Madonna’s 6 Secrets to Personal Branding Mastery

Madonna’s 6 Secrets to Personal Branding Mastery

Reader Comments (128)

  1. I do like the steps that Madonna might use and we all would do better to incorporate them. However, I “personally” wouldn’t want to be linked in the same category as Madonna, Lady Gaga, etc. With all do respect, they are just a “bit weird” for me.

    • Even so…their “weirdness” contains marketing lessons. Namely differentiating yourself in a crowded market. I for one imagine wearing a meat suit 🙂 but I understand the need to establish a strong and recognizable brand.

      • Great post today. I’ve seen her as a great marketer before but I’ve never taken the time to analyze her efforts and strategy.

        Being weird or outside the box isn’t necessarily bad if you can harness it to receive the results that you need. And that is where my own insecurities come into play. Do I have the courage to put it all out there and ability to direct it in the way that I want to go?

        *Puts on thinking hat*


      • Agreed. I’m a little shocked at these comments. The “weird” is part of it. Obviously we don’t all take it that far but there is something to make yourself memorable and unique. Hats off to them.

    • To me it’s not the CATEGORY… The term “weird” is just a judgment of how you relate to the content. All these comments demonstrate people “steeped in rules” that make them much less memorable… being afraid of what other people think. Where does that get you?

  2. Your post is spot on in terms of personal branding. However, that kind of savage idealism does not always play well with other brands. Ask Pepsi.

    I would argue that Madonna’s real power was never realized because she defined her brand so explicitly. Not that I would have changed a thing. And not that she wasn’t hugely successful. But her ability to extend her brand and its success to other brands was always limited for the same reason that she saw so much success and has had such longevity.

    • I think you’ve got to limit it, though. Unless you are Pepsi, with their unlimited ad budget, you have to define who you serve and who you do not serve.

      • That’s an excellent point. Madonna never intended to be everything to everyone. And she has garnered a tremendous amount of respect for that. Pepsi (or any mega brand) must attempt pretty much exactly that. Let’s face it…it was never a great match.

        • I think she ended up in a bit of an odd position — she positions herself like a niche (make a lot of people mad, make a lot of others love you), but her numbers are those of a mainstream bestseller. I can see why Pepsi was tempted, but you’d think they would have drafted that contract more carefully. 🙂 Then again, I suppose $5 million to Pepsi isn’t such a big blow.

          • This was also aroudn the time of her controversial “Like a Prayer” video that many religious groups objected to.

            Is it bad I know this? 😀

  3. Hi Stanford,

    amazing post. Madonna is really an example how to brand and reinvent oneself. Social media is pretty much about correctness, social correctness or political correctness, I don’t know. A dose of Madonna wouldn’t hurt anyone, right ?

    On the other hand, having people wait 2.5 hrs on concerts and then playing for 1.75 hrs is the other side of the medal.

    But people don’t care, myself included.

    Take care


    • I wonder how much more powerful/iconic Madonna would’ve been if she had the benefit of social media in the earlier years. Interesting enough, I believe Social Media is actually a fairly provocative channel. The people who excel understand this and aren’t hampered by the supposed “rules”

  4. I love Madonna’s wisdom, as reflected in her quotes. But it’s easy to talk like that after you’ve gone supernova. I doubt if she had those same idealistic drives when she was young, poor, and struggling. Then again, maybe she did.

    Remember, the guy who said, “Imagine no possessions” was a millionaire.

    • Having that kind of drive and vision is what takes you from poor and struggling to supernova. There were plenty of women in pop music who were prettier and more talented. But they didn’t have Madonna’s relentless focus.

  5. For me the most inspiring “secret” is number 4. Be a work in progress. There is always more to learn and ways to be more effective. My environmental blog of a year and a half hit 25,000 visits yesterday.

    Your post today has inspired me to go to my about page and make sure it reflects where I am now.


  6. And you all are entitled to MY opinion!! Excellent post. Thanks! Very nicely written with good points and great examples. Maybe I like Madonna after all???

