If you’re not already familiar with K-Pop, the unique branch of music and media coming out of South Korea, you’re at least a decade behind. And if the word “K-Pop” rings a bell, but BTS doesn’t, you’re set back a couple years there, too. The 7-member boy group debuted in 2013, and has since taken the world by storm–amassing a huge, self-organizing fanbase and raking in cash as they go. But why should you care?
If we look at BTS as a brand, it checks many of the “success boxes” that business owners hope for when in the growth-stage:
- Name recognition
- Huge sales ($165.1m in the first half of 2019)
- Engaged community
- Massive, sustained growth
The group’s success can be attributed to a complex group of factors, but there are a few key marketing takeaways we can glean from what BTS and BigHit (the group’s label company) are doing to stand out and keep their numbers rising.
1. Nothing is off-limits
Over the years, BTS has been engaging with different media and strategic partners to express their message, whether that be collaborations with food & beverage companies or cosmetics, to their BT21 character collaboration with the giant LINE Friends. The group’s most recent work has been with the MN Dance Company and different artists to promote their current comeback.
These collaborations have put the names and faces of BTS into markets where K-Pop may not be recognized or expected, and the contrast has pulled in new, curious listeners (who are likely to convert to sales).
2. There is no such thing as a “slow” season
Many products may have a hard time keeping their name relevant in-between big seasonal sales and/or while new products are under R&D.
Clearly content is key in this time, and BTS makes the time before a new album’s release an entire multi-month “comeback season” filled with small-scale releases of teasers, conceptual art, and singles. BigHit announced the group’s newest comeback with a release “map” that kept fans guessing on the new concept of the album, but with a lot to keep the group relevant before media appearances gearing up alongside the full album release (set for this February).
3. Community Matters
If there is one thing that distinguishes BTS from other K-Pop groups (even ones with longer tenure), it’s the fanbase. The loyal BTS “ARMY” is the definition of evangelist status. With millions of fans around the world, the Army engages with BTS’ content and merchandise, and is especially skilled at self-organizing to bring awareness to the group via various events and social media trends.
These fans have connected to the messages BTS is trying to spread, and they have felt empowered by the group to express themselves and support various causes in the name of the group and/or different members. These can include fund-raisers, tree-planting, clean-up events, member birthday meetups, volunteer translating, and more.
As part of the Army myself, I have seen fans come together to raise money to buy albums for fans who can’t afford them, recycle together, and come together during concerts to purchase and distribute thousands of glow sticks.
4. Experiential is Key
In concert with brand partnerships and forays into unique markets, BTS also relies heavily on experiential activations (many that they themselves do not attend) outside of their tours. In 2019, multiple activations appeared world-wide for BTS, including a multi-city gallery curated with polaroids, costumes, and art created by the members since their debut, and a pop-up called “House of BTS” that explored the different eras of the group through different rooms in a house, ending with limited-edition merch available for purchase.
Exclusive content and being able to experience the group’s curated “world” through all senses creates intimacy between fans and the BTS brand. These types of connections propel fans into higher engagement, organic social growth, and more revenue.
5. Your Customers are More Dynamic than You Think
Building a persona for your target customer is key when developing your product and targeting ads. For lifestyle brands especially, this persona becomes the core of everything you do. But what could you be missing?
BTS has done a great job learning about what matters to their fans and adapting as they (both) grow. Most K-Pop fans get the one-and-done of being screaming, female pre-teens, and people who can be easily appeased by a catchy beat and baby-pink merchandise. Not in this case.
When your following pushes through the thousands and goes into the multi-millions, it is hard to keep up that growth with a narrow notion of your following. These are real, human beings you are selling to. They have everyday problems and struggles. They aren’t always going to want what you are trying to sell. But if you can make a connection on a deeper level, validate their uniqueness and then market to that, you’ve got something.
BigHit has placed a high value on Corporate Social Responsibility, and BTS became the poster boys of a campaign to end violence and improve mental health with Unicef (the #LoveMyself campaign), resulting in widespread talks about mental health and self-harm within the Army community.
Individual members of the group also spend at least a handful of hours a week engaging with fans on the artist/fan social network Weverse, by responding to posts, talking about their day-to-day experiences, and live-streaming through V-Live similar to how YouTube influencers will do a “get ready with me chit-chat” or the like. They’re building social connections with fans that are validating the everyday struggles of being while discussing their music, new events, etc.
Remember that first and foremost, BTS is a 7-member South Korean music group. In essence, that’s what they do: perform and make music. However, they have built such a strong brand ecosystem for themselves, making it so that they are seen as so much more. In 2020 we will see the group continue to grow its fan base and revenue, while continuing to have an actual impact on the wellbeing of their “customers.” #Goals.