Madonna — Business & Life Lessons From a Successful Virgin
Growing up in the 80’s, Madonna was the center of my pop music world. Her songs truly inspired me to follow my dreams and lifted me up when I was feeling down. Today, I am still in awe of her — Madonna’s ambition and keen sense for marketing, business, and branding make her even more fascinating to me. There are invaluable business & life lessons to learn from her amazingly shocking success story.
It’s been more than thirty years since Madonna claimed fame as an international pop-icon, and at 60 years old, she continues to top the charts.
Needless to say, Madonna has come a long way since her Like a Virgin years, yet she has never lost her knack for catching the public’s eye. Yet Madonna is more than just a talented singer — she has mastered the art of reinventing herself.
Madonna has long been the undisputed queen of popular music.
Whether you love or hate her music, Madonna has proven to be more than a singer and dancer. She has a savvy business mind that’s supported a successful career spanning more than 30 years and an empire of music sales and merchandising valued at $500 Million. You have to admit, the Material Girl has had a good run.
Madonna was once described by Billboard magazine as the smartest business woman in show business.
It is not difficult to see why; as the highest ever paid female singer with 30 years of success at the top, she deserves that accolade. Like her or hate her, Madonna is an ultra successful entrepreneur whose strategy must be copied by every entrepreneur who wants to be successful.
Like most artists who are not afraid to show the world their true colors, Madonna has harvested tons of criticism from her haters.
Despite the criticisms she received throughout her career, Madonna has become one of the greatest female artists in our generation. While Madonna is not the most inspiring of people in the world, there are no doubt several business & life lessons we can all learn from her.
Madonna doesn’t flinch. She’s mastered her craft. She never lost sight of her goals.
Beyond her musical talent, what are the key factors of her endurance? Why is Madonna seemingly eternal, even in the face of massive changes in the music industry, in terms of fan tastes, culture and the passing of generations? And what can you learn from her to assure your enduring and adaptive leadership? Here The Queen of Pop’s my top seven rules to succeed in your business and in your life.
Lesson #1: Never Stop Being Yourself
Although Madonna is known for reinventing her persona, she retains her integrity by continuing to be controversial and constantly pushing social boundaries; which is one of her greatest appeals. In business terms, customers will respect and trust your company more if your core remains the same, even if your tactics change.
Practice open communication and transparency to help you build trust with your customers and prospects.
Madonna has never been afraid to speak her mind and be open about controversial topics in her music, interviews, or social media. She has also publicly and sincerely apologized at times. Her fans appreciate her transparency, and in the end they respect her for it.
Life is yours and only yours, so you must live your life your way, and live it by your own rules.
Madonna was born into a conservative, Catholic, Midwest family. She even briefly attended the University of Michigan on a dancing scholarship before giving up all sense of existing security and projected expectations to move to NYC to pursue her dreams. And ever since, she defined the rules of her life.
Peer pressure is a problem faced not only by teens, but also by adults. We oftentimes find ourselves being forced to conform and behave in a way the world wants us to.
This causes us to spend energy on things we don’t really need, simply to please people we don’t actually like. One thing Madonna could teach us, though, is that we should never allow people to force us to act the way they expect us to. We have to realize that we are free men and that we have rights. We shouldn’t allow people, organizations, media, and even religion to tell us what and what not to do.
A person who wants to get into the field of creative arts needs to be well acquainted with his or her personality, and this is what Madonna believes in.
On several occasions, the pop diva has said that any person in the creative space needs to be true to him or herself and be open about their opinions, rather than comparing themselves with their contemporaries, as they might have a different way of doing the same thing.
Whatever you are doing, according to your deep true self, don’t shock for shock value alone — it has to come from the heart.
Reinvention doesn’t mean giving up what matters to your business. Madonna used sexual imagery, criticized religious intolerance and supported potentially controversial causes. While these tactics might turn off some potential fans, staying true to your values will win you more loyal fans in the end.
Leadership is not a trick or a series of techniques. Ultimately, it comes from your core.
Madonna’s consistent, unapologetic and fearless advocacy for the dignity of all people is her unique selling proposition. Beyond that, she defends her core values vociferously and is not afraid to wrestle with the powers that be. Over the years, she has been denounced by the Vatican, politicians and parenting groups. Her fans don’t care, and neither does she.