  7. I’ve been a fan of Madonna’s since the early days. It’s amazing to see how she’s been able to stay at the top of an incredibly fickle industry for decades. You’ve done a wonderful job of demonstrating why she’s achieved success and longevity in her career and outlining how we can use those same strategies to be successful bloggers.

  8. I like your new framework. 🙂

    I think you wrote this in response to the Gap logo fiasco. I would have. How do you get to a position in life where you are able to change the Gap logo oh a whim, if you are the kind of person who changes with the wind? The logo was hated, so they backed down and ask for a crowd sourced replacement, then backed down again to go back to the original. All within a week.

    As a designer I was as disgusted as any other over the new logo.

    As a human being, I am disgusted three times over about the way they handled it.

    Way to go Madonna. Decide what you are going to be, then be it. Decide what you are going to do, then do it. No apologies.

    • Wow, great tie-in, thanks Shanna! I agree, the Gap logo problem lies 90% in how they handled it. Not that it’s easy to walk that line between holding to your vision and learning from mistakes.

    • That’s wild! I wasn’t thinking about the Gap debacle but it’s a perfect illustration. I agree with Sonia, they not only handled the launch of the logo wrong but they botched the actual creation process. Personally I wish they would have stuck to their guns and just spent the time communicating about WHY they changed. They missed an opportunity to create a new asset for their brand.

      I’m sure Madonna wouldn’t approve 😉

  9. I’ll add one more factor to Madonna’s success: she put out a product that people wanted. She’s very smart about crafting mainstream danceable hits that people want to hear more of.

  10. Don’t know if I am impressed or frightened by the amount you know about Madonna 🙂

    Great post – I especially like the point about the number of rules that have cropped up for social media, where there really are not rules! I’m probably guilty about some of that and now I see my evil ways.

  11. I always thought Madonna was too rough around the edges for me growing up… her fortitude scared me. As a “grown-up” now, I respect her for that. How unlikely to now see her as a mentor.

    What an incredible post. So true. So much to keep in mind as I grow as a blogger. Thank You much, Andrea

  12. I admire Madonna a lot for simply having the balls to do what she wanted. Most people (certainly most bloggers) back down from the slightest bit of criticism – I have to admit that a bad comment or two on my blogs has given me sleepless nights when I was first doing this stuff, so you have to admire someone who has the courage, the massive courage, to stand up in front or the whole world and say “This is my way of doing things, take it or leave it”

    It seems to have been a reoccurring theme in my blogging experience recently – the need for really having the courage to put yourself out there and doing things your own way, even when it isn’t what is expected of you.

    I must admit, I’m going to do some re-writing of my ‘about’ page right now.

  13. I just started a website which is focused on being positive, so even though I consider myself an in-your-face type of person, I am struggling with how far to push the envelope with a “positive” web brand. I felt some small success when my web designer challenged one of the photos I recently posted. She said the image I had included with the topic of sex for the elderly made her feel uncomfortable. I said “Great! That’s what we’re all about—changing those perceptions about aging!” I kept it on. Thanks for the inspiration. Maybe I can get Madonna on my site now that she is Positively Old.

  14. Madonna was first and foremost a shrewd business woman. She knew how to work it to make tons of money. You did an awesome job to take what she did well and apply it to other business models like blogging. I think anyone can take your suggestions and use them with their own style, creating their own brand.

  15. Madonna is very successful – no question. But I’m still inclined to think that it had as much to do with the people she’s made use of over the years as much as her own determination. She’s a prime example of quality > quantity when it comes to networking – a lot can be achieved with the right people working with and supporting you.

  16. No. 7: If you aren’t the best at something, hire or work with people who are.
    Madonna is excellent at doing this. She doesn’t have the best voice (though I strongly disagree with those saying she can’t sing). She’s not the best looking or the most beautiful woman by default. But her whole package is the best – and you know how strong team of people works on that package.
    Though working with the best is quite difficult when you’re just starting out.

