Blueface was relatively unknown in early 2018. By early 2019 he had a top ten song on Billboard and was seemingly everywhere. What makes him most interesting is how his musical fame is only modestly tied to music, or about “25%” by his own estimate. The rest? “Marketing, promotion, being yourself.” This isn’t just a lesson in leveraging social media, it’s a lesson in making the most of what works with the mediums we have access too. Blueface is worth studying.
“People be famous for everything but their music,” Blueface told the New York Times. Considering his Instagram posts are mostly non-musical, we can see his 3 million+ followers aren’t just there for his vocal abilities. Like him, we don’t just do one job either, no matter what business our revenues say we’re in. Zappos, the online shoe store, is probably most famous for customer service. Like them, we have more than one path to creating value in our customers’ minds. Standing out from the pack and making money are related, but not always the same thing.
Once we know what people find valuable, we have to market those characteristics to our target clients. Johnathan Porter is a master at playing his character Blueface. “Blueface is probably 10 times Johnathan,” he said. Similarly, Warren Buffett isn’t cold calling people with stock tips, he’s writing shareholder letters and holding court even when he’s doing the media circuit. The guru-grandfather image Buffett does better than anyone else is part of his character. We all want to spend as much time in the environment we actually thrive in as possible.
Finally, Blueface knows the value of a meme. His music, poses, dances, and even stage props are all part of the act, and they’re all (for now) fitted for impact on Instagram. We should know and understand the medium we’re communicating in to fine-tune our message. Apple knew that to cultivate premium products, they would need to be highly visible, similar to any other luxury good. The laptops have the iconic logo, the iPhone has its look, and the AirPods are distinctly white. It’s not enough to give people something to talk about, we also have to give it to them in a way they can share it and receive a social benefit. Any business that wants referrals without understanding how and where the referral conversation will occur is only banking on luck. The medium is (still) the message.
There may not be a perfect way to take Blueface’s success and overlay it onto another business, but we can consider the parallels in how we create value, understand what makes us most interesting, and uncover how our message can spread. Long-term, we will find out how durable Blueface’s fame turns out to be, but short-term he is giving us a masterclass in marketing that is well worth paying attention to.
Further reading and listening: The New York Times’ “Meet Blueface, the Self-Aware Rapper Who Knows He’s More Than a Meme,” Popcast (podcast) from 3/21/19, and “In Defense of Blueface: L.A.’s Most Controversial Rapper” from Pitchfork.