Lesson #2: Let The Passion Pour In
Although she respects everyone that prides themselves in putting in the hours at a 9 to 5 job for a living, Madonna also encourages people to pursue a vocation that they love doing, because she feels it is only then that they would create magic that nobody can ignore, and only then would an individual fight the hardest battles that are required to be fought to achieve greatness.
She believes that at the end of the day one needs to believe in what they do because it is that faith that will fuel their fighting spirit.
Whether Madonna’s in the studio or on stage or in an interview, what’s evident is her passion. She’s genuinely in the moment and as she storms the stage in stilettos, strutting along dancers half her age, she’s the one in charge.
Our passion is the fuel that gets us going in life. In Madonna’s case, music is her passion, and is the one thing she poured her life into.
She understood what it is like to pursue your passion and put everything you’ve got into it. Just like Madonna, let us never give up in pursuing our dreams and our passion, because these are the things that give us hope and make us feel alive in this world. Once we have discovered our passion, let us do our best to pour our entire lives into it.
Don’t figure out the how, figure out the why. Madonna didn’t create a plan to become the top-selling female recording artist.
She didn’t say she’d move to New York and become a dancer and then have a string of dance hits in the 80s. She thought about being an artist and left it at that. As her career progressed, she focused on what was currently in front of her. She couldn’t have predicted the twists and turns. Neither can you, so don’t bother to try.
A lot of people are afraid to say what they want. That’s why they don’t get what they want.
Having a clear goal will focus your brand activities and help you work out where your priorities lie. Deciding what we want, what we’re about, takes a lifetime of deliberate, focused introspection. But we can figure out different parts of this whole at different times in our lives, and we can live deliberately towards them.
If you want something as bad as your next breath, you will find a way to manifest it.
Don‘t wait for an epiphany or for someone or something outside of yourself to give you that Aha moment, be proactive in your own life and create the life you desire. Living life fully means you are in control of your destiny. Don’t make challenges an excuse for changing your path.
Get rid of the things that do not add value to your life, stop engaging in things that don’t move you in the right direction.
You have to step it up and demand success from yourself, the time has come to truly become the person you want to be, let go of who you was, and embrace the new you, the person who is driven to succeed. Obstacles may come your way, but you must persist on this journey, the road is rough, but know that you can get to where you want to be with hard work and dedication.
Lesson #3: Fight Or Flight
Madonna believes that to be able to achieve your goals in life there are battles that need to be fought. Hence, any person willing to make a success out of their career has to switch on their fight mode.
Her mantra is that you always have to fight for the things that are worth it, so put your boxing gloves on.
Madonna believes that one should not expect everything will be served to them on a silver platter, one has to fight for it. No wonder she is one of the most influential strong female icons of all time.
Madonna is known as an adventurous, risk-taking entertainer who pushes music industry boundaries over the borderline.
This spirit led her to embrace ambitious music videos in the early years of the medium, and it was evident in her late-career decision to leave Warner Brothers Records, her home since her debut album in 1982. She followed that with a 10-year deal with concert promoters Live Nation which included distribution of her albums and merchandise, despite the fact that Live Nation was not a music label. In the process she forged a new paradigm in a changed market where album sales are no longer the hallmark of success.
She also knows how to turn lemons into lemonade.
When her new album was hacked before it was due to be released, Madonna turned it into a positive, strategically releasing several songs before releasing the finished product. As an entrepreneur, you will encounter inevitable setbacks. The key will be your ability to turn such crises into opportunities.
The bad choices Madonna has made throughout her life is only proof that she is, after all, human just like us.
She understood this and claimed later on that where she is right now is a result of all the choices she made in the past, whether good or bad. We all commit mistakes, but many times, the bad things that happened to us could have been prevented if only we made the right choices in the first place. The good thing is that we learn from our experience and that it’s never too late to commit into making the right choices in life moving forward.
On several occasions, Madonna has been described as one of the most fearless women in the industry. She believes in not being scared of striking out alone.
The singer has said that most people find it hard to believe in her talent, and are even scared of her achievements. Hence, she encourages everyone to seize the day and not be afraid of failure, she wants everyone to take chance on his/her ability, talent, and passion, and work hard to achieve his/her dreams without worrying about showing weakness.
