The year was 1998 and my brother had just returned home from the Gang Star, Moment of Truth record release party in New York City. I asked him how it was and he proceeded to pull out a roll of pictures from the event that blew my mind. Artists that had been posters in my room growing up were right there next to my brother. Busta Rhymes, Q-Tip, Big Daddy Kane and even a young Jay-Z who was on the verge of dropping the Vol.2… Hard Knock Life album that would catapult him into a worldwide icon. Fast forward nearly 20 years later, and Jay-Z just dropped arguably the best album of 2017. In a genre where only a few manage to maintain cultural relevancy, Jay-Z has managed to evolve his brand in a way that continues to drive both relevance and consumption.
See 4 lessons from Jay-Z’s 4:44 that all brands must learn:
- Fresh Doesn’t Fade – “Oh y’all thought that I was washed? I’m at the cleaners.”
- Jay-Z does not recreate his brand, he evolves it. He keeps the quality high, maintains his core brand characteristics, all while ensuring he retains cultural relevancy. Often times, the hardest decision brand owners and agency partners have to make is to keep an existing or past strategy, design, or campaign. Our selfish desire to put our stamp on a brand or win an award can often push our strategic recommendations into a new territory long before the existing one has run its course.
- Impact Over Relevancy – “Cried tears of joy when you fell in love, don’t matter to me if it’s a him or her”
- Jay-Z’s 4:44 album is by far the most introspective and socially conscience album he has ever released. In a genre that has been historically homophobic, hearing Jay-Z publicly accept his mother’s sexual orientation is the kind of statement that can drive true cultural impact. Brands that ‘Use’ culture to sell products without any thought in how they can become ‘True Patrons’ of that culture minimize their long-term impact and lose out on turning campaign interest into lifelong advocacy.
- Authenticity is King – “Cry Jay-Z, we know the pain is real, but you can’t heal what you never reveal”
- Jay-Z has always prided himself on being ‘Real’ or honest in all of his music. What is different in 4:44, is we get to see Jay-Z pull back on the over the top bravado and for the first time leave himself completely vulnerable. From his apologies to Beyoncé for his infidelity, to revealing a family history of sexual abuse, to talking about his mother being a lesbian, we get to witness a whole new Jay-Z. Brands need to be willing to stop pretending that consumers are stupid and start being completely transparent. Unapologetically own what you are, spotlight your profound strengths, and spark honest debates in opportunity areas.
- Latent Equity is Liquid Gold – “Hall of Fame Hov, I did it all without a pen”
- With all of the growth Jay-Z shows on the 4:44 album, he still finds ways to remind you why you loved him in the first place. He is a lyrical genius (he literally writes and recites all of his songs in his head), he embodies the rags to riches story we all love, and he is one of the greatest marketers in the world. In a race to recruit the next generation, brands often chase what is cool at the moment at the expense of their original fan base. Smart brands find ways to appeal to a new audience all while reminding their original fans (where their latent equity resides) why they loved them in the first place.
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