BTS: What makes this brand work?

The positioning of any brand becomes clearer in the mind of the prospect, customer, or audience if the brand successfully finds and be the first to occupy an ‘open hole‘ in the market, even in an extremely crowded and highly competitive market.

AirBnb successfully distinguished itself as a more down-to-earn and affordable alternative to travel accommodation when it launched with the battlecry “Travel like a human.” Bon Chon successfully penetrated and grabbed share in the fiercely competitive chicken QSR segment by focusing on Korean-style double fried chicken. Cebu Pacific surpassed the Filipino flag carrier Philippine Airlines by its narrow focus on its “Every Juan Must Fly” no-frills brand positioning in the airline industry.

Bon Chon’s unique ‘Double-Frying Method” and Korean flavors have successfully gained for them market share.

In these few examples, these brands successfully gained substantial market share within fiercely competitive markets because they found an open hole in their chosen field and firmly established their leadership in that hole with a clearly defined USP.

In the case of the 7-member Korean Boy Band BTS, their dizzying global success can be attributed to the very same principle.

There are few markets which are more competitive than the music industry.

Music website iGroove writes that “According to Spotify, there are 8 million artists on the platform who released a total of 1.8 million albums…Based on the newest numbers there are 60,000 songs being uploaded to Spotify every day. That’s almost 22 million tracks per year.”

To say that BTS is a success in this cutthroat industry is an understatement.

They have landed in a series of global power lists (i.e. Billboard Hot 100, Guiness World Records, UK Albums Chart, to name a few) over the years and have already broken several notable records and achieved many ‘firsts’ in their relatively short career of about eight years. They have been referred to in the same breath as legendary music icons like The Beatles, Bee Gees, The Monkeys.

So how did BTS do it?

It is undeniable that there is a whole slew of reasons for their success, i.e. charming personalities, boyish good looks, vocal and dancing skills, focus and tenacity (i.e. there is the legendary 12-hour practice session before a live show), etc.

But there is one key ingredient that provides a clue on their immense success: that is, their narrow focus with regards to their lyrical themes.

In our home, the pre-teen daughter of our kasambahay (domestic helper) also lives with us. I decided to ask her the simple question: “Gusto mo ba ang BTS at bakit?” (Do you like BTS and why?). Without batting an eyelash, she straightened up and quickly answered: “Opo, kasi nakakatulong sila sa mga problema ng mga tao, gaya ng depression” (Yes, because they are able to help people with their problems like depression).

I was blown away. Wow.

In the mind of this young fan, BTS occupied a clear and unique brand position, that is: BTS tackles difficult issues of the youth and inspires them to overcome these.

“With positive messages of self-confidence, intricacies of philosophy hidden in their sparkly songs, true synergy and brotherhood in every step of their elaborate choreography, and countless charitable and anthropological endeavors, BTS have put their 14 best feet forward as role models to millions of adoring fans and anyone else who finds themselves drawn to BTS’s undeniable allure.”

Halsey, writing in Time 100 Most Influential People 2019
Image from Time Magazine. Time gave them the nickname “Princes of Pop”.

Their albums contain recurring lyrical themes which fall under the all-embracing theme of “life experiences during youth“.

Their smash hit album series “The Most Beautiful Moment in Life” explores the growth and emotional agony of youth as well as its playful and uplifting sides. They tackle difficult issues like mental health, bullying, desire to belong to society, temptation, etc. These are issues that few artists are able to articulate in their craft. And yet while BTS relates these issues to the youth, their themes are universal, thereby expanding their appeal to even fans who are in their 50s and 60s.

Inspirational themes for the youth on pursuing one’s dreams are also prominent in their songs. In their early hit “No More Dream” released in 2013, they encourage the youth with these kinds of lyrics:

“What is the you that you dreamed of?
Who do you see in the mirror? I gotta say
Go on your path
Even if you live for a day
Do something
Put away your weakness.”

RM, leader of BTS addresses the U.N. Assembly on September 24, 2018 during the launch of the Generation Unlimited, UNICEF’s new agenda for the youth. (Credit: Kim Jung-hyo, staff photographer)

In 2018, the septet was invited to address the UN General Assembly. RM, the leader of the group was appointed to speak. In his speech he said:

“After releasing the “Love Yourself” albums and launching the “Love Myself” campaign,  we started to hear remarkable stories from our fans all over the world,  how our message helped them overcome their hardships in life and start loving themselves. These stories constantly remind us of our responsibility.

“So, let’s all take one more step. We have learned to love ourselves, so now I urge you to “speak yourself.”

“I would like to ask all of you. What is your name? What excites you and makes your heart beat?

“Tell me your story. I want to hear your voice, and I want to hear your conviction. No matter who you are, where you’re from, your skin colour, gender identity: speak yourself.

“Find your name, find your voice by speaking yourself.”

That is what makes BTS unique.

As espoused by Stephen Covey in his book The 8th Habit, BTS has found its unique voice and has inspired others to find their own voice.

Many brands can certainly learn from the example of this brilliant brand. While most K-pop groups have focused on themes surrounding relationships, attraction and romance, BTS found an open hole in the cutthroat music industry and went narrow but deep into the issues of the youth, thereby helping their audience, both young and old, on how to overcome these.

That’s what makes this brand work.

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Read more about ‘Brand Positioning‘ in these related blogs here in Branding Nerd:

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