Merchant Innovation

Beyoncé’s Platform Ignition Strategy

At PYMNTS we get to see and comment on any number of ignition strategies for any number of platforms. Some are brilliant. Most won’t get platforms enough scale since the platforms themselves don’t solve a big enough problem to matter. And then there are those that forgot that free is not an ignition strategy, so just fizzle away.

But this week, we observed an ignition strategy that was perhaps the most unusual and, quite possibly, one of the more brilliant examples of creative thinking around platform ignition.

It was, in a word, Beyoncé.

Unless you have spent the better part of the last week in solitary confinement, you have likely heard that Beyoncé Knowles dropped a new album on Sunday night. "Lemonade" is a full-fledged audio-video experience that appeared simultaneously on Tidal and HBO. It managed, at least for the early part of the week, to make everyone in America ask some variation on the following three questions:

  1. Did Jay Z definitely cheat on Beyoncé?
  2. Who is Rachel with the good hair (and how could she do that to Beyoncé?)
  3. What hurt Jay Z more: getting beat up by Solange in an elevator or being humiliated by having his superstar wife write the album of the year about what a bad person he is?

The answers to those three questions made for some very good gossip.

It’s a sad story, sure — and no one wants to see the Queen Bey sad — but this would not be the first instance of high-profile infidelity in celebrity history. But the most fascinating thing that happened this week is not that Jay Z cheated on America’s sweetheart, or that America’s sweetheart struck back.

Nope. The truly mind-bending thing that happened this week is that releasing an incredibly successful album about why her husband’s cheating heart could quite possibly be the very nicest thing that Mrs. Carter ever did for Mr. Carter.

She used his infidelity to ignite Tidal’s music streaming platform.

Jay Z Officially Has 100 Problems

There are many ways to express love.

Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal for his favorite wife.

John Lennon bailed on the Beatles for Yoko Ono.

Menelaus spent countless Greek lives to bring Helen back to Troy.

The crazy thing about love is when it goes right, it can make people do great things. When it goes wrong, it can also make people do crazy things.

Unless of course you are Beyoncé Knowles, in which case love gone awry can inspire you to do creative strategic things.

Like igniting a music streaming platform owned by her husband, Jay Z.

Because if one wants to hear the sad and sordid tale of Jay Z’s betrayal, Tidal is pretty much where you’ll be going, because it has the exclusive streaming rights to the album - in perpetuity.

Tidal, of course, is the music streaming service for musicians, by musicians, that Jay Z happens to own.

And while "Lemonade" has probably guaranteed that Jay Z will not be winning any awards for husband of the year award, it could net him enough money to buy Beyoncé a Kobe Bryant-scale apology diamond.

Then again, she has enough money of her own to buy one five times bigger.

Makin’ 'Lemonade'

As it turns out, "Lemonade" has been very good for business. It has gotten people talking about Tidal, which few have until now. The reception the service has received since its very high-profile relaunch last year has been described as “embarrassingly indifferent.”

Ouch.

But the people are no longer indifferent — far from it. Tidal is now topping the iTunes app charts — it spent most of the week in second place overall, and it tops among music apps.

The people have spoken. They are ready to hear an album-length description of Jay Z’s failings, and they don’t seem to connect the dots (or care) that they are also enriching Jay Z when doing so.

Since of course, Beyoncé made sure that Tidal is the only place to get their "Lemonade" fix.

The Ironic Magic Of Being Exclusive

In fairness, the big bounce for Tidal is not exactly new.

When Rihanna dropped "Anti" on the service in late January, Tidal shot to the No. 16 spot on the app charts. When Kanye released "Life of Pablo" exclusively to Tidal, the service shot to No. 1. Those big and exclusive albums did indeed bring a wave of new users to Tidal. By the end of last month, the service had about 3 million paying users.

That is a 2.5 million pickup for the year, which is good news. Keep in mind that Apple Music already has 11 million paying subscribers and Spotify has an estimated 30 million worldwide.

It would be better news if those big upswings had been a bit more lasting. After the initial Rihanna spike, Tidal dropped back down to No. 553 in the rankings. After Pablo stopped being exclusive on the service (after about three weeks), a similar slide was observed, and Tidal fell even further to the No. 661 spot.

Tidal had started spiking a tiny bit before "Lemonade" dropped as well since, in a peculiarly sad coincidence, Prince died, and Tidal is also the exclusive online home for his streaming music. Tidal is also the exclusive streaming home for "Lemonade," and according to Beyoncé’s camp it will stream there — and only there — in perpetuity.

And that exclusivity might just matter a whole lot. Because anyone who was interested in either Kanye or Rihanna’s new albums didn’t actually have to sign up for Tidal to stream it. They merely had to wait a few weeks before it popped up on other services.

So, if "Lemonade" does turn out to be totally exclusive to Tidal, Tidal can start to live up to what it was billed as: the musician's platform with professional insider access to the best content.

But, it bears mentioning that that is a big “if.” Readers with good memories might recall that Kanye was also crowing loudly about exclusivity for his newest album in perpetuity as well.

West promised on Twitter that it would “never never never be on Apple.” But it was there by April.

Kanye may have wanted an exclusive relationship with Tidal, but his record label, like Jay Z, really likes to keep its options open.

And one might wonder if Beyoncé’s label, Sony, might be feeling similarly promiscuous, since it is in fact an investor in a rival streaming service — the much more successful Spotify.

Beyoncé may want to use her high-caliber wattage to stand by her man and  raise the tide for Tidal, but she doesn’t own the rights to her music — Sony does.

And Sony might not be too keen to keep the biggest album of the year off a streaming platform it has invested millions in.

It remains to be seen, but it is worth noting that one can already download "Lemonade" on iTunes.

But until then it seems worth at least taking a moment to appreciate one of the stranger and more irony-laden ignition strategies for a platform that has ever popped up:

The album Jay Z’s wife wrote about his failure to have an exclusive relationship could be the magic needed to save his struggling streaming business, but only if his wife’s work doesn’t fail to have an exclusive relationship to him.

Platform ignition is indeed a complicated business. We would not recommend, however, the Queen Bey ignition strategy for most platforms. It could get pretty messy, even if it does net you a lot of money.

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NEW PYMNTS DATA: HOW WE SHOP – SEPTEMBER 2020 

The How We Shop Report, a PYMNTS collaboration with PayPal, aims to understand how consumers of all ages and incomes are shifting to shopping and paying online in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our research builds on a series of studies conducted since March, surveying more than 16,000 consumers on how their shopping habits and payments preferences are changing as the crisis continues. This report focuses on our latest survey of 2,163 respondents and examines how their increased appetite for online commerce and digital touchless methods, such as QR codes, contactless cards and digital wallets, is poised to shape the post-pandemic economy.

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