You may not like Lady Gaga’s music, outlandish fashion choices, or her lewd stage performances, but she’s grown her following so strong that she’s now called the “Queen of Pop.” And watching her this year on the Super Bowl halftime performance, it’s easy to forget that she signed her first record deal in 2007. This rise from complete obscurity to rock icon happened in less than 10 years.
Lady Gaga’s current success also obscures the relentless work she put into building fans into a vibrant tribe she calls “Little Monsters.”
I recently discovered the book “Monster Loyalty” by Jackie Huba, which details Lady Gaga’s efforts to build her career by a relentless focus on growing her community. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in building a membership, subscription business, or cause.
In her book, Huba describes seven community-building lessons that Lady Gaga uses to grow her following. Here are four that can have the fastest positive impact on growing your monthly recurring revenue.
Focus on Your 1 Percenters
Although millions of people have purchased downloads of Lady Gaga songs, she focuses her attention on the 1 percent of her fan base that is the most loyal, engaged, and excited to hear from her. In fact, she’s created a special online community for her most loyal fans to interact with each other and hear from her. Although she has more than 68 million Twitter followers, she keeps her online community to a few thousand of her biggest fans. These fans will spread the word to their friends.
One of my first lessons when I transitioned out of the nonprofit world into for-profit publishing was how some publishers had discovered that customers were willing to pay more than the rest. In nonprofit associations, it would have been heresy to charge some members more than others. In for-profit publishing, most of the profit comes from creating higher-priced products that only a small percentage of your members will take advantage of. It gives your most engaged subscribers the information and support they demand, and generates a lot higher average customer value for your business.
Lead with Values
Since Lady Gaga was a teenager who was picked up, put in a trash can, and laughed at by boys at her school, she’s been an advocate for anyone who has been bullied because they are different. Within her music and in her communication to her Little Monsters, she makes them feel special for being different, and encourages them to stand up to bullies and to feel good about being special.
This is similar to how Jack Bogle created the largest mutual fund company in the world, Vanguard, built on values of buying index funds, dollar cost averaging by investing the same amount of money each month, and sticking with the plan through market ups and downs. Today, there are thousands of “Bogle Heads” who adhere to this philosophy and participate in message boards to share their conviction. Jack Bogle and Vanguard’s values are more powerful than any of the other mutual fund companies that tried to lead with customer service, great investing results, or fancy advertisements during sporting events.
Lady Gaga created a community of her biggest fans. They share artwork, stories, and support for each other. It’s difficult to read the posts without tearing up as fans heap heartfelt praise on the life-changing effects of connecting with other Little Monsters who think the same way they do.
This isn’t limited to teenage and 20-something girls. I’ve seen this thousands of times in communities for professionals such as business owners, attorneys, and even normally boring investors. Tens of thousands of investors make the trip to Omaha for the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Investor Meeting. Many of these investors are multi-millionaires who arrive in their own private jets so they can sit on folding chairs on the floor of the Omaha Century Link Center or in stadium seats in the rafters to hear their leaders, Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger, speak. And this is along with thousands of other Buffettlogy faithful around the world watching the live stream. While the session with Buffett and Munger is well-attended, a primary attendance driver for the event is to be with other investors who share similar values. These millionaires are as passionate about their community as Little Monsters are about Lady Gaga’s.
Make them Feel Like Rock Stars
Lady Gaga posts copies of fan art and heartfelt posts she receives, and she brings fans onstage during her concerts. She is constantly recognizing her most loyal fans and telling them how much she appreciates their devotion to Little Monster values.
Similarly, my client Michael Rozbruch has several recognition systems for the attorneys and CPAs who participate in his membership program for professionals who assist clients with IRS tax problems. He encourages members to submit materials directly to his office and provide the results of their marketing campaigns, and his team reaches out to create member profiles for newsletters. Michael reinforces the core values of his membership program and demonstrates the success of his members by recognizing these members during coaching calls, emails, and his marketing presentations.
Lady Gaga is a great person to study for anyone growing a subscription program who wants to create a vibrant tribe of members. I recommend grabbing a copy of “Monster Loyalty” by Jackie Huba and reading it with your highlighter at the ready. And just maybe you’ll develop a new appreciate for Lady Gaga and become a Little Monster yourself!