Last week, Omar Johnson, the former CMO of Beats Headphones spoke at the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit in Utah. In his address, he discussed the beginning of Beats and his experience working with a small and diverse team.

Johnson was working at Nike when one day his phone rang. The voice at the other end said, “This is Dre.” Too stunned to remember the actual conversation, he simply said yes to whatever Dr. Dre asked him. A few weeks later, he was sitting in a small office with a laptop, smartphone, and the instructions to start marketing.

You know the end story. Beats is one of the top headphone companies boasting a loyal fan base of musicians, athletes, and anyone with a competitive spirit. In this post, we’ll examine the three “stories” Omar highlighted in his address last week. Omar’s calls these marketing campaigns stories because of the emotional drive behind them. His experience is particularly relevant because almost all of his marketing started without a budget. Like always, we’ll look at how a small business can adopt these practices to grow their company.

Story #1: Hear What You Want

Johnson tells the story of Mario Balotelli, the Italian soccer player who’s played for the National Team, Inter Milan, Manchester City, and several other prominent teams. Balotelli was the subject of intense racial hatred from opposing fans. Wherever he played, monkey noises, slurs, and profanity followed.

This sparked an idea for Omar to market Beats potential to help athletes block out noise. The slogan for this campaign became, “Hear What You Want.” Athletes were naturally attracted to the headphones, and some strategic video content helped capture the emotion. Judge the effectiveness of this commercial yourself.

Who wouldn’t want the headphones? The brand slogan and the brand promise are one in the same. Because you can hear what you choose, you can block out the opposition. Though the campaign started with athletes, the organic media response was enormous. The concept of blocking out noise was just funny enough for late night hosts, news anchors, and YouTube creators to pick up on the story. They showed parent’s blocking out screaming children or husband’s blocking out nagging wives.

Beats became ubiquitous with enjoying some silence. This wasn’t Omar’s intention, but the publicity was huge. It comes down to the emotion – the power to control how you feel thanks to music.

Story #2: The 2012 Olympics

It costs over a million dollars to sponsor an Olympic event. Unfortunately, that’s a little out of most people’s marketing budget, including Beats at the time. Nevertheless, Beats knew its popularity with athlete’s and decided to capitalize on it, renting a house in London a mile or two from the Olympic Village. The house was only for athletes – no press, coaches, or family allowed.

Beats London Headphones

The plan worked for a few reasons. First, the Olympic Village is notoriously unfit. The food’s mediocre, it’s crowded, and businesses are always asking for pictures. At the Beats House, athletes weren’t pestered by coaches, the media, or even asked to sponsor Beats. There was always good food. At the Beats House, they could be themselves. Johnson described it as the best place to for athletes to meet each other, even crediting his plan for a few marriages.

Privacy and friendship weren’t the only bonuses of hanging out at the Beats House – every contestant received a pair of headphones. During his presentation, Omar showed clips and pictures from the 2012 Olympics. Everyone is wearing Beats! The headphones came in a variety of colors and some had specific country colors and flags printed on them. Beats took a risk giving out free gear and paying for a rented home. It payed off in a few weeks of free advertising and more brand association with successful athletes.

Story #3: Straight Outta Compton

Eminem Straight Outta Detriot

Because Straight Outta Compton was a Dr. Dre project, Beats got in on the fun. A few months before the release, Dr. Dre needed a campaign to market the film and his other projects like Beats. A few of Johnson’s employees came up with an idea to personalize the Straight Outta Compton logo. The Straight Outta Somewhere campaign was born. On a Beats sponsored website, anyone could type in the name of their town and take part in the story. You probably remember the images. Everyone created a logo for their city.

Like the “Hear What You Want” campaign, Straight Outta Compton inspired organic media coverage. This time, meme accounts on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook created humorous posts like the one mocking Tom Brady.

Tom Brady Straight Outta Air

You’ll notice the very small, almost inconspicuous Beats logo at the bottom of every image. Like the Olympics, Beats didn’t need loud, outspoken voice for the occasion. They got by with just a little branding. The results speak for themselves. The campaign was the only social event to ever trend at number one on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Your Small Business Marketing

What’s the principal to learn from Beats? There’s a few. First, you should market your brand promise. Do you think Beats would have been as successful if their pitch was, “The World’s Best Headphones!” No way. People like the brand because they feel a certain way when they wear them. In fact, one of the biggest criticisms of Beats is their focus on aesthetic over quality. 

Second, don’t worry so much about budget. Beats was equally successful when they created a free meme as when they rented a house in London. You can be successful without pouring money into your marketing. Think about influencers and demographics that can represent your brand. Look for opportunities to spread your name even if the messaging is second. Just by attaching their name to events, Beats grew their business.

Free Ebook

Third, involve your customers. A large portion of Beats success came from involving the public with their brand. Even though Beats didn’t expressly pay for or ask the media to parody their campaigns, the messaging was simple and fun enough to mimic. Customers took part not because of the brand but because of the simplicity and pleasure.

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