In my post about re-envisioning branding, I drove home that your brand experience is the emotional shift you consistently deliver to your target audience. Most importantly, an organic brand experience lets you offer to your audience what you most want for yourself. Per many requests, let’s take a closer look at a 30+ year mega-brand: Madonna.


Madonna grew up, by her own repeated accounts, in an extremely strict and religious Catholic household. Although people constantly claimed that she “reinvented herself” every year, Madonna actually stuck to a single theme from her young rise to her utter domination of world pop culture: she took her target audience from feeling “sexually repressed” to feeling “sexually liberated.”

That shift pointed her towards clear target audiences, communities in the ’80s that were sexually oppressed by the mainstream, from young women to LGBT Americans, both of whom formed her early fan base.

It also gave her limitless material for brand exploration. If you make a list of sexual taboos, there is, without doubt, a Madonna picture, video, song, pictorial or insane coffee table book that addressed it. I am posting just a few for you so scroll through here (peep show dancer, dominatrix, voyeur, kissing a child, kissing many women, bestiality, laying with Black Jesus, promiscuous city dweller, bondage, threesomes, pregnant teenager, decidedly non-virginal bride, self-gratification in a cone bra on stage, the infamous bottle/swallow sceen from Truth or Dare…), and if you’re an ’80s baby, you can name dozens more.

When Madonna went “off-brand” and didn’t liberate her fans sexually (playing a chaste missionary in “Shanghai Surprise”…?), they revolted. When she nailed the brand (“Evita”), even the establishment rewarded her.

The challenge for Madonna now is what remains after your brand personally has liberated the world sexually for 30 years? How do you evolve the experience? Perhaps by diving deeper into artistry (her later albums are artistically her best) or further into the lavish spectacle of her live shows. If you’re skeptical about whether her brand still has legs, in 2016, her Rebel Heart tour placed her as the highest grossing solo touring artist in history – and in third place for all artists, behind only the Stones and U2.

You will endlessly deliver to others what you most want for yourself. What is that gap you so deeply want to fill? Build your brand around it.

p.s. If you’re bored by these pictures, and think “they’re no big deal,” you’re right (even though, at the time, she was banned from countries and threatened with arrest onstage). Madonna changed the way the world dealt with sexuality, women’s sexuality in particular. #yourewelcome

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