What Pharma Can Learn From Lady Gaga

I admit it; I'm late to the Lady Gaga phenomenon. But I have the energy and interest of a recent convert: she fascinates me. Like many of us who are past the Millennial bracket, I am more struck by Gaga's persona than her music, but for us marketers, the persona may be the more carefully cultivated art form.

Gaga is also a genius marketer or, in fairness, has a genius marketing team. It isn't every day that a 25-year-old singer from the West Village bar scene becomes a worldwide marketing powerhouse. Not long ago, Mashable ran this post about team Gaga's digital chops. And our own Romey Louangvilay, senior account executive of digital and social media at Euro RSCG PR, was quoted as saying, "I'm not a huge Gaga fan ... [but] I give her credit for her artistry and marketing genuineness."

Beyond the surface marketing glitz (very, very well-thought-out glitz), though, there are some deep things going on, culturally, psychologically, innovatively. Gaga will probably find her place in textbooks from music to marketing to new wave feminism. But for now, here are five under-the-radar lessons from Lady Gaga that everyone can draw from ... even pharma.



1. Understand what really gets your audience moving. There's more going on than catchy dance beats. Gaga taps into the psyche of her "Little Monsters," the people who feel like misfits, outcast, unaccepted. It's a slight stretch to say that being sick makes you feel like a little monster yourself, but both Little Monsters and diabetics -- and hypertensives and cancer patients -- all have their own subculture. The closer we can get to understanding the deep feelings that get them motivated to take action, the more we will build our own brands.

2. Love your little monsters. At 25, Gaga calls herself the Mother Monster. When she reached 10 million Twitter followers, she responded by saying, "It's an illness how much I love you." She even tattooed the tribe's name on her arm, the arm she holds her mic with. (I mean, we've all heard of Harley riders wearing the brand's tattoo, but how many brands go the other way around?) Gaga is vocal about her success being purely based on her fans' acceptance. We pharma marketers often talk about patient empowerment, but we can go a giant step further by giving people the human, iconic support they need to feel the love.

3. Meet your monsters where they live. Here's where we get back to multi-modal engagement: Gaga partners with the brands her monsters use -- from Amazon and Best Buy to Zynga -- tweets obsessively, tours compulsively, and is seemingly everywhere at once. In the space of just one week, I saw her printed or video image everywhere from the New York Times' Sunday Arts & Culture section to taxi TV. Not to mention "Letterman," "Idol" and "SNL." Gaga reaches out beyond the classic concert venue (doctor's office, anyone?) to create a universe of opportunities where her people can meet and mash up.

4. Be tireless. We all work really, really hard. I know that. But how much do each of us accomplish for our brands in a given year? Unlike Gaga, we have layers of business and regulatory hurdles. But the woman is the definition of tireless. I'm sure you know that she recorded her latest album on the bus, at night, after performing her stadium concert. She's not just sending her message out there, she's begging and pleading and demanding involvement from the people who love her, and buy her music, seemingly every minute of every day.

5. Change it up. Someone more culturally astute than I observed that David Bowie changed his persona for every album, Madonna for every tour, and Gaga for every news cycle. As a culture, we've become trained to look for the new, the provocative, the shocking. We're looking for transformation and rejuvenation and vindication, and when we can't find it in our lives, mostly, we turn to the culture. I have a sneaking suspicion that traditional pharma marketers see themselves as standing apart from the culture, but we're all in it, and we all have a fighting chance to think differently about who we are, how we relate, and how to make the people who need us, love us.

Can pharma change its wig every hour and not wear pants on national TV? Well, no. But can we find and nurture our own little monsters? Even if we weren't born that way, I think we can learn.

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