Kanye West and Hamburger Helper Are Schooling Brands in Customer Engagement

Posted by
Andrea Fjeld
Content Producer
Tuesday, April 12, 2016 - 12:32

You might have heard Kanye’s latest album, which was a collaboration of sorts with his fans. Or maybe Hamburger Helper’s mixtape is more to your taste. Both are prime examples of how brands are prioritizing experience over product, and consumers are responding favorably. A great customer experience can be the difference between a loyal brand advocate and a loud, frustrated consumer turning to social media’s megaphone to broadcast their displeasure. Which kind would you rather have talking about your brand?

While much research and analysis has gone into establishing best practices for creating an awesome customer experience through web and mobile messaging, we don’t always need expensive reports to see that customer engagement is invaluable to a brand. Inspiration can strike anytime and come from anywhere. Don’t believe me? Check out these unlikely sources.

Kanye invites his fans to the listening party...and then listens to them.

Yes, Kanye “Imma-let-you-finish” West does a brilliant job of engaging his fans. He dropped The Life of Pablo, his latest album, in a totally innovative way. As he worked on it, he was perfecting it on Tidal before the critical eyes (or ears) of his fans and based on their feedback. The artist worked out lyrics and updated the song order by listening to what his fans had to say.


As TechCrunch notes, we call this a minimum viable product in the tech world, and applying it to Kanye’s creative process is, in effect, creating the world’s first SaaS album. What can entrepreneurs and businesses learn from Yeezus? Value the consumer over the product and put your fans (i.e., customers) first. When people feel they’re involved, heard, and appreciated, they’re way more invested in the outcome. And that’s music to a brand’s ears.

...And Hamburger Helper gives Kanye a run for his money.

On April 1, Hamburger Helper dropped a mixtape on SoundCloud to rave reviews. It’s the brainchild of the brand’s in-house agency, which has built up a Twitter following reacting to hip-hop news. When fans began demanding they put their money where their mouth is, the team knew they had an opportunity to do something really engaging with their growing fanbase.

This may seem like an off-brand move, but Hamburger Helper's demographic is largely millennial — think: young men who use its products for an easy meal. Delivering something that would be relevant to them was important, and, as we know, the next gen of consumers does not respond well to being played. Going for authenticity, Hamburger Helper enlisted the help of legit up-and-coming hip-hop artists from their actual target demographic. The result: more than four million views in 72 hours. And the lesson here? Brands need to listen to their audience and create an authentic experience. Don’t go on fleek if it’s not genuine. Your customers will notice...and call you out.

Taco Bell’s product launch is anything but cheesy.

Its new product, on the other hand, is a different story. Leading up to the Super Bowl, the late-night munchie joint began teasing out a new menu offering. You could even pre-order it! The catch? Nobody (officially) knew what it was. The company put out a highly redacted press release and drummed up hype on social media. Then, on game day, the chain introduced what we now know as the quesalupa in a star-studded 30-second spot (below) and a series of clever commercials poking fun at regional ads.

For most brands, a multimillion-dollar Super Bowl ad is the endgame, but it was just the beginning for Taco Bell. The quesalupa went to market nationwide the next day to much fanfare. What makes Taco Bell’s strategy unique is that it didn’t lead with its product — on the contrary, the company hid it. The marketing folks knew that creating an exciting customer experience would be more important to the success of its launch than leading with the product itself.

The takeaway from Taco Bell? A focus on experience over product is an important lesson for brands looking to differentiate. Taco Bell’s audience also skews young. So following its lead is a good way for brands to understand what the next generation of consumers expects.

On prime time: The plot thickens with social media.

Including fan participation in prime-time television isn’t an entirely new concept. The first time I remember interacting with a TV show was texting in my vote for Clay Aiken on the second season of American Idol. (Don’t judge me.) And that was years before social media played such a huge role in our lives. Later, shows like The Voice tapped Twitter and incorporated hashtags into the viewing experience — The Voice even let fans "save" their favorite contestants in a single tweet.

Some shows take viewer input a step further, using it to help shape a plotline or character development. Pretty Little Liars has been widely praised for engaging with fans on social media. Showrunner and executive producer I. Marlene King reveals that the feedback the show gets via social has nudged them to test out new storylines or correct past errors. Brands can take a page out of Pretty Little Liars’ book. Those that are active on social media with a robust content offering facilitate more customer engagement and, accordingly, a better customer experience that can help the brand grow and evolve.

Case studies and detailed reports are useful tools in amping up your customer service, experience, and engagement. But if you really want to stay abreast of authentic yet clever tactics, keep your eyes open and your ear to the ground. Great engagement shows up where you least expected it — you’ll be surprised by who’s doing it well.

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