I have always known who Barbra Streisand is (of course), but I’ve never been a devoted fan or follower of her work. A few months ago, a friend took me to the symphony to hear a vocalist cover Streisand’s songs. Maybe it was due to the influence of a live performance and symphonic accompaniment, but I thought the songs were amazing, and noted that I hadn’t heard many of them (from her first albums and performances circa early 1960s).
After that I wanted to know more about Barbra’s early material, so I did a Google search and found articles, videos and audio clips which included performances from New York night clubs, and her first albums and TV guest spots. I also came across her TV specials, which I never knew about (including a concert for 135,000 people in New York’s Central Park in 1967). The girl was definitely gifted…and so unusual (in a good way).
Then I saw commentaries and links to content that revealed some insight (although it may not all be true) into how her brand was built and launched in just a few years time. Since she was only 22 when she “hit it big”, I was intrigued with how her brand was developed given: 1) she was young and poor with no major connections in show business; 2) her music style was not the most popular of the early ‘60s and/or among her age group; and 3) at that time there was no American Idol, YouTube, social media, etc. to showcase her talents and get her noticed quickly.
As a marketer I found her journey in the early years quite fascinating. It seemed that her brand came together with an organic and optimal mix of talent, strategy and execution; deployed with precision by very smart people. She went from — a nobody that had: no vocal training; unconventional looks and style; and limited experience and resources — to winning Grammy, Emmy and Academy Awards her first times at bat (and before the age of 30).
So what can marketers learn from the initial launch of the “Barbra brand”?
To me it’s a lesson in “old school”, which can be helpful if/when one isn’t aware or forgets, that the adoption of basic marketing principles often makes a big difference in whether a brand takes hold. Using the Barbra brand analogy as an example, here’s what I mean:
1. Start with a vision and a clear picture of what you see as the outcome for your business.
- Barbra had a clear vision to be a star and to be the best there was; and seemed to know exactly where she wanted to go. She saw the future and started from there.
2. Make sure that you have a great product and/or offer, and that you are unique and different.
- I had no idea what a showstopper Barbra Streisand was in her youth. In seeing old footage, it was clear she had the goods to be great and that it all started with a differentiated mix of talent, style, confidence and charisma — a powerful package.
3. Build a great story around the uniqueness; invest in the talent and resources to do this well.
- If the Internet and social media had existed when “the marketing of Barbra” started, chances are she would have gone viral in 3 weeks vs. 3 years. But even then it may not have happened had the “product’ and “story” not been unique, different and marketable; with a team of experts who knew how to craft (and version) a story that would get attention.
4. Hire great talent to distribute and sell the story. Hiring people who know what they’re doing can be critical for success, even if the Internet seems to make it easier to get a message “out there”.
- As gifted as Barbra Streisand was, she may not have risen to the top if it hadn’t been for her talented team of handlers and publicists. Barbra seemed to know early on that to achieve her mission, it was critical to surround herself with the best and brightest.
5. Take baby steps to build momentum, i.e. to grow the brand and story over time.
- Barbra built a strong foundation by singing in nightclubs (initially in New York and later across the country). She and her team appeared to have worked hard and smart to gradually and systematically parlay these performances into PR opportunities and a differentiated brand image (through tactics such as album releases, press coverage and TV guest appearances) that would expedite national awareness of her unique talent and appeal.
6. Build a community of influencers who can help get the message out and validate your brand’s promise.
- Barbra’s team seemed to have been very effective at building awareness among important influencers in the News and Media industries. The resulting willingness/desire to validate, showcase and promote her talent was key to Barbra’s rise to stardom.
7. Continue nurturing and enhancing the product.
- Leading up to fame, Barbra and her team probably tested many different angles and refined or tweaked her repertoire and image to: improve “the product”; keep Barbra’s name out there; and catch the attention of new fans, promoters, publicists, and buying decision-makers.
The point is: it can be valuable to revisit and think through brand-building principles such as the ones mentioned. The smart use of old-school essentials may help you break through the clutter to make your presence known and attract buyers. Barbra Streisand’s rise to fame is but one of many examples of how these disciplines can pay off.
Image by Al Ravenna, World Telegram staff photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
This article originally appeared on Lydia’s Marketing Blog
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