Jackie Huba

Loyalty lessons from Lady Gaga

UPDATE [12/15/12]: My upcoming book called Monster Loyalty: How Lady Gaga Turns Followers Into Fanaticsa, based on some of the concepts outlined in this post, will be released in May 2013. Click here to get more information.

There’s a lot marketers can learn from artist and musician Lady Gaga.

At age 23, Lady Gaga has rocketed to global fame in less than two years. Playing piano at age 4 and New York nightclubs at 14, she recently broke Billboard’s record as the first artist to have her first five six singles reach number one. She’s won two Grammys, and has sold 8 million albums and 15 million singles digitally worldwide. While her performance art-style stage shows and bizarre outfits have garnered much buzz, it’s her loyalty marketing that may sustain her for years. Gaga is dedicated to her fans and clearly knows the elements of cultivating a community of evangelistic fans.

With that, here are my 5 lessons about building brand loyalty, Lady Gaga-style:

1. Give fans a name. Gaga doesn’t like the word “fan” so she calls them her “Little Monsters,” named after her album “The Fame Monster.” She even tattooed “Little Monsters” on her arm and tweeted the pic to fans professing love for them. Now fans are getting their own Little Monster tattoos. By giving the group a formal name, it gives fans a way to refer to each other. Fans feel like they are joining a special club. (Related business examples: Maker’s Mark Ambassadors and Fiskar’s Fiskateers.)

2. Make it about something bigger than you. During her concert tour, Gaga recites a “Manifesto of Little Monsters” (text) (video). Although a bit cryptic, most Little Monsters see it as a dedication to them, that her fans have the power to make or break her. (Related business examples: Smoque BBQ (pdf).)

3. Develop shared symbols. The official Little Monster greeting is the outstretched “monster claw” hand. As all Little Monsters know, the clawed hand is part of the choreography in the video of her song “Bad Romance.” Gaga tells the story of watching a fan in Boston greet another fan with the claw hand and that’s when she knew this was the Little Monster symbol. Even Oprah knows the Little Monster greeting. Shared symbols allow fans to identify each other and connect. (Related business example: LIVESTRONG yellow wristbands.)

4. Make your customers feel like rock stars. One staple of Gaga’s “Monster Ball” tour is to call a fan in the audience during the show. She dials the number onstage, the fan screams out, is located and they are put up on a big screen. While the rest of audience goes bananas, she invites the fan to have a drink with her after the show. (Related business example: eBay Live Conference where attendees walk through a gauntlet of applauding eBay staff as they enter the closing gala)

5. Leverage social media. Gaga has the requisite Facebook fan page (over 5 million fans) and Twitter ID (almost 3 million followers) but it’s how she uses them that drives loyalty. On Twitter, she tells fans what she is doing, such as tweeting them before she opened the Grammy Awards. She also tweeted to fans that she was buying them pizza for waiting overnight at an album signing.

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Some artists are very protective of their image and prohibit recording devices during performances. Gaga doesn’t allow professional photographers into her concerts but is ok with fans recording and putting videos on YouTube.

Whether Gaga will have staying power remains to be seen. But she is making waves in the music business and teaching plenty of people the power of fandom.

Wouldn’t you like to have fans like these?



UPDATE: To further illustrate Gaga loyalty, watch this fan-created created video card montage of Little Monsters from around the world for Gaga’s 24th birthday. Many of the fans get emotional talking about how Gaga has inspired them to be themselves, and not care about what others think.


41 Responses to “Loyalty lessons from Lady Gaga”

  1. pieces says:

    Good article. She has tremendous talent, and she has figured out the marketing system so well that it’s astounding.

    She has managed to reach across music genres and generations as well. I know a number of Gaga fans that are over 30, some even are 50+.

    I think we’ll still be dissecting her as a marketing case years down the line, and how she managed to do in 24 months what it took Madonna 8 years to do.

  2. April Riggs says:

    I am pretty sure that Lady Gaga is a lot cooler of a person than Madonna ANY day. (And I love me some Madonna.) I love that her following is so dedicated to her and it’s easy to see why. You can tell that she REALLY cares about her “little monsters”.

    We all want that kind of following for our brands! (Just not the stalkers!) 🙂

  3. Damien says:

    Good article, indeed.
    I’ve recently become a fan of her, and I actually feel really bad for not giving her a chance at the beginning. She’s proved that she actually has talent, and a great singing voice. Her outfits are a bit out there, but it’s always fun always wondering what she’ll wear or do next. And what I like about it is that she’s actually hands on with everything she does. She doesn’t let her people do it for her. She may not be completely original, but when everything’s been done in the past, it’s pretty hard to be. I give her props for trying, though.

