royal sceptre
Queen Latifah took the stage at Marketo Nation to share some hard-earned wisdom

All hail the queen — award-winning singer, actress and producer Queen Latifah, who made the following royal decree in her Marketo Summit keynote to a roomful of marketers: Know thyself. Stay connected to who you are.

And that’s real talk.

The typical marketing mantra may be, “know/stay connected to the customer/product/market,” but Queen Latifah was expressing something more fundamental: Stay connected to who you are, and you’ll stay connected to your personal brand. Only with that practical grounding in self-knowledge, can you evaluate new ideas with focus, move forward with confidence, and ultimately connect more strongly and in new ways to your customer.

Branding Royalty

Queen Latifah speaks from experience: Her brand is an extension of herself.

She crafted her brand early, starting at the age of 17 when she recorded her first album. Aware that she needed a way to stand out in the highly competitive hip hop music industry, she added the title “Queen” to her artist name “Latifah,” evoking a strong sense of female power to effectively differentiate herself from the predominantly male rapper/MC image of the day.

Her record label gave her a small budget to purchase outfits for promotional photoshoots, and her first outfit was a traditional African costume complete with royal headpiece. This image of the “African Queen” established her brand, and earned it respect. By 1995, when she and business partner Shakim Compere co-founded the Flavor Unit Entertainment production company, they were also effectively managing the Queen Latifah brand.

The Queen shared some hard-earned marketing and branding advice with the Marketo audience:

Know Thy Brand

She may have started her career as a rapper, but Queen Latifah intentionally guided the evolution of her image from hip hop to jazz singing, to acting, then producing. The transition seemed seamless, and she attributes that to having defined, and having stood by, a brand identity as the core of her company. 

Her team had long-term business growth in their minds from the beginning, and mutually agreed upon the values that the Queen Latifah brand stood for: A positive image of women, and of their shared community and culture.

Establishing these values up front and standing by them, gave the team a strong foundation and a guiding principle when financial success came — helping them avoid the temptation to agree to deals that only served short term income, not long term vision. As Queen Latifah warned: “All money is not good money.”

The marketing takeaway? If your brand doesn’t have defined core values, now’s the time to get everyone in the same room to agree on who and what your brand stands for. If your core values are already defined, make sure they aren’t just words in a dusty onboarding binder under your desk: Use them as a checklist when evaluating big decisions, and if any of the core values are compromised, it’s time to reassess.

Curate Thy Brand

Queen Latifah and her team expanded their business interests from music to film, growing strategically and exploring new opportunities by using separate entities as avenues for projects that may have initially seemed to fit outside the Queen Latifah brand — while maintaining the strong core brand image. Among many other projects, the Queen Latifah brand launched the CoverGirl Queen Collection makeup line for women of color, and produced a range of films through Flavor Unit Entertainment.

The marketing takeaway? Don’t hold yourself back from seizing new opportunities. Staying flexible can open many pathways to new product lines or service offerings, while maintaining the core identity and integrity of your brand.

Live Thy Brand

As a CoverGirl model and spokeswoman, Queen Latifah was projecting a relatable, positive image for women of color and plus-size women. However, an acquaintance of hers let her know that she couldn’t buy CoverGirl products because they didn’t have a shade that suited her skin tone — at the time, CoverGirl had just one shade for women of color. Queen Latifah used this feedback to pitch an expanded cosmetics line to CoverGirl, which eventually became the Queen Collection.

This combination of standing by a brand value to relate to a specific community, and acting on consumer feedback, resulted in her being able to tap into a new target market that was previously underserved. As Queen Latifah explained, “It’s not really stepping outside the box, honestly. It’s really stepping into the people who are already there, waiting.”

The takeaway for marketers? Staying connected to your brand means keeping an open mind for opportunity, consistently making the effort to view the brand through consumer perception and behavior — and not just the consumers you may think you’re already targeting. You likely have ample data resources to provide customer and market insights, but don’t let the data just be numbers in reports.

Maximize the power of your data by extracting brand stories and the different customer personas, and create actionable items to capitalize on these insights: There are new opportunities waiting, between the data rows.