5 Things Your Brand Can Learn From Beyonce


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At this point in time about a month has past since Beyonce graced us with her new album Lemonade, and what a historical event that was. Using HBO, Her majesty once again managed to change the industry standard for releases, as she had done previously with the surprise drop of her self-titled album in 2013. ‘Homegirl’ is a force to be reckoned with. Not only should fellow musicians take a page from Beyonce’s book, but marketers and brands should consider jotting down a paragraph or two as well.

Beyonce is different.

As one of Pittsburgh’s many digital marketing firms, my company Sparq Designs has forced itself to stick out like a sore thumb. In the words of DJ Khaled, differentiating ourselves from other operations selling the same product is a “major key.” While we see and acknowledge what everyone else is doing, we try to play on what makes us different. We try to emulate this strategy with each client we bring in. We don’t want our pizza company to run the same campaign as another pizza company – even those on a national level. Our focus is to play on their uniqueness, not on their similarities.

Beyonce has been regarded as visual, musical, and a marketing guru, because she does things out of the ordinary – I MEAN HELLO, a pop artist who added a country song to her newest album, that even left Garth Brooks in awe? Tell me the last time Carrie Underwood rapped on one of her albums… I’ll wait.

Beyonce is a leader.

One thing Beyonce doesn’t seem to do is care about what anyone else is doing. She simply uses her talent and looks for the next way to enhance it. She is not your standard pop artist, and in fact, she has expanded pop from a musical medium to a visual one. Remember when music videos were just people bouncing around with guitars, and artists claimed the reason for being so was because it was “meaningful and poetic?” I never understood it, but Beyonce has been able to use these visuals to enhance the overall experience. Other artists, take notes.

The BeyHive is one of the most dedicated fanbases in the world. While other artists tweet their fan bases to buy their albums, or support a cause, Bey’s guides her fans through actions. Back in 2015, Beyonce announced she was focused on maintaining a plant-based diet. Although I’m not certain it’s the BeyHive itself, I’ve noticed a growing interest in veganism, dubbing 2016 #TheYearOfVegan. All of a sudden, we all care about seaweed and cashew cheese? I was just getting back into hot dogs and hamburgers, so thank you Beyonce for taking me off of that.

Beyonce is a storyteller.

We are huge proponents of storytelling in our industry. It’s so important that brands build an emotional connection and meaning with their customers and potential clientele, and Beyonce does a great job of this with her music. Whether or not you choose to believe Jay-Z had an affair and caused problems in the iconic Bey & Jay marriage, Beyonce told her story in “Lemonade” so well that you just had to believe something was true.

Sparq’s Graphic Designer Jenna recently wrote that Disney World builds an emotional connection with their audience. That when a consumer buys tickets to Disney, they’re not just buying admission to theme park – but they are buying an emotional experience. When I tuned into “Lemonade,” (late, mind you) I didn’t know what to expect. I was blown away. The music, the poetry, the visuals all left me stunned. I wish I could put into words how I felt when the final credits rolled. Emotional. Experience.

Beyonce is private and unapologetic.

I cannot tell you how often I stalk the online presence of various brands, and cringe when I see something that doesn’t need to be disclosed. A few years ago, I saw a local company openly share an argument in the comment section of their Facebook page. They went on to talk about every aspect of the verbal altercation that went down in their store that day, and insisted that the customer was wrong, which if any of you know how Facebook works, set fire to a dimly lit candle.

Beyonce causes controversy, as we have seen during her Super Bowl where she appeared to support the Black Panther Movement (I know what some of you are thinking… save it). I think the most important thing was that she just let people say what they wanted to say and never once apologized. In fact, instead of saying, “wow your arguments are valid I should change my ways,” she announced her world tour, ‘Formation.’ While people fought it and opted to protest it, Bey still sold over $100 million dollars in ticket sales, leaving us to question “Is it ALWAYS necessary to apologize for our actions?”

Beyonce gets people talking.

Whether you like her or you don’t, this girl gets people talking and isn’t that everything a brand could want, and more? From a marketing standpoint, I think the element of surprise that comes with Yonce is what gets people going. You just never know what she’s going to do next, and she leaves you wanting more.