  4. stéphanie Grall says:

    I really like this article, i try to understand but it’s ok :).
    The analyze is very good!!
    GaGa our queen of Pop, One of her little monsters.

  5. Rob says:

    I have also become a little mons†er. This woman amazes me. I have never before been a celebrity follower even though I love music. Lady Gaga is such an authentically unique and totally lovable person, I feel I have known her my whole life. That is truly a gifted marketing strategy but she is truly gifted. I am a Lady Gaga fan for life and defend her religiously against all haters. I live for her tweets and wish her the best always.

  6. Patricia says:

    Wow, Interesting! Thanks for show us these lessons…really useful.

  7. Rupal says:

    Insightful article, Jackie. I need to be a little monster too!

  8. Jodi says:

    Ok! So now I actually know what Lady Gaga looks like so that is something, right?! I thought your analysis was really interesting and clearly fans truly feel a connection with her. One thing that stood out was how personal her tweet was. I’m sure that every little monster felt that she was directing it at them personally.

  9. jayvee says:

    Funny you selected the most contrived artist in the music industry at the moment to provide a “how to” in social media, which should be about authenticity… hm…

  10. Jackie Huba says:

    I appreciate your opinion. But I disagree. If you listen to her many, many interviews. she talks about being a freak in high school and getting made fun of. She sees all of her crazy costumes and shows as performance art and expressing her creativity. She believes that her fans should celebrate their inner “freak” and not be afraid of showing their authentic selves to the world.

    She and Nora Jones are very very different artistically. But I believe both are being their authentic selves. Thanks again for commenting.

  11. Great post. Although not a fan, she has shown remarkable ability to connect with her fans over and above the traditional music means of albums, fan clubs and gigs. Embracing the new social media and showing all of us new ways to connect with our ‘fans’. Lots of lessons to learn here.

    Thanks again,


  12. Admittedly, I have been quite harsh on Lady GaGa in the past. The more I see her, however, the more I think that she has a whole lot to teach us. She really is unique and sets herself far apart from others in her field. Which is where most of us would like to end up too.

  13. Great analytical insight. Well done.

  14. Jon Miles says:

    Great article – really insightful. Insane Clown Posse uses “juggalos” other bands have named their fans as well. – any idea who is behind her branding?

  15. Jackie Huba says:

    From everything I’ve looked at, she, and her “Haus of Gaga” team, do all of her marketing. She has been a little mysterious about who is in the Haus but it is her internal staff, I believe.

  16. Joanna says:

    And, don’t forget, have a message that connects with those fans/audience: love and accept yourself for who you. My daughter and I would not be fans of Lady Gaga only for her music, videos, or performances, no matter how much fun they are, if we didn’t also hear her speak up for sexual and gender equity in public and in many venues. She is not just marketing herself as product; she uses the narrative of “By remaining true to this idea, you too can be part of a community that welcomes and accepts you when the rest of the world puts you down.”

  17. Awesome. I didn’t know all that about Lady Gaga, and the conclusions you draw from what she’s done–the points you make–make sense. Great idea for a post–and helpful. Thanks.

  18. Lee Hiller says:

    It appears Lady GaGa is using the Grateful Dead (Deadheads) and Jimmy Buffet (Parrotheads) model so its not really a new concept

  19. Nina says:

    Marilyn Manson did the freak thing in the 90’s. Shock value and appealing to the wierdo’s has been done. New decade, different musical genre, hit repeat. Supporting the gay rights? Great PR move – make it look like you care about a target audience. I suppose she’s ‘genuine’ about the product placement in her videos too? Seems like fan love can’t give you the money you want. $50 says she’ll re-authenticate herself with plastic surgery, it’ll save time on the air-brushing.

    Y’all been sucked in. For that the sneaky woman deserves kudos.

  20. Andres says:

    Dont forget the “where to buy” that she has installed in her fan page that lands on her web.
    Nice strat although i dont like her quite much…

  21. Jeremy says:

    Great article. I love it that she was originally turned down by the record labels for being “too theatre” and was turned down by Broadway for being “too pop” – so she set up Haus of Gaga to eventually do it all herself – on HER terms. A great inspiration to all of us – whatever line of work we’re in…

  22. Great article. Because Gaga is such a great brand, there are a ton of articles out there on her marketing success. This is the first and only that is spot on – well done!

