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What can Britney Spears teach you about branding?

Britney Spears may be a fading musical star but she holds the key to understanding online branding and the currency that drives social media today.

For years, I have tried to figure out why on earth Britney Spears has remained so famous. I’m not bothered by it because of her train wreck, paparazzi frenzy-inducing lifestyle but rather because of the fact that she is a performer who doesn’t perform. She delivers a complete lie to her audience every night by lip syncing her concerns yet her fans know and accept this lie even rewarding her for it by packing arenas to see her shows. Just a few years ago the concept of basically faking a performance would have been unthinkable for a major performer. So I needed to figure out what changed with consumers and within society to a point where people were now fine with it. The answer is an insight that all brands need to use to connect with the modern consumer.

Britney’s fans go to her concerns even though they know they aren’t going to see a real performance because they crave the new driver of modern branding – experiential currency.

I define experiential currency as the feeling that is generated at an event or interaction between a brand and a consumer where they get to have an exclusive experience not everyone has access to. The benefits are two-fold to the consumer as first the experience generates the currency through a memorable interaction with the brand that makes the consumer feel like an insider. The second benefit is that the consumer then spends that experiential currency by cashing it in through stories to their friends that once again make them feel special and important. We all want to feel special and unique so the modern consumer now wants to find that same feeling when they interact with brands.

If we take this logic and overlay it with Britney Spears we see this logic in actions. First is that any modern pop star like Britney is a brand with a specific brand image, tone and voice, consumer sweet spot, etc.. Her fans will pay to have an interaction with her, the brand, because a concert is an experience that is made available to only a limited number of people and being part of that limited community makes them feel exclusive and special. They will then consume the unique experience to get that experiential currency and it is such a strong need that they will even forgive the fact that they aren’t seeing a real performance.

So what drives this behavior to seek out special and unique experiences and how do they spend that experiential currency? The reality is that Facebook and Twitter have transcended technology to become embedded in the very fabric of modern inter-personal relationships and have thus changed how we want to represent ourselves through our digital personas. When we use those sites we all feel a need to make those Facebook posts and Tweets as interesting as we can because our friends now have unprecedented access to our everyday lives. We quickly find out that when we document our everyday lives they are pretty boring to other people and often border on information overload. We need to have that experiential currency so we can spend it through the unique and interesting stories and photos we post to have something greater than the everyday experiences and something to differentiate us from our friends. It means that social media has turned us all into our own brands because ,just like a brand, we all struggle to express our of differentiated look, voice and experiences.

This is all rooted in the fact that as a society we are going through a mental change where we have moved from finding validation through the possession of physical objects to finding validation from experiencing unique events and how those experiences are documented through our digital personalities. Just look at the New York Times top 10 Christmas gifts for proof where you will see that two years ago 8 of the 10 things on the list where physical objects but last year that number shrunk to only one. We also see a similar mental shift happening across music and movies where we are no longer tied to the need to actually possess CD’s or DVD’s and we are now happy to simply have access to that media through sources like streaming Netflix service or Amazon’s cloud music player.

The days where thinking that your brand will connect with consumers in a meaningful way only through the repetitive use of your logo and some PMS colors are over. Social media’s effect on consumers have changed that model whether we all like it or not. Modern branding has become about the ability for a brand to deliver a unique experience through all of its touch points to stand out from the crowd.

1 Comment

  1. loren

    May 17, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    “This is all rooted in the fact that as a society we are going through a mental change where we have moved from finding validation through the possession of physical objects to finding validation from experiencing unique events and how those experiences are documented through our digital personalities”

    Except that there is no apparent decrease- whatsoever- in the amount or degree of conspicuous consumption. It may be hip to pretend that we are shifting toward intangibles, but people are still lusting after and consuming lots of physical crap…

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Creative Director, Designer, Brand Builder, Speaker, Podcaster, Crazy One. As a designer, I have 20+ years experience creating the strategy, concepts, and designs for award-winning integrated global advertising campaigns, building multiple global Fortune 500 brands and creating innovative digital experiences. As a leader, I have 15+ years transforming agency and client-side teams using a mix of creativity, business strategy, process and political skill to create innovative, world-class work and cultures that change industries and companies. My clients have included American Airlines, W Hotels, Disney, Citi, ExxonMobil, Acura, Old Navy, Nationwide Insurance, Verizon, Subaru and many others. My work has received over 150 international awards, my app designs have been named as one of the World’s 100 Greatest Apps, Apple has featured my work in 9 keynotes, 4 TV commercials and more.

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