  17. You are all making the mistake of assuming Madonna, the alter-ego, is the same as Madonna the person. Essentially the thrust of this blog is about marketing oneself. The Madonna brand has evolved into that of artistic integrity. It is all manufactured for your enjoyment. There is no serious and deep message to be taken from her life except the work hard part. Life is theatre. There are those who consiously create it and those that unconsciously consume it.

    • Paul, I think you’re the one making assumptions. 😉 I think most people understand that public personas are not an accurate portrait of the private or so-called “real” person. Especially in social media. 😉

    • Nope, I believe that Madonna is different from her public personae. I admire how she has managed and adapted that public image to meet her goals. This post points to lessons that businesses and individuals can glean from her career.

    • But what if the entire paradigm in which your thing worked well changed ? If you are operating in today’s business environment, and especially on the Internet you have to be flexible enough to change even your best working strategies.

      Rules and principles are two different things. Don’t change your principles-stuff like delivering value, following ethical practices and caring for your customers. But when it comes to rules (I assume by rules you mean operating rules), you are allowed some flexibility as long as the new rules are not clashing with your principles.

  18. I think this is great advice with one major exception: Isn’t Madonna a bit of an outdated reference for this article? I would have picked Lady Gaga, who is a much more contemporary reference point (even if, as you acknowledge, she probably learned everything she knows from Madonna). I’m sure Lady Gaga garners more google searches today than Madonna.

    Even if Madonna came before Lady Gaga, you could say the same of Madonna – she probably learned everything she knew from Liz Taylor or Audrey Helpburn, etc.

    • LOL -> Gaga is a great example – but alas I’ve every done Gaga. But I dig the fact that Madonna pioneered many of the personal branding principles that Gaga and the like are using today.

      And you’re right Liz Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, and even Marilyn Monroe all pushed the art of personal branding in their own way

    • John, you may not have noticed, but Dude looks like a Lady Gaga has been done to death lately, even, if I remember correctly, by Stanford himself on his blog. And if by “more contemporary” you mean as in learned everything from Madonna, you’re right. We aging Gen Xers love to see the original get her props. 😉

      • I count myself in that “aging Gen Xers” category. ; ) And I definitely think Madonna was MUCH bigger back in her day than Gaga is now, without question. For one, Gaga only burst on the scene within the last couple of years and Madonna has reinvented herself repeatedly over the course of 25-30 (has it been that long?) years.

        For that matter, Cindy Lauper was probably bigger in the early ’80s heyday of MTV and Joni Mitchell was bigger in the ’70s. There are lots of former stars whose stars have faded but who don’t have the same appeal today. For example, you wouldn’t want to do a blog post titled “Pat Benatar’s 6 Secrets to Personal Branding Mastery” — even though Pat Benetar was HUGE in her day — would you? ; )

        Anyways, I still say this is a great post but I just wanted to bring all of that up as food for thought.

          • On second thought, I take it back. Who WOULDN’T want secret personal branding concepts from the creator of “We Live For Love”? Lady Gaga’s meat costume can’t hold a candle to the Heartbreaker.

  19. Stanford, thanks for such an inspiring post at exactly the right time. I’m going through (yet another) process of trying to define what it is I do. #1, #3 and #4 really resonated with me.

    Your post reminded me of a conversation many years ago (1995, I think) with someone who worked for one of the big four consulting firms. He told me he wanted to be a thought leader. It was the first time I’d heard that term. I laughed and said, ‘Thought leader? Madonna’s a thought leader’.

  20. I would be completely comfortable being spoken of in the same category of sticking to my beliefs, as Madonna. As a musician, I’m not all that fond of her singing, but as a musician studying marketing, I think she is unparalleled.

    I think people that are scared of being in the same sentence as her or Gaga need to ask themselves why they have a cork up their bum. Just use the bits of her philosophies that resonate with you, and don’t pay any attention to the rest of it.

    She may not be everyone’s idea of a “thought” leader, but she also doesn’t waste much time on anything that doesn’t make her happy.

    And that skill, is something we all can use more of.

    Woohoo! Life is Fabulous!

