Anyone who knows me, well, anyone who truly knows me, knows that one of the things that I’m truly passionate about is studying just what makes the most successful brands so great. Much like a puzzle, every great brand has its own unique components that makes it complete.
After years of studying the greatest brands in the world, I’ve discovered that along with having many unique components, the greatest brands also have many commonalities.
One of the things that all great brands have in common—regardless of which industry their products or services may fall into—is they all exude differentiation. And one of the greatest and most influential brands of the 21st century—Beats By Dre, is no exception to that rule.
Founded by Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre in 2006, Beats By Dre (parent company Beats Electronics LLC) has become one of the most successful consumer electronic brands in the world. This is the marketing strategy the brand used that made Beats By Dre a multi-billion-dollar brand.
Market the product rebelliously
Cambridge Dictionary defines strategy as being, “A detailed plan for achieving success in situations such as war, politics, business, industry, or sports, or the skill of planning for such situations.” A key part of Beats Electronics’ detailed plan to achieve success in business consisted of making Beats By Dre headphones a staple in contemporary culture.
The brand set out to do that by marketing their headphones the same way that a record label would introduce a new artist to contemporary culture—as a rebel.
“We said if we make a headphone where the design is beautiful and we make them cool enough, and we market them like they’re either Guns N’ Roses, or Snoop Dogg, or 2Pac—I said I think that’ll work. And that’s what we did.” Said Beats Electronics co-founder and CEO, Jimmy Iovine, in an interview with Complex.
As also the former chairman and CEO of Interscope records, which was the label home to rebellious artists like: 2Pac, Eminem, Madonna, Snoop Dogg, and 50 Cent; Iovine understood that by positioning a new artist in the market as rebellious and disruptive—consumers within the culture would be more likely to gravitate towards them. And he was right!
However, the thing about positioning a product, or even an artist for that matter, as disruptive and rebellious, is that obviously—there has to be something to disrupt and rebel against. For Beats By Dre, that something was Bose. Which at the time Beats was founded—was by far the most dominant brand in the high-end headphones category.
To show a clear distinction between Beats and Bose, as well as to change the public’s perception about high-end headphones, Beats rebelled against Bose by making a concerted effort to convey to consumers the many key differences between the brands. From the product’s look, to its logo, and especially its target audience—Beats rebelled against Bose and everything they led consumers to believe about high-end headphones.
And consumers within contemporary culture gravitated towards Beats as a result.
Establish omnipresence through uncharted spaces
In today’s data-driven market, one of the things that often gets overlooked by many brands and companies is the power of guerrilla marketing. Which simply means going after conventional business goals using unconventional means like time, energy, imagination, and information to achieve them—as opposed to using money.
The power of guerrilla marketing certainly wasn’t lost on Beats; who used their time, energy, and imagination to utilize one of the most effective guerrilla marketing tactics that a brand could have in its arsenal—product placement.
To capitalize off of the power of product placement by ensuring Beats By Dre headphones would be seen by millions of consumers, the brand’s former CMO Omar Johnson decided that to give the product maximum reach as well as create consumer demand, the masses should see the product on or next to entertainers and professional athletes.
Unfortunately, during the early years of Beats, Bose was already an advertising partner with the most popular professional sports leagues in America (NFL, NBA, MLB).
Realizing that he wouldn’t be able to get his product placed on athletes by using conventional means, Johnson brilliantly devised a plan for Beats headphones to be seen being sported by athletes in a place where others hadn’t thought of—the locker room.
“I said we’re going to become the official pre-game of sports.” Says Johnson in an interview with the Sit Down Startup Podcast. “I made it a point to go and dominate every pregame moment with our products and we found smart ways to do it.”
So, just how did Johnson and his marketing team bypass the bureaucratic red tape and get Beats By Dre headphones in the hands of professional athletes in their locker rooms? They delivered the headphones to them in the locker rooms personally.
“We were known for walking in a locker room with one or two pairs and giving it to a player.” Johnson explained. “And that player felt proud. Sometimes we’d customize it. Sometimes we’d put their name on it.”
By taking advantage of an unconventional space that had never been charted by brands before, the Beats marketing team were able to become omnipresent in culture by placing their products not only in locker rooms, but also in music videos next to some the hottest artists in the world like: Eminem, Lady Gaga, and Nicki Minaj, just to name a few.
Re-contextualize the category
There’s this funny thing about brand categories; by their very meaning—categories are designed to confine a brand to fit certain expectations. For example, if someone were to tell you that they owned a toothpaste brand and asked you for advice on how to market the brand in the oral hygiene category, you’d probably think of ways to articulate just how the toothpaste helps prevent cavities, remove stains, and freshens breath.
Nevertheless, if your marketing strategy for the toothpaste brand consisted of emphasizing to an audience that in order to prevent periodontitis (which causes tooth loss), they should use that particular toothpaste—you would have re-contextualized the toothpaste category.
Which is exactly what Beats did when they marketed their headphone’s noise cancelling feature.
For years, Bose marketed their noise cancelling headphones as being ideal for flight travel. Assuming that most people who can afford to purchase a $300 pair of headphones probably travel often, Bose's ads showcased just how their headphones made flights more peaceful by eliminating the noise so that passengers could fly more peacefully.
With Bose being the dominant brand in the high-end headphones category at the time, consumers automatically associated noise cancelling headphones with flight travel. That’s until Omar Johnson and his marketing team at Beats changed that notion with their, “Hear What You Want” advertising campaign which featured athletes walking into loud arenas with Beats By Dre noise cancelling headphones over their ears drowning out all of the noise.
Although it may seem simple, that subtle change of focusing more on conveying the message to consumers that they should only hear what they want wherever they are (not just on flights), re-contextualized the noise cancelling headphones category and helped make Beats By Dre headphones the most coveted product in the space.
“I think it’s how you find that simple focus message and then find multiple ways to apply it.” Says Johnson.
What ways can you simplify a solution in your brand’s category and articulate it in a way that no brand has done before? By doing so, consumers will subconsciously associate your products with that solution—which could help your brand become worth a billion dollars like Beats one day.