Madonna’s true talent isn’t her singing voice, she’ll be the first the admit so.
Rather, it’s that she sings, dances, writes her own songs, plays instruments, acts, directs, writes kids books, designs clothes and will execute her drive on any medium that she chooses. She doesn’t obsess about failures. She knows they’re just a numbers game to success.
Lesson #4: Always Deliver
One of the secrets to Madonna’s success is that she never settled for less. Even if she has already achieved excellence in her music, she constantly looked for ways to improve it. In our lives, we should also avoid settling for less. Let us avoid mediocrity, but let us always strive for excellence. That could mean finding a better way to do your work.
Having never cancelled a show, letting her fans down isn’t an option for Madonna.
Madonna showed early signs of self-discipline. She was a straight-A student and a member of her high school’s cheerleading squad. After graduating, she received a dance scholarship to the University Of Michigan School Of Music, Theatre & Dance. She may not like the hours, but she knows the work is essential. Hard work should never be underestimated; it always pays off.
Madonna is known for her hard-driving, perfectionist way.
She holds her team to the highest standards as well. She does everything required to make her vision come true for her fans and deliver an experience the audience will never forget. Expect nothing less than the best from yourself and your team. This just might be the most important lesson of all.
Whatever happens, the show must go on. Perhaps the biggest lesson entrepreneurs can learn from Madonna?
When Madonna recently tumbled down a staircase during her live performance, she got right back up and resumed performing — without missing a beat. If you fall, pick yourself up and keep going, because no matter what, the show must go on! Don’t give up before you’ve just started!
Do you have days when you’re 100% focused and determined to do well, but then have other days when you get distracted?
Do you have days when you believe you’re going to have a fantastic future, but then have other days when you feel nothing you do is good enough? Fear not, Madonna has paved a way with a simple mind set that’s helped her succeed, and that you can adopt too.
Hard work, together with the time it takes, is a must on your journey to success. It makes you who you have to turn into in order to live the better life that’s awaiting for you.
What’s more, the harder you work on your dream, the more confident you become. Those who lack self-esteem also lack determination and end up losing hope and giving up. But by investing enough energy in this daily, you start believing in yourself more, you are sure that you’ll succeed, and you don’t need support from others and no one can put you down anymore.
Lesson #5: Break The Rules
It’s no surprise that Madonna has been a trendsetter for years. As one of the first artists to demonstrate the power of music videos in promoting an album or to offer live performances that border on performance art, she ushered in an entirely new era and approach to entertaining.
While some of her trends have caught on more than others, she has never been afraid to think differently.
If Madonna is known for one thing it is pushing boundaries. She has been creating controversy throughout her career and much of this stems from her willingness to challenge commonly accepted notions. She created sexier songs with racier lyrics and began challenging what society saw as acceptable entertainment.
The rules exist to keep everyone pleasantly numb.
Nowadays Lady Gaga and Beyoncé get all of the attention, but Madonna was the original that these talented artists used for inspiration. Conviction, creativity, hard work, and the courage to question the rules will never lose their appeal — much like Madonna.
Madonna did not get where she is by following the rules, or someone else’s lead.
Madonna is a self-proclaimed rebel, she wants her audience to know and understand the fact that she passionately loves the work that she does and isn’t afraid of what others might think of it, but she also clarifies that she isn’t a rebel to cause trouble or to show anyone off or to cause needless chaos.
There is no one-size-fits-all path for mega success.
Aside from courage and capability, only one other trait is necessary for groundbreaking triumphs: a willingness to break the rules. Breaking the rules separates the dreamers from the doers. Sometimes these doers justify their actions by their egos, their overconfidence, their immense talent (or a mix of all three). Sometimes it doesn’t even occur to doers that they are treading on convention — they just see the rules as the narrow confines of a box they must break free from.
Lesson #6: Brave New World
Madonna’s look and music are always evolving into something new and different. She is an innovator, and always seems to be ahead of the curve. She reasons that talented people surrounding you would encourage you to be your best self and make you question the boundaries imposed on yourself.
Differentiation (making you product different) and Cost leadership (offer something at the lowest cost in the industry) are some of the conventional business strategies today.
