Machete Kills hits theaters today with Lady Gaga starring as villainess La Camaleón. While she’s usually more meat-dress than machete, her loyal Little Monsters are still flocking to the film. Zola summarizes the 7 lessons marketing expert Jackie Huba says businesses can learn from the rockstar.
(All quotes are taken from Jackie Huba‘s Monster Loyalty: How Lady Gaga Turns Followers into Fanatics unless stated otherwise)
Lesson 1: Focus on Your One Percenters
Huba points out that many companies offer perks, rewards, and discounts to new members yet leave their older customers feeling forgotten. On the other hand, Lady Gaga’s relationship with her fans is anything but a bad romance. Her method involves focusing on the 1%: the radical fans that obsess over her every move, believe in her message, promote her endlessly, and feel emotionally attached to her.
“Where other businesses don’t seem to connect, though, Gaga gets the math. It’s her overarching philosophy to focus on her core advocates, the superfans, the Little Monsters. These advocates will ultimately become evangelists who bring in new customers on their own.”
Gaga rewards loyalty. Even now she returns to the tiny clubs that took a chance on her. She’s also created LittleMonsters.com, a superfan site that connects Little Monsters from across the globe and keeps them up-to-date on the latest news in her world. Gaga is aiming for musical longevity by building a tight-knit core audience—so far she’s succeeding!
Lesson 2: Lead with Values
For someone who’s been called a “devil’s messenger in a bra and panties,” Gaga’s name may not be synonymous with traditional values. Huba believes, however, that customers emotionally connect with a company based on shared beliefs and not their feelings on the product. Gaga’s wild antics aside, she has continuously promoted equality, kindness, and self-acceptance.
“Gaga makes people better by inspiring them to be brave, and to be the best people they can be. She wants her fans to love themselves and not worry about what haters think of them.”
The Born This Way Foundation was created by Lady Gaga to empower and mentor youth. She envisions a world where people are free to be who they are and encourages her fans to stay true to themselves. She constantly receives tweets, letters, and videos from fans who feel that she has changed or even saved their lives. The gay community is particularly supportive of her due to her stance on marriage equality and her fight to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (a U.S. military policy that prohibited those who were openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual from serving). Fans give back to her by creating their own awareness campaigns inspired by her words and actions.
Lesson 3: Build Community
Building a strong community involves shared experiences. As Lady Gaga has grown closer to her fans she’s become more open in connecting with them. On LittleMonsters.com she vents about her insecurities, personal struggles with friends, and her love life. She openly discusses feeling like a loser, battling issues with body image, and the scars left by years of bullying.
“Gaga understands that creating their own little world together unites fans. She connects so well with her fan community because she is one of them. She understands their struggles and communicates that understanding to them. She has made herself, in essence, a peer.”
Gaga’s fans feel as though she’s one of them because she once was. By sharing her personal experiences, Lady Gaga creates a unique bond with her fan base and allows them to feel even closer to her.
Lesson 4: Give Fans a Name
Huba says that in naming a customer you give them an identity that is connected to the business. It creates an exclusive club, an inner circle that new members want to join.
“I call them little monsters because they are my inspiration.” —Lady Gaga
Die-hard Gaga fans call themselves ‘Little Monsters’ and have dubbed Gaga herself their ‘Mother Monster.’ As usual, Gaga sends the love and praise straight back to them. For the 52nd Grammys when performing with Elton John, she commissioned a special piano with black clawed hands coming out of the top. On her Twitter she posted a photo and added “piano designed [by] the famous and dear friend TERENCE KOH, inspired by and in honor of my little monsters, and their sweet little hands.”
Then in 2010, she got the words ‘Little Monsters’ tattooed on her arm. She tweeted the image with the caption “look what i did last night. little monsters forever, on the arm that holds my mic. xx.”
“It said a lot. Gaga was telling fans that they were part of her by etching the Little Monsters’ name in perpetuity on her body. And that they would be part of her every day for the rest of her life. The fans saw the commitment that she had just made to them. Many of them decided to make the same commitment to her. They began tweeting photos of Little Monsters tattoos that they had themselves gotten. They had, in effect, branded themselves part of Gaga’s army of monsters.”
Lesson 5: Embrace Shared Symbols
Most companies have a brand image, but Gaga takes it one step further. In her Bad Romance video she created the monster paw by having her dancers contort their hands to look like animal claws. When fans began imitating the video, Gaga saw the potential and began telling her Little Monsters to put their “paws up!” at concerts.
“Gaga has become so good at embodying symbols that just about everything she puts on becomes one. But what makes them iconic is that each one has meaning for her. She doesn’t create a symbol for the sake of creating symbols. She embraces something because of how meaningful it is to her.”
The phrase even makes an appearance in her Born This Way lyrics:
It doesn’t matter if you love him or capital H-I-M
Just put your paws up
Cause baby you were born this way.
Gaga not only creates a symbol that fans can use to identity each other, but she embraces it so fully that it becomes part of her music—proving her earlier statement that her Little Monsters are her inspiration.
Lesson 6: Make Them Feel Like Rock Stars
In the age of social media it’s easier than ever for companies to shine the spotlight on a customer. This is something Gaga has done from the start. From constantly singing their praises to sending them pizza when they wait overnight to see her play, Gaga shows a clear appreciation for her fans.
“[W]hat Gaga has done is ritualize the process by rewarding the die-hard fans for their dedication and showcasing them for the rest of the community. She makes them rock stars in their own right.”
Phone a Monster involves Gaga calling a single fan during her live concerts and inviting them to visit her backstage after the show. It’s an experience the fan will never forget and one that ties in with one of her key values. The call is sponsored by Virgin Mobile and the Born This Way Foundation, who donate thousands of dollars per call to help homeless youth, a large portion of which are LGBT.
Lady Gaga has also made it clear that she is the only person with access to her Twitter account and her fans take center stage in her tweets. Whether she’s sending out a picture of a fan letter or a piece of art someone drew for her, she’s making her fans feel like superstars by sharing their work with her 40 million followers.
Lesson 7: Generate Something to Talk About
Gaga claims she does it for the Applause, but she’s smart enough to know that giving people something new to talk about is necessary. Her infamous meat dress from the 2010 MTV music video awards is still being discussed three years later. In an Oct 2013 interview with Heat magazine, Cher shared that she “thought it was hysterical” when Gaga turned and said “hold my meat purse” while she accepted the award for best video.
“She is directing her antics to her Little Monsters while also getting those outside the inner circle talking. While the media and casual observers might not always pick up on the nuanced messaging behind her crazy outfits or stunts, Little Monsters will dissect and debate what things mean on online fan forums, Twitter, and Littlemonsters.com. Often Gaga will chime in on the conversation to help them understand. This helps bind the fan community together because they ‘get’ her, even if outsiders do not. But it also keeps outsiders talking, wondering, and attempting to interpret.”
Gaga’s meat dress was a statement made when she was fighting to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. At the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards in February 2011 she arrived in an egg meant to symbolize the birth of a new race where people were free to be themselves.
There’s a method to the madness, she just doesn’t care if everyone knows it.
This article originally appeared on Zola Books.