25...And Counting!

Critical acclaim, anticipation and pre-sale word of mouth. Knowing your value certainly pays off in most aspects of business - even more so in the post-digital music age. This adage could not be more true in regards to the woman being heralded as the savior of the music industry, Adele.

The release of new album, 25, was not even made public until three weeks in advance, but after over 30 million worldwide units sold of previous release 21 and 3 US No. 1 singles, the fever-pitch anticipation was apparent, but no one saw the record-breaker that lay ahead.

"25" (XL/Columbia Records)

25 debuted at No. 1 in the United States with 3.38 million sales - easily eclipsing previous record-holder No Strings Attached by *NSync - and keep in mind that this is without the help of streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music due to a conscious, yet controversial, decision by the artist. In an age where artists rarely have the ability to sell 1 million copies in a week, it is an achievement in itself to both break the 2 million barrier untouched in fifteen years, but to establish a league of her own to destroy the 3 million barrier that no album in history had previously achieved is a testament to the tour de force that is Adele's wide audience appeal. 

While most would think that the album would already be picked up by everyone in demand of it, the holiday season clearly said otherwise with the sales figures for successive weeks. 25 sold another 1.11 million copies in its second week and established a new record as the only album in the history of Nielsen Soundscan to secure two successive million-plus selling weeks. Week three's sales were 695,000 units, putting total sales at 5.18 million copies in just three weeks. Those watching closely can expect the album to easily become the best-seller of 2015 and 2016. 

The audience clearly missed Adele in all forms: the television special, "Adele: Live From New York City", pulled 11.2 million viewers and a 3.0 rating/10 share and gave NBC the largest ratings for a music special in a decade. For the sake of comparison, previous holiday concert specials have pulled roughly 2 million viewers.

The announcement of a 105-date tour in 2016 caps a spectacular return for an artist that hasn't been heard from since 2012. So what is the "Adele difference" that sets this artist apart from her peers, especially when most in the industry are easily unforgiven for taking just a year between albums? Can your business benefit by differentiation in this style? What steps can you take?

Previous Experience
Adele's success may look overnight, but even she will tell you it was not a simple formula by any means. Critical acclaim was heavy with her 2008 debut album 19, and also helped her win her first two Grammy Awards. Commercial success was fair until 21's release in 2011. The success began with first single "Rolling In The Deep" hitting No. 1 in the US and also began the record-breaking phase of her career in the process. 

How do you draw the same conclusions about your business? The answers lie in your customers. Testimonials, reviews and word-of-mouth are the starting points for understanding what makes you different from your competition. If you are just getting started in your business, you have even more of a prime opportunity to control the message in determining what your "Adele factor" is. The factor alone should remain consistent in every single facet to determine your difference. 

For example, if your difference is customer service, make sure every facet of your business is friendly to that: from the people manning your phones, to the accessibility and user-friendliness of your website, the theme has to run consistent in order to build the reputation you seek. Websites to help you leverage this include Glassdoor, your social media pages and all things carrying your brand. You can even seek out a reputation management service to get the ball rolling on cleaning up your image. 

There's a saying that goes "you're only as good as your last product." This is definitely true in Adele's case, as her consistency between albums remained intact with successive albums either maintaining or exceeding quality as she progressed. All the buzz in the world can not make up for a lackluster product. Music is an area that's relentless for fickle audiences. The same goes for any business and their online marketing.

Your next product release does not have to cycle constantly like Apple or Samsung, but unless your product has high longevity potential, it is most likely unwise to wait five to 10 years for the next phase of your evolution. Execution and testing are definitely key, because while it may be incredibly rare to come across the perfect or "classic" product, history proves time and time again that consumers are far quicker to destroy lackluster releases, upgrades or products that came too soon. 

The release of 25 is a rarity in terms of how promotion was handled. Three weeks to release, a mysterious 15 second spot during an episode of the UK's popular X Factor series went viral and built the buzz early on for a product no one expected. A similar experience occurred with the release of Beyonce's eponymous 2013 release, but instead of just releasing the album out of the blue, the tried and true word-of-mouth marketing method took hold, and upon the release within the week of a single, the promotion was handled for itself. In regards to the United States, Adele limited her public appearances, yet the buzz was built upon the success of the single alone and the anticipation after years of waiting. 

In this case, what if you're a brand that's been hidden from plain sight for some time? Should you build a sneak-attack strategy? This is all dependent on where you are coming from, how much budget you are working with, and a mix of the aforementioned factors. However, your promotion should always be anticipatory and careful. Mishaps are primed with allowing promotional spots to go viral, especially in the online space where anything is fair game for a meme. 

All points come back to the strength of your brand, how careful you are about how you plan to position your company, your product and what you want all of them to look like by the time the world can tangibly decide for itself what to make of it. So several questions should have solid answers by the time you're ready to release your version of 25 onto the world:

- How are we improving from our previous release(s)?

- How do we want to position ourselves with the next release?

- What consistent message do we want our consumer to understand to be our "Adele factor" in comparison to our competitors?

- Can that message stand on its own in a consistent fashion?

- What is the long term vision for the product? For our company?

- What is our strategy in case of misunderstandings or mishaps?

Upon recognizing both the strengths and shortcomings of what your product has to offer, any company can have just as enduring of an impact on their industry as 25. I can never guarantee you'll ship 3.3 million of your product or service in week one, but can certainly point you into the direction of improved success potential and a stronger brand.