When Beyonce surprise dropped her self-titled album, “Beyonce,” no one was expecting it. It reached No. 1 on the charts without shameless self-promotion. Her strategy isn’t to allow people to leak her private photos before her next album is released, nor is it to appear on SNL before her next movie – it’s really just to leave people in shock. For instance, remember in 2014 when she slipped in a pregnancy announcement at the VMAs? She broke the Twitter record with 8,868 tweets per second, all by flashing a quick baby bump. Like GIRL, I have to take to IG the second I get a fresh manicure, how the heck can you keep a BABY a secret from all of us? And so you know, Bin Laden’s death drew 5,106 tweets per second. Just let that sink in.

So whether or not you choose to appreciate Beyonce, her music, and her fandom, a lot can be learned from this woman. While all of us marketers are desperately trying to copy her current strategy, just know that she is planning her next big move. It’s only in our best interest to keep up.


Adele Stewart is a Marketing Account Manager & Designer at Sparq Designs, a digital marketing agency in Pittsburgh. Learn more about her, here. If you have questions about building a relationship, contact the  Sparq team today.

Follow Adele on Twitter,  LinkedIn Instagram


Q & A with Andrew Henley

Get to know one of Sparq’s summer interns, Andrew Henley! 


Andrew Henley

Andrew Henley

Q: Where do you attend school and what are you studying there?
A: I attend Westminster College, where I am going to be entering into my senior year. My major is International Studies with a concentration in Cultural Studies: History and I have a minor in Information Systems.


Q: What’s your dream job?
A: My dream job is to work to the UNESCO for the benefit of preserving cultural heritage sites around the world. Either that, or just CEO of Ancestry.com.


Q: At which store would you like to max-out your credit card?
A: If I were to choose a store to “max-out” my credit card [need to apply to get one first], it would be BestBuy or Forbush Ice Cream near New Castle [however, they only take cash].


Q: Which storybook/cartoon character do you relate to?
A: I believe the storybook/cartoon character I relate mostly to is Thomas Jefferson. [Here’s a storybook with Thomas Jefferson, but his head is disproportionate to his body].


Q: What’s your favorite part of the digital marketing industry?
A: My favorite part about the digital marketing industry would be how energized each individual is within the field. You must stay up-to-date with each of the multitude of fields and very active within your fast-changing career.


Q: What was your favorite TV show when growing up?
A: My favorite TV show growing up was Tom and Jerry.


Q: Do you have any strange phobias/fears?
A: I don’t believe I have any strange phobias, just the thought of ice cream falling on the ground kinda petrifies me.


Q: What is the best thing you’ve crossed off your bucket list?
A:  I think the best thing so far that I have crossed off my bucket list would have been going abroad, well, to Iceland. However, I will be going abroad to study in Poland in the fall.


Q: NSYNC or Backstreet Boys?
A: Yes


Q: How do you take your coffee?
A: Two creams & two sugars.


Q: What is your favorite part of interning at Sparq?
A: My favorite piece about interning at Sparq is how invested everyone is with their work, while also being able to express great energy in getting to know you as an individual, or so it seems.

At Sparq Designs we thrive on our ability to create and foster relationships; relationships between brands and consumers, and the relationships between our clients and ourselves. Internships are one of the most valuable experiences a student can gain during their undergraduate studies. While classroom work is important, real experience can help get your foot in the door when you enter the workforce. Learn about internship opportunities at Sparq Designs here.

Stay In Your Lane and Create a Brand that Customers Trust

Often times people and organizations attempt to emulate or copy what other people and brands do that make them successful. Just because something works for someone else does not mean that it will work the same for other people or organizations.

If you think of the most successful brands in history, they all stand for something that is original and authentic to their being. These brands become iconic and are idolized for this reason. People buy into their core beliefs and their brand’s story because it is undeniably authentic and true to them. Great brands understand that to be great and to stay great, they must “stay in their own lane.”


[Photographs: above, Burger King; others, Dennis Lee]

What does it mean to “stay in your lane?

To me, staying in your lane means learning how to be extremely self-aware. Brands who are self-aware completely understand themselves and what they stand for. Being self-aware of your brand, customers, competitor products and the marketplace makes it much easier to stay in your lane and to be authentic when it comes time to tell your story.

Too often you see companies, both large and small, struggling with marketing and product launches because they don’t stay true to themselves and their customers.

One example of a notable brand who I believe is having a difficult time with this is Burger King.

Burger King is one of the most well-known brands in America and they have been for many years. Their entire brand was built off of and sustained by the Whopper. America fell in love with their campaigns and their flame-grilled burgers. So what justifies a company like Burger King to create menu items like the “Big King” (a poor recreation of the McDonalds inspired Big Mac) and Grilled Hot Dogs?

