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In 2014, Harvard released a case study on Beyoncé’s surprise self-titled album.
It wasn’t the first time a groundbreaking marketing tactic — in this case, not promoting an album until its release date — had grown out of hip-hop culture, Trapital founder Dan Runcie said.
It was just rare that Harvard paid attention.
“For years, hip hop has just had such an entrepreneurial spirit,” he said. That means it’s fertile ground for new businesses — and new marketing tactics.
Runcie covers these innovations professionally. We talked with him about why marketers ignore hip hop at their own peril.
Hip hop is a hotbed of marketing innovation.
Record labels’ established promotional playbooks haven’t always worked for hip hop artists.
That’s made many hip hop artists “more deliberate and intentional about… how they're going to push things,” Runcie said, “because historically, many have gotten the short end of the stick from the powers that be.”
Hip hop artists invented mobile marketing...
Long before Community had Ashton Kutcher tweeting out his phone number (and an investment from Y Combinator), hip hop artists were giving out their phone numbers, Runcie said.
Like, their real phone numbers.
Mike Jones did it in 2005’s “Back Then,” Runcie noted — and ran up a $50K phone bill. Soulja Boy did the same thing, in 2008’s “Kiss Me Thru the Phone.”
Now, tons of celebrities and business leaders have followed in the rappers’ footsteps.
…and a slew of other tactics.
Most hip-hop superstars did at least one “very innovative thing that built up demand,” Runcie said.
- Instead of a rap battle, Kanye West started an album sales battle with 50 Cent in 2007, Runcie said. The press ate it up, and Graduation beat Curtis by a landslide.
- Lil Nas X promoted his first single, “Old Town Road,” with an unprecedentedly omnichannel social media strategy — it mixed TikTok, anonymous Reddit comments, and tweeting memes to a massive following of… Nicki Minaj fans?
Now, they’re ahead of marketers on building owned channels.
As marketers realize the importance of truly owned channels — not just “owned” channels (ahem, email) — hip hop is more relevant than ever.
Rappers have been working to create owned channels for years. They’ve started their own record labels and music festivals.
Jay-Z even started his own streaming service —“It didn't work out to the exact plan,” Runcie noted, but marketers can still learn from his efforts.
Especially since he just sold Tidal to Square for ~$300M.
Want to learn more about what marketers can gain from hip-hop? Sign up for Runcie’s free weekly newsletter, Trapital, here.