oprah asks Lady Gaga:
I love what you said earlier about you’re not just being provocative just to be provocative. That you want your music to inspire people.
And to say something. And to mean something.
So, what is the message that you most want people to receive?
And Lady Gaga responds:
I want [people] to free themselves.
And I want them to be so proud of who they are.
And I want them to celebrate all the things that they don’t like about themselves, the way I did, and be so truly happy from inside.
[Looking at audience] I say that so genuinely to you, because I perform every night and I look into your beautiful eyes and I love you so much.
Because I know how you feel.
This sentiment carries through to her concerts, where Lady Gaga tells stories with the passion of Tony Robbins and the conviction of John F. Kennedy.
Here’s a can’t miss video as an example:
It’s remarkable that Lady Gaga rejects the traditional notion of what being a pop star is.
Some artists are working to buy the mansion or whatever the element of fame must bear, but I spend all my money on my show.
Lady Gaga is all about self-empowerment and teaching people that it is ok to be different.
In her own words:
I’m filling up an enormous hole. There’s a wide-open space for a female with big balls to fill. I’m here to make great music and inspire people.
If you want to build a remarkable product, you need to have a remarkable purpose.
Ask yourself if your organization has a reason for being that truly matters. Can you explain it in an elevator ride? Can everyone in the organization? Are the answers always the same?
If you didn’t watch the video above, go back and watch it. It’s enormously powerful. Is this how you speak to your fans? Is everyone in your organization this passionate?
If not, you need to find your purpose.
Without a remarkable purpose, you won’t create a remarkable product.
Tell a Story People Want to Hear
Once you have a remarkable purpose, you must add the ability to communicate it.
Since the beginning of time, the most powerful method of communication has been the story.
This hasn’t changed.
A great story can inspire you. A great story can make you cry. A great story can make you move across the country without a job but with a dream. A great story can make you move home. A great story can make you start buying bottled water. And a great story can make you stop. A great story can change your life.
The best thing about a great story? Your fans want to spread it for you.
Jamie Anderson and Jörg Reckhenrich of Antwerp Management School and Martin Kupp of the European School of Management and Technology wrote a leadership lessons case study on Lady Gaga. They talk about how she effectively communicates her purpose through “three universal stories”:
- Who Am I? A personal story about how she was weird in school. How people made fun of her, but she was driven to be creative.
- Who Are We? A group narrative where her fans are “my little monsters” and she is “mother monster”.
- Where Are We Going? A collective mission about celebrating free expression. About how it’s ok to be different. And how together we can change the world.
These are stories that people want to hear. They relate to them. They find them inspiring. And by sharing the personal struggles she faced growing up and still faces every day, Lady Gaga is able to build a deep emotional commitment in her fans:
All that ever holds somebody back, I think, is fear. For a minute I had fear. [Then] I went into the [dressing] room and shot my fear in the face…
Here is a raw behind-the-scenes video of Lady Gaga in her dressing room facing her fears:
Ask yourself, what remarkable story do your fans want to hear? Remarkable means worth remarking on—just for the pleasure of sharing the story.
A story worth remarking on is new. It’s different. It’s not 10% better. Or 20% cheaper.
That’s remarkable. Imagine the story someone wearing a new pair of Tom’s Shoes has to tell…
Tom doesn’t have to compete on price. He doesn’t have to compete on better quality. He didn’t have to build new technology. Or a better shoe. Tom realized that what people really wanted to buy from him was feeling better about themselves. Not more comfortable feet.
Tom competes by telling a better story, and his customers do his marketing for him.
Focus first on your story and second on your product. When you do this, you build your story into your product. When you don’t, you’re boxed into looking for a story that fits your product. Like looking for a problem that fits your solution. And there might be no remarkable story to tell.
If you want to create a remarkable product, take a purpose that inspires and wrap it in a great story that people want to hear.
Connect a Tribe
Seth Godin’s concept of connecting a tribe is at the essence of what Lady Gaga has done for her fans. She doesn’t market to her fans. She doesn’t focus on target markets and churn. She focuses on doing things for her fans.
She talks to fans constantly on Twitter and Facebook. And will sometimes reward them with personal messages. Or pizza and water when they’re standing in line to see her:
My little monster sweeties are already camped outside today show! I love u! Will be sending u pizza and water all day! And a surprise 2morrow!X
~Tweet from @LadyGaga
At every concert she pauses to broadcast a live telephone call to a fan. And thinking about her fans will sometimes bring her to tears:
She frequently stops her car to get out and sign autographs. And on one occasion she stopped a concert in Washington DC mid-song to break up a fight. “You will not fight at my concert,” she said over the microphone in a commanding tone.
How did Lady Gaga grow so fast? She connected people who thought they were alone. People who were disconnected. She didn’t create this tribe. She gave it a label, a connection, and a leader. Just as, Seth Godin says, the Beatles didn’t invent teenagers. They led them.
A tribe amplifies your efforts and spreads your story. Are you leading one? Are you focused on serving? Or are you focused on ROI?
Do your customers call themselves fans?
Don’t Try to Please Everyone
“I don’t know the key to success,” said Bill Cosby. “But the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” Steve Jobs echoed this when he said, “The hardest thing when you think about focusing. You think focusing is about saying “Yes.” No. Focusing is about saying “No.” And when you say “No,” you piss off people.”
When Lady Gaga was insulted in a club in Ottawa, she simply said:
Well, that’s your opinion, isn’t it? And I’m not about to waste my time trying to change it.
If you’re always trying to hedge your bets, if you’re always trying to appeal to the mass, you will be average. You will be unremarkable.
Lady Gaga doesn’t try to appeal to everyone. She is focused on people who are like her. And by being so open and authentic, she tells a universal story that resonates deeply with so many. As Oprah said, “when we see [Lady Gaga], we see ourselves in her.”
Are you as focused on serving your real fans as you should be? What can you do that no one else will make the effort to do? What can you do that others are afraid to do?
Be The Best in The World at What You Do
Lady Gaga has received some very high praise. Beyonce said, “If you took away every bit of costume and she just sat in front of a piano, she would still tear it down. She’s just that talented, and she deserves it all.”
In a BBC interview, Madonna echoes:
I liked her rawness and there was something fresh…and ballsy.
And when she spoke to the audience, she sounded like she had a similar sense of humor to me, quite ironic, and I liked her. So I do think she is very talented.
I was actually really impressed by her. I thought she was really cool and she did remind me of me back in the day.
But asking whether Lady Gaga is “talented” or not is asking the wrong question.
The right question is “has she made a difference?” And the answer is an undeniable yes.
Lady Gaga is the best in the world at inspiring her fans. At making them believe. And at giving them hope:
I want people to walk around delusional about how great they can be–and then to fight so hard for it everyday that the lie becomes the truth.
Do you make your fans feel awesome? When someone uses your product, do they feel like they have superpowers? Are you the best in the world at what you do?
Creating a remarkable product isn’t easy. There are no shortcuts. It takes passion. And perseverance.
It requires having a purpose that inspires, and then telling a story people want to hear. It requires connecting a tribe and not spending time trying to please everyone. It requires being the best in the world at what you do.
Hard? Yes. But worth it.
If you really want to make a difference. If you really want to change the world, create a remarkable product.
As Lady Gaga says:
I’m just trying to change the world, one sequin at a time.
Photo by Philip Nelson