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What should brands learn from the BTS success story?

Lessons from the BTS playbook (Source - Facebook)

Even as Korean music’s stars BTS take the world by storm, Sandeep Dutta, vice president of insights at Kantar Group, unravels their unique offering and its ability to resonate across and what brands can learn from their success story.

Global pop-stars Bangtan Boys aka BTS dropped their latest single summer track 'Butter' in May’21 and left fans across the globe in a frenzy. On their blog, YouTube confirmed that 'Butter' Official MV has “set a new record for the biggest YouTube music video Premiere with over 3.9 million peak concurrents”.

Previously in August 2020, their first full-English track ‘Dynamite’ registered over 3 million peak concurrents. “They now hold the #1 and #2 spots for the biggest YouTube Premieres to date,” the company wrote on its blog. The band’s 40 million-strong fanbase across the world, who call themselves ‘Army’, are delirious with love and devotion for the band.

It’s not just music that the band are known for. When it comes to fashion, they exceed all expectations and commercially, no K-pop band has reached the height that BTS has. In October 2020, Big Hit Entertainment (BTS’ record company) went public and the boys, all under thirty years, became millionaires. The phenomenal success of BTS attracted Harvard University to produce a case study on the 7-member boy band.

What has made BTS the global sensation that they are today? It is all about wrapping good old values like compassion, authenticity, purposefulness and gratitude with edgy style and unflinchingly originality.

The Soul:

Now let’s forgive ourselves

Our lives are long

Trust yourself when in a maze

When winter passes

Spring always comes

- Love Myself (BTS) -

These are few lines from one of BTS’s popular songs which address self-doubt, a common dilemma amongst the youth. One of the reasons BTS has become so widely popular is that the audience who is largely gen Z connect with their music on a deeply personal level: their songs are about following dreams, challenging norms, living with one’s vulnerabilities and staying true to yourself in the face of uncertainty. Because the members themselves overcame adversity to achieve their dreams, they have an incredible gift for penning lyrics that inspire audiences around the world to do the same. Gen Z who are facing a world that is increasingly complex, uncertain and aggressive find both solace and inspiration in BTS music. Their music is not only spectacular entertainment but is also seen to have a bigger purpose.

As an Army member wrote, “Personally, their music has helped me cope through the toughest and roughest patches of my life and I will continue to love them because of it.”

The Style

Not only do they create deeply engaging music, but they also serve it with captivating visuals, slick choreography and a unique sense of fashion that makes their audience go wild with pleasure. Whether the boys are dressed in multiple shades of pink, badass streetwear, or natty suits, they set the coolest trends which have catapulted them to become style icons of the youth.

Each one of them is a fashionista in his own right and so it is not surprising that Louis Vuitton has recently chosen them as their global brand ambassador. The Army members seem to love their fashion sense, which is part androgynous, part funky, part sophisticated as it’s one of its kind.

The Community

The magical power of BTS is perhaps best gauged by the strength and energy of its burgeoning fanbase. Army, which stands for Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth, is known to be the most active and organized online communities currently. It has been reported that 40 million subscribe to BTS’ YouTube channel, and more than 30 million follow both the member-run Twitter account and Big Hit’s official BTS Instagram account.

But it is not just the mammoth numbers that are impressive; the community’s zeal, enthusiasm and dedication have set a new benchmark in the world of fans.

The Gratitude

BTS, from the very beginning, have always acknowledged that their success was not theirs alone. With every career milestone, BTS has tweeted “teamwork makes the dream work,” and with every award “Army won an award.”

In their 2020 BTS Festa video, ‘Namjoon’, one of the band members, welcomed those who had recently joined Army and said it did not matter when people decided to love them. “We are always thankful for your love,” he says, because “it is your love that makes us glow.” Humility and gratitude are a part of the BTS culture and that has certainly contributed to creating intense loyalty amongst the fan base.

What brands can learn from the BTS success story

The BTS playbook has many lessons for brands especially as they strive to connect with the young audience globally.

Engaging with the Gen Z consumer

This much-feted cohort is known to genuinely care for societal issues while aspiring to be unconventionally stylish. They are passionate about their interests and like building communities with people who share similar passions. Successful Rock stars and bands are known to have a mesmeric effect on their fans, but BTS has more than that. They have a thriving community of ardent admirers who are an integral part of the band’s identity.

Treating the TG as soulmates versus mere consumers

This is perhaps the biggest lesson that brands can learn from the band. Brands need to see their target audience as partners and even better as soul mates and not as mere consumers. Brands need to make their audience believe that they are insiders and a part of their story and journey. Social media enables brands to connect with their audience intimately and they should take full advantage of it to turn their audience into collaborators and co-creators and make them part of their existence.

Getting the right blend of soul, style and inclusion

Brands would do well to emulate the heady mix of soul and style that BTS stands for. Their style can be best described as soft, fluid and yet bold blending seamlessly with the lyrics of their music that brings to the surface both human vulnerabilities as well as triumphs. Brands who wish to be seen as edgy and aspirational and yet inclusive and tender can certainly take some tips from BTS.

Bringing out the humane side

Coming of age in uncertain times, they believe in being grounded and are grateful for all that they have. BTS taps into all these and more. Values like humility, gratitude and appreciation are not easily accessible today and one of the reasons why the band is intensely loved by their audience is because they exemplify these precious old-fashioned values. Brands must constantly communicate to their audience and express their love and gratitude for them. It brings out their humane side and makes them truly endearing to the audience.

The Bangtan Boys have become a source of inspiration for their loyal fans and the music industry all around the world. It makes perfect sense for brands to be inspired by their playbook to woo the elusive Gen Z consumers.

The writer is the vice president (insights) at WPP co-owned Kantar Group.

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