What do Lady Gaga, One Direction, Oprah Winfrey and Jennifer Lawrence have in common? They are A-list celebrities, yes, but this is not enough to explain their enduring success. They must have something more, because you can't become the business machine they are today based solely on talent or luck.

The answer is simple: Lady Gaga and Co. did so relying on the ability to build and nurture a community of loyal and faithful fans. In the meanwhile offering useful lessons to every company and brand willing to improve customer loyalty.

In an age where social media and digital technologies dictate the business agenda, celebrities become more than simple icons and models of behavior; they become a brand, in the true sense of this word. Fame and fortune, thus, derive not just from what celebs create - a Billboard single, a blockbuster movie, a successful book - but from what they are and the experience they build for fans.

Their community is their fortune. Numbers explain this sentence better than a thousand words. It’s not by coincidence that:

  • Lady Gaga has 67 million fans on Facebook and 45 million followers on Twitter. Ever heard about the Little Monsters?;

  • Kim Kardashian has the most followed account on Instagram, without having any recognizable talent;

  • Oprah Winfrey has become one of the richest and most powerful people in the whole world, starting from zero;

  • Taylor Swift keeps on winning award after award and is now considered the pop star fans love the most;

  • J. K. Rowling has gone from being no-one to being multi-millionaire and the “most influential woman in Britain” (Time Magazine). Her secret is Pottermore.

  • Madonna is still the scandal icon and bestselling singer all young pop star wannabes strive to emulate.

  • Angelina Jolie is the one of the highest earning and the most beloved Hollywood actress, with a net worth 120 million dollars.

You can have Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame but, if you just target success for money and celebrity, and fail to build an enduring community, you won’t go too far. A recent example: PSY, the Korean pop singer, has cracked YouTube with his 2012 hit Gangnam Style, reaching over 2 Billion views. No one before was even close to that cap. For almost a year he has been basically everywhere, but then? You can’t really say he was able to capitalize on that unexpected success.

On the contrary, Lady Gaga is the perfect case study to understand why a faithful community is necessary to guarantee success in the long term. Her latest musical efforts have not even remotely gained the critical approval and sales numbers of her first albums, and yet she is still here, loved and hated like the very first day. Because she goes way beyond her songs: she is a brand that tells a story, shares specific values and engages fans into a complex experience.

Do you see where this takes us? The entertainment business is the mirror that reflects the changes all other industries are going through: a digital transformation that leads to the Age of the Customer, where people - not brands - become the core of every digital marketing strategy. In hyper-competitive markets, the only way to grow shares and stay top of mind is to stop being self-referential and start focusing on your customers.

Of course, celebrities have absorbed this lesson long ago, and so they play their best cards to engage with fans and enhance loyalty. Using technology and innovation for this purpose: mobile devices, 3D and virtual reality, apps, widgets, wearables, branded content, social media, there’s no aim they can’t use. To say it with marketing terms, they are well-aware that “sales pass, loyalty stays”.

Entrepreneurs and marketers have a few lessons to learn from celebrities. We can sum them up in the following 5 suggestions:

  1. Share your values - every celebrity comes with different values and issues he/she cares about. Customers feel a deeper emotional connection when you share your values and build your whole strategy around them. To engage your community, be coherent, give them something to talk about and involve them into your storytelling.

  2. Understand their needs - real celebrities listen, not just talk. Lady Gaga, again, is a good example: she always makes her fans feel like rock stars. Little Monsters are the core of every communication. Start by analyzing and embracing your customers' needs, wants and desires. Put people of your community in the spotlight and make them feel special, like rock stars.

  3. Connect on personal level - the community is not the final aim of your strategy. It's just a means to get closer to every single customer. Technology evolution moves towards machine intercommunication (the Internet of Things), while clients ask for human connections: answer with a personal touch, create a sense of belonging, use social media to manage crisis and reputation issues.

  4. Make it about them - the Age of the Customers have replaced passive consumers with informed and empowered customers. This is a critical passage for your business: customer experience is more important than your brand, and the journey more critical than the product itself. Take care about clients, offer personalized content and guide them across all touch points of the customer journey.

  5. Exceed expectations - celebrities always feel the need to move their image and identity one step forward, to top fans' expectations, and then exceed them again and again. The same with your brand: don't slow down, keep on innovating and focus on the need to surprise. Don't be scared to try new solutions and always add a bit of spice to retain attention (Lady Gaga, again).

They all seem reasonable suggestions but too many companies, unfortunately, still think the old way, accounting their product or themselves as the main reason of business. Damaging, as a result, the connection with customers. Price, products and quality of service remain important, but it’s the digital customer experience that becomes the real key to succeed and become customers’ first choice.

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To help you ensure a strategic advantage to your organization, learn about the DCX 7-Steps Checklist crafted by Neosperience, with requirements and insights for a successful digital transformation.