You can diss the guy all you like, but Kanye West is arguably a terrific marketer. It seems like a week doesn’t go by without the rapper getting involved in some debate or dispute. And even if media outlets classify these events as a mere thirst for publicity, there’s something to be said for the way West keeps his name at the forefront.
His profuse cursing, Twitter rants, backstage tantrums and stage crashing snafus are the kinds of things that would normally end a professional career, but instead have become West's personal brand. The negative publicity has turned him into a viral sensation.
His Yeezus album sold over 320,000 units the first week it was released, but unit sales didn't seem to be West's main priority. In fact, he wants to innovate the industry and kill CDs -- and all his digital outbursts may be just the strategy to do it.
What's relevant here is that West is using some of the same marketing strategies businesses should -- it’s just that he’s breaking convention to do it. As immersive technologies designer Fabien Soudiere has said: “Controversial content online gets the most views; it’s just a fact.”
Creating a viral stir with controversial content marketing
People love entertainment -- and West is giving them just that. People were riveted by the text battle that occurred after West called out Wiz Khalifa on Twitter. It had people retweeting and sharing screenshots, and created tremendous buzz throughout the web. Then, in true form, West apologized, which continued the viral stir.
Not only did he create drama to be digested by both sides of the feud, but he did it using the medium that was easiest to share. And it worked.
West benefitted from the virality of the content, and as a result gained 172,000 new followers. At the peak of the conversation, “Kanye West” was mentioned in 88,000 tweets per minute. And it cost him absolutely nothing.
The pomp and circumstance West displays turns a lot of heads, much in the same way a flashy sports car does when it interrupts the regular flow of the usual makes and models people see every day. Entrepreneur contributor Timothy Sykes made reference to this rule when he talked about how his own investment in a $235,000 Lamborghini improved his business.
“No matter where you are going or who you are meeting with, an attention-grabbing car such as this will be a conversation starter,” Sykes wrote. “If you want attention on social media, all you need to do is share a picture of your car.”
I can attest to this. When I posted pictures of my own expensive car -- after I finally fulfilled my 10-year-old self’s dream of buying a car with doors that open up (a BMW i8), I got more business. It’s just a fact . . . flashy stuff works.
And West knows this. For him, outreach is all about what grabs attention.
Staying true to the brand
If there’s one other thing West does better than just about anyone, it’s speaking his mind. He stays true to himself and the personal and professional brand he is developing.
You can see this same strategy at work when you look at the most successful brands out there. While not as aggressive or unfiltered as West's, they stay true to their brand position.
All PR is good PR
West isn’t what you would consider a small brand. The scale of his following and his access to visibility means there can be significant ramifications to keeping himself in the spotlight. But the reward is worth the risk. Doing so turns hundreds of thousands of people into marketers and publishers for him. It just goes to show that you don’t need a massive budget to get people to talk about you and your brand.
"It's a matter of being able to find and activate those consumers to see who you are," says Perry Fair, president and chief creative officer at global ad agency JWT. "That doesn't necessarily take a lot of money. It does take a lot of effort."
Consider that over the last two years, well-known personalities including Ellen DeGeneres and Stephen Colbert have chimed in on West. That’s amazing PR. And again, it cost West nothing.
So do things, share info, be impactful. Get people talking about you. Brand visibility is the key to success, and when you can garner that with very little effort or expense, then even controversy can be turned into something beneficial.
Whether West offends you, or you see value in his actions, it’s important to recognize the big takeaway – how information and news is being proliferated today. It’s going through tens of millions of people on social media. When you know how it works, then you’ll know how to take advantage of (and create) those kinds of opportunities for yourself.