Lessons in Branding from Miley Cyrus’ VMA Performance

September 7, 2013

By: Sylvie
Miley Cyrus says goodbye to her good girl image.
(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)
In case you missed it, Miley Cyrus has grown up from her former stint as Disney Channel's Hannah Montana, and she wants the world to know it. If Miley's edgier casting choices, haircut and song lyrics didn't convince you, she solidified her rebranding from innocent child star to “mature” adult with her twerk-filled performance with Robin Thicke at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards, which is still being talked about on traditional and social media two weeks later. Below are three lessons brands can take from Miley's transformation:
Sometimes, you just have to go all out. As part of her transition from squeaky-clean teen star to mainstream celebrity, Miley made key choices to recreate her brand image. She took on riskier roles, sang more provocative lyrics, cut off her hair and made a twerking video. But that wasn't enough for Ms. Cyrus. She went full stop at the VMAs with her teddy bear unitard and suggestive (more like, blatant) dance moves. Rather than ease fans into the transition, Miley forced her drastic rebranded self upon them. Similarly, brands have the option of trickling in the new messaging, new logo and new identity—or they can do as Miley did, make a huge splash and risk offending a large portion of the fan base (as well as non-fans, who previously had no opinion) in hopes of gaining notoriety. If any publicity is what you're looking for, and you accept the fact that a big splash could have big and negative repercussions, splash away—otherwise, proceed with caution.
Know that not everyone will be on board with the rebrand. One look at Twitter the day after the VMAs will show you that Miley sure had her critics after her performance, with various trending topics about her throughout the day. Miley knew the risks involved when she donned the flesh-toned outfit, and she embraced it as part of her strategy to break out of her past image and attract a new audience. When undergoing a rebrand, companies have to realize and accept that there may be backlash and they cannot please everybody. As long as the rebrand contributes to long-term business goals, eventually most critics will quiet down. Just look back at previous VMA controversies. Sure, people still talk about Madonna's 1984 performance of “Like a Virgin,” but hardly with as much gusto these days.
Don't forget about your core audience. It'd be wrong to completely turn your back on the audience—whether fans or customers—that helped your brand get to where it is. So keep that original audience in mind as you undergo your rebranding efforts. While Miley did tip her hat to the pre-teen market that earned her much success to-date by incorporating teddy bear motifs throughout her performance, she completely abandoned that group with her first twerk. Brands undergoing an identity change should consider ahead of time whether they are targeting the right audience and if not, whether it's time to shift focus. If you decide to retain your original audience and also branch out to new markets, don't abandon the values and features that drew in your initial base of customers, or you will risk losing them, like Miley did the instant she stepped out of the giant robot bear.
What other lessons can businesses learn from Miley Cyrus' VMA performance?

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