It is clear to see that Madonna’s strategy is that of differentiation. In almost every aspect of her career she has applied the differentiation; from her musical style, to her ever-changing target market which oscillates from young to old, heterosexual to homosexual and everything in between. By constantly changing her persona and her musical genre, Madonna has made an art of being different from other musicians and this has worked successfully for her brand.
Diversification is key to expansion, but make sure you move into areas that make sense for you.
Madonna moved into acting and directing early on and has since added a dizzying number of business ventures, including apparel, publishing and even a chain of health clubs. Gaga recently announced the launch of her first fragrance.
Business owners need to be vigilant in looking for new and emerging markets and platforms and then be assertive in establishing themselves in each one.
Madonna is an impressive businesswoman and she has always understood the importance of leveraging existing platforms and distribution channels. In fact, part of the reason she rose to prominence so quickly is because she made highly effective use of the very young MTV platform. Here was a chance for her to access a vast consumer market in a unique and novel way. Her focus on high quality videos, filled with great music and alluring imagery, set her apart from the other musicians of the time.
The secret to Madonna’s success is down to more than just good music.
In addition to selling records and gig tickets, she’s constantly reinventing herself in order to remain current. So when it comes to your business, don’t be afraid to have a re-think if you feel your branding has become old-fashioned or tired.
Lesson #7: Shut Off The Noise
Entrepreneurs inevitably will encounter naysayers on their road to success. Madonna exemplifies someone who focuses on the positive — her fans — pushing forward and ignoring naysayers. Speaking about the need to persevere in the face of negativity, Madonna once said, “One of the many things I learned from all of this: If you aren’t willing to fight for what you believe in, then don’t even enter the ring.”
Naysayers and detractors were rocket fuel for Madonna.
Madonna has been denounced by parenting groups, ethics professors, politicians, and even the Vatican. But the secret to real respect is to absorb criticism, learn from it if that makes sense, ignore the ones who aren’t your people anyway, and keep moving forward.
Madonna has had more haters than any other modern musical artist.
Critics have trashed everything about her. 35 years later? She’s laughing all those critics to the bank. And to the sold-out concert arenas. Because her fans? Well, we love her. If everyone agrees with you, then you might not be saying anything worth talking about.
Criticism can rob us of our energy and enthusiasm; it can cause us to question the wisdom of our choices and decisions.
When your adventure is new, your passion and enthusiasm are bubbling all over the place. You really want to share it with everyone you know and meet. Here are two reasons why this is not a good idea: First, your plans will receive criticism from some of these people. They will be negative about your future; they will tell you how tough it is to strike out on your own and how few really make it. You do not need this.
Don’t let the negativity of others pull you down. Continue on your path and ignore the unfounded and negative comments.
Don’t let others label you, limit you, or lower you. Surround yourself with people who support you, your dreams and your definition of success. Let go of the naysayers and dream killers. That’s what successful leaders do.
It’s been said that the most important ingredient of a great leader is courage because everything else flows from that. A grand case in point is Madonna and the courage it took to build herself into a “one-of-a-kind” legendary entertainment leader.
While her style is admittedly edgy and, and not for everyone, her courage to be herself and blaze her own trail is undeniable.
Although you may not become the Madonna of your field, the opportunity to grow your talents is not unreachable. All it takes is a little bit of creativity, some courage, and a lot of believing in yourself.
Constant reinvention keeps you and your personal brand alive.
Madonna is not afraid to be outlandish and she never confuses her current stylistic expression with her core values as a person. She’s versatile and keeps herself relevant to each generation. Each time, she remakes her image to fit in with the current trend while still maintaining her ‘Madonna-ness’.
Madonna is continually moving forward, evolving, and venturing out of her comfort zone.
At 60+, it is easy for Madonna to be discounted as past glory and that will be foolish because over the years she has continually rebranded and made herself relevant. You don’t really need to buy her albums to know that Madonna’s business acumen is legendary and as entrepreneurs we can all learn from her.
Just like Madonna, be willing to take proactive, out-of-box, bold action.
Not all of us have Madonna’s hutzpah. And each of us has our own vision, career and life to pursue. How do we know we’re in the right zone? When others start looking to us to define their professional journey. Are you ready to shake the table and express yourself? Share your journey with us in the comments below!