5 Marketing Lessons From Miley Cyrus

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Who cares whether Miley Cyrus’ performance at the VMAs was trashy, silly, or sexy, one thing is for certain: it was a strategic spectacle that had amazing results. There are lessons to be learned from this.

By definition, all entrepreneurs are looking for attention to gain awareness, develop their brand, and ultimately drive sales. Miley put on a clinic in how to do just that.

There is a method to the madness, and while it may seem Miley’s performance didn’t have a lot of thought behind it, we are taking a peek behind the curtain to show you how to replicate her success. Here are five marketing lessons you can take from that infamous performance.

1. Create a spectacle

The most indelible image from the VMAs was not Macklemore’s performance or NSYNC reuniting, it was Miley Cyrus twerking on Robin Thicke. Sex sells, and by pushing the envelope and being controversial, Miley was able to generate a massive amount attention that bled into the next day’s news cycle…without even winning an award. That’s right–you probably didn’t even notice that she didn’t win a single Moonman. She took a page right out of the great provocateur PT Barnum’s playbook by manufacturing her own scandal and welcoming the incendiary reviews that resulted. After all, any press is good press. Bread and circuses worked to please the masses during the Roman Empire–it can work to create attention for your startup as well. Consider what is controversial in your space and take a side, which will pull in passionate fans but also create haters, fueling a scandal.

2013 MTV Video Music Awards - Pre-Show

2. Timing is everything.

As much as successful entrepreneurs like to attribute their success to their hard work or genius, timing is a huge factor in a startup’s success or failure. So it comes as no surprise that Miley Cyrus’ latest single “Wrecking Ball” (which is a spectacle itself) was released the same day her VMA performance would be seen by over 10 million viewers. Think about that–her performance of Robin’s song was so well-timed and executed that it helped a totally different song blow up. Her strategy worked and “Wrecking Ball” debuted at No. 13 on the Billboard Digital Songs chart with 90,000 sold. The music video for “Wrecking Ball” racked up a record 19.3 million views in its first 24 hours on VEVO, crushing the previous record set by One Direction. When thinking about launching a new startup or product it’s important to consider when you launch as much as how you launch. Prime your announcement by picking a window where there will be a minimal amount of noise for you to break through.

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3. Remake Your Image

Miley’s good girl gig as Disney’s Hannah Montana could have been her defining moment as an artist, but Cyrus has smartly been working to shed that image since she released her 2010 album Can’t Be Tamed. When she sang about a Jay-Z song in “Party in the USA” in 2009, she later admitted that she couldn’t name any of his songs. Flash forward a few years and she’s basically putting out a hip hop record.  Instead of boxing herself into a corner, she has evolved with her fans, always staying one step ahead in reshaping her image from Disney child star to sex symbol. She’s done so well she even offered to help Justin Bieber transition into an adult star. Established companies are always at risk for stagnating and simply sticking to what they do well now. The companies that stand the test of time are always innovating and changing with the times to retain their competitive advantage. Instead of becoming a corporate dinosaur like Blockbuster or Borders, always think about what is next for your customers.


4. Play with perception, re-shape reality.

First, in her cover shoot with Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair and now with her upcoming Rolling Stone cover, Miley has played on America’s never ending fascination with youth and sexuality. In 2008, it was reported that Miley had appeared topless in a photo shoot for Vanity Fair. The NY Times later clarified the report and stated that it only appeared that Miley was bare-breasted, she was actually covered in a bedsheet and was not topless. Immediately after her performance at the VMAs, Vogue editor Anna Wintour cancelled her plans to have Cyrus on the cover of their December issue, saying she “found the whole thing distasteful,” cementing Miley’s controversial reputation.

In her cover photo for the October 10th issue of Rolling Stone, Cyrus is actually topless, but the photo gives the appearance that she just skinny-dipped in a pool with her wet hair and smeared makeup. A marketer’s job is to exploit the difference between perception and reality. By finding gaps in the system and using them to create attention and controversy you can generate an amazing ROI for you marketing efforts.  As we can see, Miley Cyrus understands this very well, its up to you to ensure your business is doing the same.

Miley-Cyrus Rolling-Stones

5. Create spreadable messages.

At one point during her VMA performance, Miley was generating over 300,000 tweets per minute, which was more than during the Super Bowl blackout. In the four days after her performance she gained over 200,000 Twitter followers and 225,000 Facebook likes. Its pretty obvious why Miley’s performances garnered so much attention, but for entrepreneurs, creating a spreadable message is a tougher nut to crack. The focus should be on telling an engaging, emotional story that shows the problem you’re solving and value proposition you’re offering your customer. You might not get the explosive attention Miley got, but then again, you won’t have to resort to twerking either.

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Those of you who were too caught up judging, snarking or laughing at Miley missed the true genius of what she was doing. She was reinventing herself in front of us. And she was using our tendency to get worked up and chatter about it online against us, and for her own benefit.

Miley masterfully executed a compelling spectacle, timed it with a major release, remade her image, changed our perceptions, and created an incredibly viral message all in one performance that was less than five minutes long, which is an astounding feat. The end result was undoubtedly millions of dollars in merchandise, music and touring sales.

Good for her. Now it’s on us to learn a few lessons from her strategy and see if we can’t apply it to our own businesses.

Photo Credit: Hollywood Reporter, The Guardian, Clevver

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