  21. Great article. This has just remimded me a conversation I had some days ago about Lady Gaga. I was discussing with a friend that, you might not like her music (I don’t)… but I really admire how she has been able to build a really huge empire in such little time… as other commenter has said, I wonder what would have happened if social media would have existed in the 80’s with Madonna and Michael Jackson being there as the top stars of the moment 🙂

  22. Is it OK if “what you stand for” and believe in passionately, really has nothing to do with what you’re selling? IOW, if you have a cause, but it’s doesn’t relate to your business? I’m an artist and find that there’s only so much you can say about what you do without boring people to death, plus there are thousands of artists out there writing about what they do, the process, etc. But my cause is fighting for the rights of pet owners. Nothing to do with art, other than my subjects are often dogs. Can the two exist together?

    • I think there’s ALWAYS a way to combine what you care about with selling. In fact I think it works better than anything else. You can feel someone’s credibility jumping right off the page when they combine them, but maybe that’s just my own perspective.

  23. i enjoy reading such an article coz it is hard and confusing when you mix messages to audiance with so many great ideas that are original and creating who you are , branding is a skill and i learned a lot
    and as we speak i will follow up

  24. Great post!

    No matter what anyone says about her music and style, she is one heck of a marketing genius. You may not even like her, but you definitely know who she is.

    On that note, what she says here is true. Look how far it’s gotten her. I wish I had her bank account balance…

    Hmm… “I stand for freedom of expression…” Isn’t that Johnny B. Truant’s catch phrase? 🙂

  25. Great post!

    I love the “stand for something” point, iam definitly going to rethink this, some serious reflection over the wknd.

    In regards to your goals, I blog as part of a personal branding strategy and to revisit ideas and reflect over them, other than that I can’t think of any, not sure if that is focused enough. Can anybody give some ideas, examples of their own?

    Once again, great post and nice timing in my case!

    Sent via iPhone, excuse typos:-(

  26. I totally agree on tour straties and it’s great way to use celebrity to makes article get interesting, what an idea!

  27. Madonna is something that very few people get to be: fully self-expressed and completely fearless. If she listened to the chorus of nay-sayers and critics along the way, she’d be back in Battle Creek selling Rice Krispies instead of being the million- mega-watt star she became.

    It’s easy to knock another person it’s hard to be who you are.

    She understood very well that the only voice to listen to is the one that is in your heart. She stayed true to do what you love, live from your passion,be who you are and the success will follow and never let anyone tell you otherwise.

  28. I think women are ascending in prominence. But there is still much to do.

    Too long have they been treated as second class world citizens in most cultures. Even the American society only granted voting rights to women a little over 100 years ago.

    Men have been doing the “Madonna Branding” techniques for centuries and as recenly as yesterday. Look at the banking and Wall Street melt downs due to males breaking the rules and not backing down.

    But when a woman does it, “OMG…”

  29. This is one of the best articles on branding I’ve seen. I remember hearing from someone to live your brand – incorporate it into everything you do. It’s definitely an evolution, not always easy, but invaluable if done well. (And MUCH easier if it’s authentic!)

  30. What a great example of how to write a Blog or article
    1. Intriguing title – grabs your attention
    2. fabulous picture – Dito
    3. Use of points to break up copy and let reader scan

    I noticed a lot of coments had ifs or buts – unfortunately these readers will not be the Madonnas of their world

  31. This from a die-hard classicist: My respect for Madonna has gone up by 100%. It has to be the rebellious side of my “split personality” coming out, but I think Stanford has come up with a splendid post that inspires us to work outside the herd mentality. But what if these six points become the standard of a new herd? Dare we hope for an even “weirder” person to inspire some future blogger to come up with a new set of six points? As I see it, Stanford’s points will not become common fare for the blogging masses. They are timeless and for the few who will always be ahead of the pack. I am hardly in that pack, but this is inspiring. Thank you, Stanford.

  32. I absolutely loved this article. I didn’t read it as an insinuation that we should all brand ourselves like Madonna herself, but to be fearless in our own right and live by some of the same principles that made her as successful as she is. The lessons in this article really struck a chord with me. Thinking about posting a sign in my office that says “What Would Madonna Do?”.

