The sales strategy from Rihanna’s cosmetics brand can help guide the rollout strategy for her upcoming reggae album and concert tour.
Rihanna at the Fenty Beauty Launch in 2017 (via Getty Images/Steve Ferdman)
The Rihanna Navy has become ambivalent. On one hand, they are proud that the singer’s Fenty Beauty cosmetics brand has taken off. The award-winning company reportedly made $100 million in its first 40 days. But the devoted fanbase wants its leader to put out a new album. Rihanna, who once dropped albums every fall like clockwork, has released just one in the past six years.
Some fans have joked that because of Rihanna’s focus on the brand, the forthcoming project will probably be named Fenty Music. Other fans are a bit more brash, calling for a boycott of all Fenty Beauty products to try and strong-arm the 30-year-old singer back in the studio. Despite the recklessness, the Navy should be content. Rihanna’s recent success with Fenty Beauty may set the stage for how to best serve her fans in the long run and avoid past pitfalls.
Next month will be three years since Rihanna dropped ANTI, her latest album. Despite its critical acclaim, the album’s spotlight was dimmed because of a botched rollout and tour stops with thousands of empty seats. It was an unfortunate case study on how distribution challenges can hinder a great body of work.
A few months ago, the “Rude Boy” singer hinted that she would tap into her West Indian roots and drop a reggae album next. Rihanna, her team at Roc Nation, and Tidal will do their best to avoid past issues. They need look at the success of Fenty Beauty and see how best to incorporate that strategy into the upcoming rollout.
Rihanna already has a successful consumer brand on the market that people want. She can bundle Fenty Beauty products with redeemable codes to download her upcoming album.
The power of third parties
Two days before ANTI’s intended “surprise” launch, Tidal accidentally put the album up on its streaming service for a few minutes and quickly took it down. Those few minutes became an eternity—opening the doors for the album to be ripped and shared with the masses. A few hours after the leak, Rihanna and Tidal owned the mistake and made the entire album available (again) for good.
Representatives at Tidal didn’t think the leak hurt at all due to the album’s performance, but that sidesteps the point. Anyone that listened to ANTI outside of Jay Z’s streaming service limited the power of the company’s first-week exclusive rights to the album. It was also an unnecessary distraction that took earned media coverage away from the music.
With the botched release behind them, RiRi’s team had its eyes set on the ANTI World Tour. The 75-show concert was meant to bring the Navy out from regions all over the world. But in certain markets, including London’s 90,000 capacity Wembley Stadium, Rihanna performed to “sold-out” shows that were half empty. Bots and scalpers bought all the seats but failed to sell them for marked-up prices, which averaged $227 per ticket. It was another blemish on ANTI’s run.
These issues are distribution challenges that were amplified by third parties. Rihanna and Tidal’s decision to own the album leak was a reminder of the influence that piracy still has in the streaming era. For the concerts, Rihanna’s “customers” weren’t the fans in attendance. The true customers were actually the ticket resellers. Their decision to set high prices meant that Rihanna only played to the wealthiest (or most frivolous) members of the Navy who were willing to pay the high costs and fees on StubHub and SeatGeek.
…That’s a lotta empty seats (via YouTube)
Fenty Beauty has valuable data on Rihanna’s customers
The missed opportunities for ANTI were notable considering how bankable Rihanna’s fanbase is. According to a 2016 study by the NPD Group, the Navy is 3.7 times more likely to buy products from Rihanna than the average big-name celebrity, which is the highest rating that any celebrity has. Rihanna’s track record in consumer products has confirmed this power. Her perfume Reb’l Fleur and ongoing partnership with Puma have both yielded strong results. It was only a matter of time before she tapped into this again.
With Fenty Beauty, Rihanna infused her personal values in the brand’s DNA. The cosmetics line has been praised for featuring over 40 different shades and skin tones. Her Savage X Fenty lingerie line followed a similar ideal when it featured women of different shapes and sizes in its New York Fashion Week debut.
The benefits are twofold. First, it fulfilled Rihanna’s desire to create products “so that woman everywhere would be included.” She made the products affordable, giving fans that didn’t buy her concert tickets another opportunity to support her. The resounding response and impressive sales confirmed her vision. It also forced the cosmetics industry to step up its game. Since Fenty Beauty launched, other celebrity’s cosmetic lines have been dragged on social media for not having enough shades for women of color.
The second benefit—yet less intentional but still noteworthy—is the consumer data that can be derived from the multiple shades offered. The Fenty Beauty team can conduct analysis on the different shades and infer meaningful customer insights based on race, ethnicity, purchase habits, geography, and other metrics. This is valuable data that Rihanna can leverage for future projects like her upcoming album.
A collection of Fenty Beauty shades (via Glamour/Pinterest)
How Fenty Beauty can boost the upcoming reggae album
A lot has changed in the music industry since ANTI. Streaming exclusives have phased out. Album and ticket bundles have taken their place as the popular trend. But most of these bundles offer products that were made specifically for promotional purposes, like Travis Scott’s Astroworld T-shirts or Nicki Minaj’s Queen posters.
Rihanna already has a successful consumer brand on the market that people want. She can bundle Fenty Beauty products with redeemable codes to download her upcoming album. The timing of Rihanna’s reggae release can be coordinated with the launch of a new line of products.
When she announces her next tour, Rihanna can also offer access to pre-sale concert tickets for Fenty Beauty customers. Instead of offering the more traditional pre-sale access for American Express or Visa cardholders, RiRi can give the first opportunity to her actual supporters. She can use the data on Fenty Beauty customers to match the demographics of her fan base in different markets. This bundle would also drive sales for Sephora, one of the major retailers that sell Fenty Beauty products.
Ticketmaster and others will also urge Rihanna to consider the increasingly-popular slow ticketing strategy for her tour. The polarizing concept gives Ticketmaster Verified Fans the initial opportunity to buy concert tickets at market prices (similar to what would be available on StubHub). While the strategy might limit the secondary market’s impact and give some fans early access, the prices would still be set at the same rates that led to the half-empty Wembley Stadium.
Rihanna can avoid this by using her own data. She can draw enough insights from Fenty Beauty and existing data from Roc Nation and Tidal to target her fans and offer them tickets at affordable prices. This approach would be more aligned with Rihanna’s mindset on how to operate her businesses.
Rihanna at the artwork gallery for ANTI (via Christopher Polk/Getty Images)
Rihanna has had too much success in business to play by the traditional rules of the game. She knows that when she drops the reggae album—whether it’s called Fenty Beauty, Bad Gyal Riddim, or R9—the Navy will be ready. She’s currently building an empire. If she leverages its success, she can shape how the rest of the industry approaches the bundling strategy and engages with fans from here on out.
Correction 5/18/19: An earlier version of this article reported that Rihanna’s fans were 3.7 times more likely to buy her products over the any other celebrity. I should have said over the average big-name celebrity. Sorry for the error.
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