The world of B2B marketing is rapidly changing, especially since the advent of the Internet.  I believe that the most cutting edge marketing takes place in the B2C market, which is where a lot of the "guerrilla" marketing tactics first emerged.  And within the B2C market, the music industry is known for using a variety of guerrilla marketing methods before anyone else.  For instance, bands were one of the original groups to use MySpace as a promotional tool.

As someone responsible for B2B marketing at HubSpot, I thought it would be useful to look at some of the techniques rappers are using to promote their music, since they are considered to be on the more aggressive and cutting edge side of the music industry.  (You don't need to like rap music to learn business lessons from rappers.), and see what we can apply to B2B marketing.

Here are some marketing lessons that a B2B marketing professional can learn from Rap Stars.

1) Repetition is good.  Most marketing experts and studies will tell you that people need to hear your advertising message at least 4-6 times before they remember it.  Mike Jones, a rapper from Houston, may not have a marketing degree or an MBA, but he acts like he does. In his first album on a major label, all of his songs contained his name, in a catchy jingle "Who???  Mike Jones!" that he used in the background of a number of his songs.  This is really important because when his music was played in clubs or on the radio, you were more likely to remember who the song was by, and more likely to buy the album.  How many times have you heard a catchy song on the radio and went to buy it but had no idea how to find it?  Mike Jones solved that problem by just making the repetition of his name part of the song.  Note:  Rap stars have been putting their name into their songs for decades, but Mike Jones was the first one I know of to take it this far - in his hit song "Back Then", his name is mentioned 5 times, and in the song "Flossin'" his name appears 15 times! So, the takeaway is that you should figure out what marketing message you want people to remember, and repeat it for them.

2) Embrace user generated content.  Many companies are concerned about their trademarks and protection of intellectual property and tend to create "walled gardens" of content preventing users from adapting content to suit their own needs and add value to it.  Musicians' incomes are tied to sales of their music, and as we all know since the advent of peer to peer file sharing and the mp3 file format, record labels and musicians have generally been trying to copy protect their music and maintain an increased level of control over the distribution of it.

But one rapper has been bucking this trend.  Jay-Z always releases an "acapella" version of his albums, which is just his voice without any background music or beat at all.  The main purpose of these albums is to enable DJs and dedicated fans to remix Jay-Z's lyrics with other beats and songs.  In fact, Jay-Z's previous album "The Black Album" was remixed into two other complete albums by separate DJs.  DJ Dangermouse remixed it with the Beatles' "White Album" to form the "Grey Album" and DJ Cheap Cologne remexed it with Metallica's "Black Album" to form the "Double Black" album.  While rap music is frequently remixed into other songs, this was really the first large scale example of an entire album being remixed by two different DJs to form two other completely new albums.  While Jay-Z didn't earn any royalties from the sales of these other albums and the remixed albums themselves were only sold online and in a somewhat underground fashion, the other albums certainly helped propel sales of his own music and created more buzz around both him and the "Black Album" since there were lots of people playing the remixed versions in clubs and people discussing them online. Because of both his talent and also because he has embraced user generated content, Jay-Z is widely acclaimed to be not only one of the best rappers of all time, but also one of the most financially successful (his net worth is estimated at $340 million).

3) Have a specific call to action.  One other interesting marketing strategy Mike Jones used was putting his personal cell phone in a couple of his songs, and not in a hidden or obscure way, but actually in the main part of the song and repeated numerous times so everyone remembered "281-330-8004".  Before long, he was getting hundreds, then thousands of calls per day.  And he would actually personally answer a bunch of them. (The number is now inactive, in case you are trying to call it.)  While the huge number of calls was probably a bit annoying, it definitely helped Mike Jones differentiate himself, and I think for the thousands of people he actually talked to for 30 seconds or so, they were very likely to buy his album and talk to their friends about it.  I have seen too many advertisements and especially websites and emails where it is not clear what action you are trying to get people to take next.  It might be to complete a contact form, or call your company, but whatever it is, make sure your prospects know what the next step is that you want them to take.

4) Use lot of partnerships.  Many businesses only use partnerships in a limited fashion, and only if they are very structured and set up to be in place for a long time period.  Similarly, in the music industry most rock bands typically play their own music and rarely work with other bands.  Not so in rap music.  Rappers and hip-hop artists very frequently collaborate with each other and produce songs on each other albums "featuring" someone else.  In fact, it is almost a formula to have a song on a famous rappers album featuring an unknown rapper, or vice versa.  One very famous example of this was when Dr. Dre basically launched Snoop Dogg's career by featuring Snoop Dogg on a couple songs on Dr. Dre's album "The Chronic".  People who loved Dr. Dre for years got a chance to hear someone new, and liked him.  Snoop Dogg's next album "Doggystyle" was a huge success, selling over 800,000 copies in the first week and over 6 million copies through the end of 2006.  In keeping with this theme, I would like to give a "shout out" to Carlton Hass, who wrote a blog article "3 Lessons Gangsta Rappers Can Teach You About Marketing" which I found after I had half written this article and was doing some additional research.   It was his article that inspired this lesson about the importance of using partnerships and collaborations in business inspired by their success in the world of rap music.

What do you think?  Can B2B marketing professionals learn anything from rappers?  Are there any other lessons you think we could learn from other "consumer" markets?  Leave a comment below so we can discuss.

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Originally published Jun 25, 2007 12:22:00 PM, updated March 21 2013


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