Have you ever wondered what it is that makes certain brands stand out more than others? How two companies can release the same product (or two musicians the same caliber of song) and yet one will find their fanbase while others will slowly float off into oblivion?
While I like to believe there’s a level of magic to it—being in the right place at the right time—there’s also a lot more that just comes down to strategic marketing. All of those seemingly small things that lead to someone’s success are not the act of sheer luck or solely being in the right place at the right time. It’s weeks, months, years of carefully planned out and well-executed strategy coming to fruition.
If you want people to notice you, if you want to make money, you need to have a strategy and a story. And then you need to actually make it happen. That’s the tricky part.
Coming up with a million dollar strategy
Roc Nation, an entertainment agency founded by Jay-Z in 2008, and their artist J. Cole, are at the center of this story. At the time J. Cole had an existing fanbase, but the company was brainstorming new ways to make revenue from his career—and they knew the way to do that was through his fans. They didn’t need millions of fans, just enough to build momentum. They also knew that every good marketing strategy has a compelling story that drives it. So, they set to work coming up with theirs.
They knew his fans were are the center of their success, so their strategy had to involve something that made them feel seen and appreciated. They settled on a run of tour dates where they’d sell tickets for just $1, as a throwback to when J. Cole would tour colleges and sell his mixtape for just $1. Ever the clever marketing, they named it “Dollar & a Dream” tour. Not only a reference to a song of the same title, but it told the story of J. Cole in one perfect sentence.
They knew part of the appeal was creating an intimate show, so they sold tickets at small venues on a first come first serve basis. No one knew the location of the venue until a few hours before the show, when J. Cole tweeted it out. This created not only exclusivity, but it turned the whole thing into a game. It created a ton of online momentum and organic promotion and exctement. All they did was present their fans something super tailored to them, and they did the rest. All the promotion came from the fans tweeting and sharing about the tickets and the show itself. It was organic marketing at its finest.
The tour was such a success it was brought back in 2014 and 2015. Each time J. Cole did the tour he would exclusively perform older songs for his die-heard fans, which of course, they knew all the words to. This just provided more proof to his fans that these shows were made for them.
This story had everything: it showed his roots and the inspiring story of an artist who worked hard and made it. It showed respect to the fans that got him there by giving them an unbeatable deal on tickets. And it created exclusivity by limiting the amount of tickets and tour dates.
It worked. Fans felt seen. They felt like they were part of an exclusive club that had helped him rise to fame, and they felt appreciated. They were part of his journey and that was being acknowledged. All of this helped the tour become a massive success.
The key to their success? They did things differently.
It would have been easy for Roc Nation to simply throw money behind ads, or book larger tours and charge more for VIP meet and greets, and in the short term, they would have made more money. But they knew that was shortsighted. What they wanted was to earn fans for life. They knew that was the key to their success.
When you think about marketing, do you look at the long term benefits or do you look at the cheapest way to go from A to Z? Do you think about what makes you unique and how to capitalize on that, or do you try to replicate what others are doing?
Roc Nation knew the power of thinking outside the box. Like true thought leaders they created a strategy that was wholly customized to their artist and his fans and then allowing it the time to grow would make them millions. And it did.
From $1 to $60 Million
By now you might be wondering exactly how Roc Nation and J. Cole made money, if not on the tour.
Since all ticket sales went to The Dreamville Foundation, they actually lost money on the tours. But, after the last Dreamville tour in 2015, they began to see the increase. Since then, his concerts have made close to $60 million dollars. His fourth studio album, 4 Your Eyez Only, went platinum within 4 months, with KOD breaking streaming records on Spotify and Apple Music.
All of this for about $50 per fan. That’s $50 for a lifetime of fan loyalty, tons of social proof, word of mouth, you name it.
Here’s the breakdown:
- Each show cost 6-figures to put on, so we can estimate the three years of Dollar & a Dream shows (19 total) was around $3 million.
- An estimated 60k fans came out in those three years.
When you do the math, that’s $50 per fan.
It’s not so bad when you break it down, is it?
Roc Nation and J. Cole were thought leaders. They had a goal: to increase revenue by increasing brand loyalty. To do this, they knew they had to get creative and build a marketing strategy that was specific to their brand.
A lot of us tend to look outward for the answers. It’s natural, and even helpful to learn from others and get inspired—after all, I wouldn’t be writing this if that wasn’t the case. We love to read about what makes others successful.
But while learning what’s worked for others can provide incredible inspiration and get your brainstorming juices flowing, the most creative marketing campaigns will always be highly tailored to you and your strengths. That’s what this story of Roc Nation and J. Cole has taught us.
They took a story—the story of J. Cole’s humble rise and inspiring success and then gave back to the people that got him there. They grew their community by showing them that that they were seen, appreciated, and part of a tribe. No one else could have done this specific marketing strategy besides J. Cole. It was 100% based on his experiences and his fans.
And that’s exactly what made it so successful.