Brand loyalty lessons from K-pop group BTS

RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook. Earlier than 2018, these seven names, together with the identify of the musical group they comprise, BTS, had been unknown to me. Then in September of that very same 12 months, the K-pop band made an look on The Tonight Present, and issues modified in my family. My spouse shared their efficiency with my then five-year-old daughter, who was drawn to how they seemed, danced, and sang. And so started my daughter’s rising curiosity in listening to their music, watching their movies, and buying their collectibles, reminiscent of BTS-branded calendars, playing cards, dolls, and even an “Military Bomb” (extra on that later).

My daughter was a fan. I used to be not. I grew up loving songs and songwriters and, to me, it appeared that this group positioned the next precedence on their look, together with their efficiency, than they did on being severe musicians. The band was prolific—in 2018 alongside alone it churned out a film (Burn the Stage), new episodes of its selection present (Run BTS!), launched greater than 50 songs, and circled the globe performing dwell concert events—however struck me as an outsider as inauthentic and prepackaged: extra like The Monkees than the Beatles.

Nonetheless, desirous to assist my now eight-year-old daughter’s curiosity—and open to studying one thing—I turned to the Twitterverse. Late one night time in July 2020, I posed the query: “Which of those iconic boy bands is almost certainly to have the best lasting impression on the historical past of music: The Beatles, The Jackson 5, or BTS?” I hit “Tweet,” put my iPhone away, closed my eyes and went to sleep. By morning, I had obtained greater than 5,000 likes, greater than 1,500 retweets, and practically 500 feedback.


I learn each reply. What I anticipated was a reasonably equal distribution of followers, every advocating for why they felt their alternative was proper. However I used to be flawed. I obtained a giant response from one fan base. The Military, as BTS followers are identified, turned out in pressure to share respect for the enduring UK and US bands and their love for the Korean group. Respondents included authors, celebrities, dad and mom, professors and researchers. What I noticed qualitatively was later quantified. In 2020, greater than 400,000 Military members participated in a fan-organized census, revealing that almost 50% are over age 18, one in 5 have some school training—together with a inhabitants of potential PhDs—and one in 20 are dad and mom. Followers additionally proved to be globally represented, digitally savvy and really influential.

Extra Tweets and emails adopted. By my now common interactions with members of the BTS Military, I’ve come to understand that BTS deploys an unorthodox 5-point technique to rework its viewers from preliminary consciousness to lifetime advocacy. The way in which the band entices, enlightens, enrolls, engages and empowers the BTS Military stands in stark distinction to the standard relationship-building mannequin. For contemporary entrepreneurs aspiring to forge lasting bonds—to drive advocacy past loyalty—there’s heaps to be discovered from serving your followers first reasonably than asking them to serve your model first. What follows is a distillation of those transformations: how BTS and its followers collaborate to make affect a two-way avenue.


Promoting Your Brand: Conventional entrepreneurs ask clients to make the primary entre into the model’s world.

Attractive Your Followers: The trendy marketer entices by assembly customers of their locations and areas—in their very own worlds.

Earlier than inviting new audiences to tune into their music, BTS first demonstrates actual curiosity in tuning into their lives. A technique the group does that is by becoming a member of up to date conversations and including one thing of excessive social or leisure worth. For instance, they won’t solely seem on a preferred selection present like The Tonight Present Starring Jimmy Fallon, but additionally take part in a Fortnite Dance Problem alongside the host to convey their dance expertise to your front room. And they won’t solely present up on The Late Late Present With James Corden, but additionally take part in a Carpool Karaoke section to share their singing expertise in a relatable means. That is additionally why BTS turned up on YouTube to contribute to a livestreamed commencement ceremony, known as Expensive Class of 2020, by delivering a graduation speech—to share their message of self-belief—in a scholar discussion board past a stadium. If you lead by serving your followers, like BTS, you entice them to your world by understanding the need of first moving into theirs.



Promoting Your Brand: Conventional entrepreneurs educate by specializing in the merchandise they’re pitching.

Enlightening Your Followers: Trendy entrepreneurs enlighten by main with the tales they’ve to inform forward of the merchandise they need to promote.

As soon as BTS has enticed new audiences to concentrate, they prioritize storytelling as a option to open extra fascinating conversations versus closing extra album gross sales. The group has created myriad methods for viewers, from informal followers to severe devotees, to dig in and study extra about who they’re as folks and performers. Documentary movies, reminiscent of Burn the Stage, characteristic behind-the-scenes tales of the making of the band, their music and their large-scale worldwide excursions. Actuality-based reveals, like BTS: Bon Voyage and Within the Soop, reveal various kinds of tales—set away from the highlight and set out on this planet, by and enormous. Right here, the group lets audiences study extra concerning the fullness of their lives. And on the aforementioned selection present, Run BTS!, their particular person personalities, on prime of group dynamics, are additionally dropped at life. In a way, by sharing tales about all sides of their lives—together with vulnerabilities that entrepreneurs wouldn’t usually see as “marketable”—the famous person group turns into extra accessible and extra fascinating. If you lead by serving your followers, as BTS does, you enlighten them by telling highly effective tales which are, from the beginning, extra related than simply promoting your merchandise.


