What B2B brands need to learn from Beyonce
At President Obama's recent inauguration, Beyonce delivered a rousing, pitch-perfect rendition of the national anthem, flooring the crowd and bringing audiences around the world to tears.
But a few short hours later, Twitter was alive with rumours that she had mimed to a pre-recorded backing track. Then, in the face of a growing online storm, the star herself was forced to confirm it. She appeared a few days later at a press conference to belt out a few bars to prove she's still got the skills.
Responsible for an international mega-brand, Team Beyonce must've been working day and night to spin her decision not to sing live. Was it the cold weather that meant she might not have hit the high notes? Was she tired from relentless touring so only had the energy to lip sync? Did she not have time to rehearse with the Marine Corps band? Was she worried she would disappoint best mate Barack?
Only B really knows. Oh, and possibly Jay-Z. Whatever the truth may be, there are lessons to be learnt here.
First, always be authentic. Whether it's in your advertising, social media conversations, sales engagements or internal comms, honesty is always the best policy. Beyonce is a great singer, but she tried to dupe her audience by pretending to do something. (For the most cringeworthy part, skip to the part where she removes her earpiece mid-song to hear her own voice better.)
Once you know Beyonce tried to get one over on you, her brand value goes down. The same goes for a company - if trust in your brand starts to erode, it's extremely hard to get back.
Second, apologise as soon as you can, and with humility. Anyone who knows the basics of crisis management will tell you to communicate quickly. But don't be defensive - Beyonce faced the press, took a deep breath, and sung. It was pretty embarrassing, but there's nothing like a bit of humiliation to show you're human after all.
Third, you should always have a backup plan in case of trouble. For Beyonce, it was a tape of herself singing perfectly in case the weather was too cold for her to hit the high notes (which is my number one theory of why she mimed).
For you, it might be some budget put aside for paid media in case your Twitter campaign doesn't get cut-through, or some contingency hours in your agency team planner for support at that exhibition that's coming up faster than you realised, or a few extra spokespeople media trained in case your star performer gets a sore throat (due to cold weather).
Fourth, know your own message. The reason Beyonce got so much heat for miming is because she sells herself on the power of her vocal performances. Turning up to a concert with a backing tape was always going to be seen as a huge copout. Does Beckham get someone else to kick the football? Did Steve Jobs leave it to someone else to sweat the design details of the iPod? Do any superstars really just sit back and take the money while others do the hard work? No. They work for their fame and fortune.
You need to remember that, in the case of your business you need to stick to your core beliefs, no matter how good your marketing is. If you sell on the build quality of your products, don't compromise on the raw materials. If customer service is how you differentiate, keep investing in being the better than the competition. If you're the cheapest, don't hike up your prices. As soon as you veer off the message, no spin can get you back on track.
The last lesson is an important one: Make sure you've got the right friends. Beyonce hangs out with Barack and Michelle. Kanye and Kim regularly pop in for tea and a natter. Shawn, her husband, has sold 50 million albums and holds the record for the most number one albums in the Billboard 200. He is, undoubtedly, quite important.
With that kind of backup, whatever B does wrong won't stick for long. Aretha Franklin commented that she did a "lovely job", or words to that effect. If you make a mistake and are facing a crisis, who will jump to your defence?
Are you well regarded by journalists, who will see your mistake as a blip in an otherwise perfect run? Will the analyst community leap to your defence? Is there enough goodwill for your customers and partners to protect you?
Or will they leave you out in the cold?