What Madonna Can Teach Lady Gaga

I'm not sure what made me feel older—the tweet from a twenty-something who noted in amazement that "Gee, Barbra Streisand has some set of pipes," or the fact that other than the tribute to Aretha Franklin and the appearances by Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan, there wasn't a whole lot I could relate to while watching last night's Grammy Awards ceremony, with one major exception. The show made clear that as much as music has evolved over the years, the fact that there are essentially two approaches to building a brand hasn't. And it was Barbra, pipes and all, along with that gaga lady in the egg who got me thinking about this.

Let me explain. Miss Streisand represents the first type of branding approach wherein you figure out what you want your brand to stand for in the minds of consumers and you consistently deliver on this promise year after year, and decade after decade, not straying too far from the expected executions. Yes, you make some changes to ensure that the brand remains relevant in the marketplace but, essentially, you know what people expect and you meet their expectations with unwavering authenticity. "Evergreen" sounded just as lovely last night as when Barbra first performed it in "A Star is Born."

On the other hand, there's the constant reinvention type of branding. Yes, Lady Gaga is known for her quick-change artistry, but it's not this feisty miss who represents this approach. Instead, it's a very talented marketing lady who, more or less, invented the category of contemporary reinvention in the contemporary music category—Madonna. Sensing changes in the public's mood for music, anticipating (creating?) the next trend, Madonna came out with as different and relevant a brand of musical self as she and the market allowed. She was a genius at knowing how not to be too far out in front of the curve, and being able to sense when her current brand of entertainment had run its course, both critical elements in good branding within any category. Equally important, she also knew that, no matter the guise or disguise of the moment, she had to deliver on a core competency—in her case, a genuine talent for song and dance. Without it, no amount of artifice could help her win fans.

A good non-musical analogy to the above is Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Coke continues to build on its reputation as the "real thing," bringing to life the promise of happiness by way of a "Coke and a smile," or some related variation on this warm and fuzzy theme. Pepsi's claim to branding fame is as the "choice of a new generation." As such, its branding team is always on the lookout for daring and irreverent ways to communicate the Pepsi brand promise. Both products continue to succeed mightily as a result of initiatives that have resonated with their respective audiences but, more so, because their products continue to be gratifying to those who buy them.

As a branding professional, I can tell you that the first approach to building a brand is much easier. You identify how you want consumers to see and think about your offering and you stick pretty close to home in your communication efforts. Being constantly on the lookout for the next new thing can be pretty demanding, key among the challenge not allowing consumers to lose sight of the fundamental brand benefit in the process, which is where Lady Gaga comes in. If she wants to follow Madonna's route to building her brand, let her have at it. I wish her well. As a classically trained musician she's a talented lady. She must understand, however, that to succeed in the category as Madonna did, she'll need to deliver on a core brand competency no matter how many quick changes she makes in an evening. All the quick changes in the world can't stand up to great brand performance.

source: FORBES blog

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