  33. “Sit down now … take out a sheet of paper and write three things you want your blog to deliver. Do this and you are on your way.”

    1) Meaningful relationship with unique people
    2) Emphasize the importance of purposeful living
    3) Encourage tolerance, compassion, and empathy toward all sentient beings.

    That felt good! I feel more focused now.

  34. Madonna’s tips are helpful and obviously they worked for her. Will they work for everyone no, but I think they are a testimite to the fact the being different and taking risks has it’s pay off.

  35. This post really hit home for me. First I love Madonna. Second she has guts to be who she wants to be.
    Thanks for writing! Tracy

  36. Very helpful indeed for a new blogger like myself looking for some real guidelines that will help me in being successful at it. Thank you for the Madonna analogy. Well said.

  37. I love this article and tweeted it, it makes such an interesting point, whether we love Madonna or not we have to recognise that in a world of the quick rise and fall of of many pop starts, Madonna has achieved longevity, we can all take inspiration from that.

    • It’s also important to realize that the principles behind Madonna’s success are re-usable. You don’t have to be a freak, a genius, or weird; all you need is the tenacity to stick with you plan.

  38. I appreciate this article on branding. For myself, branding has taken on a new meaning. As a professional musician, I have begun the process of creating an image. Although it’s in a small niche, I am beginning to see the power of branding.

    The amazing thing that I love about branding is that a strong brand can’t always be put into words. Now that’s POWERFUL!

    Mike Veny

  39. I think the main thing here is that no one said/wrote “Who is Madonna?” That’s pretty much it. She did it. The rest is just debate and opinion. She is the best at being Madonna and all the encompasses.

    While it is commonly reported that Pepsi did NOT ask for the $5 Million back, Madonna returned the money.

  40. Um – hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Madonna’s brand isn’t so good in 2010. She is kind of a laughing stock to many GenY-ers. “Old-trying-too-hard-to-be-young.” Plus to many of us she has sort of a skanky aspect to her brand. Famous, yes, I’ll grant you that. But that’s not the meaning of life, is it?

    The lessons derived also seem a bit . . . shall we say, generic? These “lessons derived from famous person X” found on many sites/blogs are getting old.

  41. I love this post. Madonna is past her prime but I’ve always admired her as a business woman and this post was a great reminder of her brilliance in that department.

  42. Y’know what? My comment yesterday was unneedfully negative. Mr. Smith, I don’t know you, but props to you for trying to help people get fired up. The post hit me at a bad time or negative mood or something, so my apologies.

    How about a “lessons learned from Captain Kirk” post?

    Peace be with you, and again, my apologies.

  43. I agree, Madonna is very tired. I haven’t like an album of hers for YEARs and I was once her “biggest fan.” Branding myself has still become a hurdle I need to overcome…but i’m getting there and hope to start my own marketing blog. People respond better to other people, then just a faceless blog. Good tips here. Thanks for the post.

  44. I don’t care for their music but if you want to learn how to brand yourself. These two have made fortunes from being able to stand out. Good ideas on how to brand yourself.

  45. One big problem with this interesting post – Madonna is cool and interesting, while almost every social media blogger isn’t.

    You kind of prove that point when you say at the end “if Madonna blogged.” Sorry, but real superstars don’t need to answer to critics, fan mail (or snarky blog comments like mine).

  46. I admire Madonna for her ambition, determination, and ‘relentless focus’ on positioning. She does a great job evolving her brand over the years and remains relevant to her audience. I strive to be so clever…

  47. Group me with Madonna. Group me with Eminem. Not because we happen to come from the same place, but because they happen to be the subjects of my two favorite CopyBlogger posts.

  48. Another excellent post from Copyblogger.

    I was thinking all through the post, it’s exactly what Seth Godin was talking about in the Purple Cow… you can’t be ordinary, you have to stand out, and the best way to do that is to be inherently interesting.

    Many thanks!

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