  23. Dennis says:

    And can I share my thoughts from post (Jan 8 ) on same? ANd possibly the most important marketing lesson – she is different…

  24. Spacer says:

    Lady GaGa is so amazing, she looks very hot and sexy!!!
    I love her voice and the way she dance on the scene. Very talented girl!

  25. Sarah says:

    Initiation into a special community? Element of the transcendent? Shared symbols? That’s not just the power of fandom; that’s the power of myth. I don’t even like her music but admire her genius.

  26. Cheryl says:

    Lady Gaga really is an example to small businesses especially that if we make our customers feel like an important facet of our business that they’ll keep coming back for more. I like Lady Gaga’s music (not so much the videos) but the fact that she has so many Little Monsters loyally following her is a lesson to all in the art of marketing and being authentic.

  27. Kristin says:

    Great article! I like Lady Gaga’s music but don’t consider myself one of her little monsters. These 5 lessons are lessons that all small businesses should use, even if they aren’t one of her fans. She knows what shes talking about when it comes to music as well as marketing.

  28. jonas says:

    exactly, she’s a marketing ploy. I have noticed too, the dedication and how she convinces her fans she is a one woman show and entirely dedicated to them. Obviously she has a team of people scouring the net searching for GaGa related links, videos etc.

    She then tweets on twitter as if she has just found it.

    Plus, I don’t think she came up with this media marketing idea. I mean, come one, she has a team of people around her. She would have been advised on this. I think that the standfirst should be: There’s a lot marketers can learn from the team behind Lady Gaga.

    it’s contrived and sad, her fans are buying into it and her self-labeled image of being avant-garde, when she is about as avant garde as my toe.


  29. dee says:

    Lady Gaga is downright an icon. Its funny how the most successful people will always have negative people.. the haters. No one can deny how quickly she became such a success.

  30. Greg R. says:

    Look who has the #1 Video of all time on YouTube.

  31. Lady Gaga’s a living symbol of how good investment in social media marketing and other relevant fiels can really give you the results one needs. The post is exhaustive, good work.

  32. Correction: Lady Gaga’s a living symbol of how good investment in social media marketing and other relevant fields can really give you the results you need. The post is exhaustive, good work.

  33. Jackie Kuehl says:

    I am a fan of Lady Gaga and think it’s not just about her tactics, but she is a great product too at the foundation. That was the topic of my blog article at: http://blog.kuehlmarketing.com/2010/02/25/3-keys-to-social-media-success-take-it-from-lady-gaga.aspx

  34. selma says:

    Great article, though Apple success was created by making customers belonging to a club and making them feel special. All those queues in front of their shops 24 hours, or longer, before a product is being sold…

    Its good to see Lady G learning from Apple and applying some of their tactics!

  35. corrin says:

    Another reason Little Monsters around the world are loyal to Gaga is because all of the points you mentioned are genuine. Nothing is forced or contrived. That kind or organic relationship with her fans makes her someone people want to be loyal to because it’s a two-way street.

  36. Daniel Perry says:

    Great post! Particularly enjoyed the note about Gaga calling on a fan in the audience. Though seems to me the real social media savvy she displays is by her use of Twitter to have a running dialog with her fans. She reinforces that she identifies with her fans every chance she gets. Most importantly, they believe she shares their frustration and fears.

    Daniel Perry
    Twitter: DanielPerry http://twitter.com/danielperry

  37. Gorkem says:

    She is OK but she’s the third biggest female after Madonna and Britney.. No matter what she does, she will never be recognized as big as these two queens.

  38. Jnyca says:

    One of the other points….. that you have sort of mentioned but is really key to Gaga’s success. Is her accessibility. She really really strives to make herself appear approachable and contactable. She answers her followers twitters, and mentions them in interviews. She pops into randomn wedding pictures, and goes to the same dive bars in NYC she did before fame. She sends personal video messages to troubled fans, and sometimes it almost seems like there’s 10 of her. She makes a point to say she is an artist and NOT a celeb. After years of the Paris Hilton types and watching things like BP’s PR mismanagement of their crisis…..and especially during a recession…..having an artist who is unusual but strives to show she’s just like you or understands you is very significant.

  39. Lil Monster says:

    I do really agree that she connects with her fans and that is a key to her success. She stays real. Fans love that.

  40. meafterall18 says:

    she is nice person even though she always act like nobody care for her,.i know she just do her character coz she also know thats the way why people know her 🙂

  41. Jay says:

    One of the more interesting aspects of Lady Gaga’s stardom is that she became famous in a very old fashion way. That is she started out by playing in clubs all around New York city, and was a self-promoter who was never discouraged by failure. She didn’t become famous by winning a reality television show like American Idol, or things of that nature.

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