Promoting Your Brand: Conventional entrepreneurs search to transform clients by making rational arguments, reminiscent of price-value appeals.

Enrolling Your Followers: Trendy entrepreneurs enroll by sustaining emotional appeals—the place the expertise is the advertising.

 When enlightened audiences are able to graduate from spending time studying about BTS to spending cash on the group’s music, live performance tickets and collectibles, BTS emphasizes the value of the expertise to followers over the price of merchandise. In actual fact, in all they do, BTS prioritizes what’s in it for the followers. When releasing a brand new monitor as a part of a comeback (the K-pop time period for a brand new album launch), the group affords sneak peeks of any accompanying movies to create a kind of foreign money—to present followers one thing of actual value. Additionally they share glimpses of album imagery, such because the collectible photocards which are included with every album buy. When recordings evolve into excursions, whether or not in actual life or nearly (because of the pandemic), BTS will put a highlight on their experiential Military Bombs—Wi-Fi enabled gentle sticks that come to life throughout dwell performances, creating uncommon real-time connections between artist and viewers. If you lead by serving followers, you enroll them by talking the language of emotion, not cause—permitting the value of the expertise to be your advertising.


Promoting Your Brand: Conventional entrepreneurs are likely to incentivize engagement with a catalog of rewards.

Participating Your Followers: Trendy entrepreneurs have interaction by specializing in recognition past rewards.

After they’re initially enrolled within the expertise, BTS works to maintain the connection with followers sturdy and by no means takes their loyalty without any consideration. As an alternative, they earn it by emphasizing the precept of recognition—by treating followers as essential and as insiders. For instance, breaking down the limitations between artist and viewers throughout the pandemic, Suga requested followers to ship questions or share tales utilizing a hashtag so he may speak to them straight as a part of his radio present on the V Dwell app. All seven group members have participated in livestreams, creating arts and crafts and having enjoyable with followers. It’s also not unusual to listen to about followers chosen to be featured in Weverse Journal—a publication that’s distributed on the platform that connects BTS to its base. To grasp how significantly BTS takes fan recognition, be aware how the group interacts with them even when the cameras usually are not rolling. They’re identified for wishing followers good luck earlier than they take essential faculty exams, for following up on their private relationships and, general, for inquiring about them as human beings. If you lead by serving followers, you have interaction by recognizing them as a part of your success.



Promoting Your Brand: Conventional entrepreneurs do all they will to keep up model management and defend their standing as the first influencer.

Empowering Your Followers: Trendy entrepreneurs empower loyal clients, to relinquish some management so followers develop into advocates, and to show these influenced into highly effective influencers as properly.

Whereas different teams use their affect to have interaction with audiences, BTS sees their viewers as influential as properly. Somewhat than attempt to discourage this to guard the hierarchy—artist as influencer and viewers as influenced—BTS celebrates it by recognizing Military members as influencers too. BTS doesn’t merely launch documentary movies to inform their story, there’s additionally a fan-based group that makes and releases digital shorts as a method of collaborating within the narrative. Not solely does BTS give charitably to causes and social actions of significance, however so too does the Military self-organize to make massive matching donations. When BTS contributed a million {dollars} to assist Black Lives Matter, their followers, with out prompting, made a million-dollar match. And never solely does the group need to higher know its followers, its followers additionally need to higher know one another—which is why they organized their very own world census. If you lead by serving followers, you don’t restrict their affect, you empower it.

Explaining his enrollment within the Military, wrestler and actor John Cena mentioned, in a September 2020 look on The Tonight Present, “I obtained focused on their music. Then I obtained focused on what the music stood for. They advocate [for] self-love. They advocate [to not] be afraid of failure. They advocate that you’re sufficient.” He elaborated: “They’re nice performers, however it’s the message they ship [that] resonates with folks.” Echoing the feelings of different Military members, Cena added that whereas style in music is subjective, the cumulative impact of BTS and the Military elevating their voices is irrefutable. Whereas the ability of like-minded folks coming collectively to do one thing optimistic is a timeless story, it’s significantly well timed on this planet we live in proper now—one wherein it’s going to take unprecedented positivity and unity to advance society ahead.

Whereas BTS continues to be in its relative infancy—the group was solely fashioned in 2013 and its members are all nonetheless of their 20s—I believe there’s one thing significantly mature about their strategy. For them, music just isn’t an finish, however a method to an finish; it’s for bringing folks collectively to do good. In flip, if in 2021 I had the possibility to rewrite the primary query I posed on Twitter, I might. As an alternative of asking which boy band was likeliest to have a permanent impression on the world of music, I might ask which one was likeliest to have a permanent impression on the world by music. To which the reply—particularly for crucial eight-year-old Military member in my world—is evident.

Mark Miller is the chief technique officer at Staff One, a absolutely built-in media, digital, and communications company, and the coauthor of Legacy in the Making (McGraw-Hill Training). He’s an everyday contributor to Quick Firm.