Burger King and the Whopper spent over 20 years competing directly against McDonald’s and the Big Mac, until recently when they decided to add the Big King to their menu as if it could compete with the most famous sandwich in history. To me this is when Burger King started to stray away from its roots and attempted to reinvent themselves through an array of off-the-wall menu items.

If Burger Kings’ recent marketing and product decisions are based on losing market share, I feel this would have constituted a different approach. Why not put a campaign together that stays true to the core beliefs of the brand and start to reinvent the power and following of the Whopper? I think that this is a perfect example of a brand that went completely outside their lane and really should become more self-aware, focusing on the strengths and beliefs that made them extremely successful.

The simple truth is this; just because something works for my company and my market, does not mean that it will work well for you and your organization. Companies must become self-aware to the surroundings, customers, market conditions and competitors. Be authentic, stay in your lane, and stick to the things that make you great, because this is what makes people fall in love with brands!

nb_teamNick Brucker is the President & CEO at Sparq Designs, a digital marketing agency in Pittsburgh. Learn more about him, here. If you have questions about building a relationship, contact the Sparq team today.

Follow Nick on Twitter & LinkedIn


Q & A with Bri Nellis

Get to know one of Sparq’s summer interns, Bri Nellis! 


Q: Where do you attend school and what are you studying there?
A: Currently, I’m attending Clarion University and studying Communication, with a minor in Marketing.


Q: What’s your dream job?
A: Digital marketing for Oscar Mayer, while driving the Hotdogmobile across the United States!


Q: At which store would you like to max-out your credit card?
A: Nike!


Q: Which storybook/cartoon character do you relate to?
A: Mulan-always up for adventure and would do anything for my family!


Q: What’s your favorite part of the digital marketing industry?
A: My favorite parts are using social media to directly communicate with the consumers, as well as thinking of creative ways to engage and expand the reach your intended audience.


Q: What was your favorite TV show when growing up?
A: Growing up, I was definitely all about playing sports and therefore my favorite TV show was definitely Rocket Power. I even bought roller-blades and a hockey stick to be just like Reggie. I also, weirdly remember watching a lot of The Price is Right. *laughs out loud*


Q: Do you have any strange phobias/fears?
A: Forgetting my Netflix password…


Q: What is the best thing you’ve crossed off your bucket list?
A: while studying abroad, I had the opportunity to go canyon jumping off the Swiss Alps in Interlake, Switzerland and that was definitely a bucket list item that was crazy to cross off!


Q: NSYNC or Backstreet Boys?
A: I was a fan of both back in the day, but I’m going to have to go with NSYNC.


Q: How do you take your coffee?
A: With just a little creamer!


Q: What is your favorite part of interning at Sparq?
A: The people!

At Sparq Designs we thrive on our ability to create and foster relationships; relationships between brands and consumers, and the relationships between our clients and ourselves. Internships are one of the most valuable experiences a student can gain during their undergraduate studies. While classroom work is important, real experience can help get your foot in the door when you enter the workforce. Learn about internship opportunities at Sparq Designs here.

Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Designer

get the most out of your designer

A few months ago, my husband and I went on our honeymoon to Walt Disney World. My husband, being the gentleman that he is, surprised me by booking the Disney BoardWalk Inn (one of my favorite Disney properties) as our hotel while we were down there!

If you’ve ever stayed on campus at Disney, you know it’s so incredibly different than staying off site – you literally never leave the Disney magic! We had all of these big plans to explore the hotel, try out the three different pools, water-slides, and restaurants all along the boardwalk.

But, by the time our trip came to a close, we realized that we had never taken a swim in any of the pools, tried the water-slide, and we only ate at one restaurant. Even though we had a great time, we didn’t get all of the value out of our resort that we could’ve with everything the BoardWalk Inn had to offer.

Often times, same is true in the web design world.

Clients ask a designer to work on a web project for them, and the client only gets half (or less) of the true value the designer has to offer. So how does one go about getting the full value of what a designer has to offer? The next time you work with a designer, try to remember these four simple things:

Fully brief the designer on your business.

If you hire a designer to remake your website, be ready to answer some questions about your business and the direction you want to take the project. This will save unending amounts of frustration from both the client and designer in the long run. A designer will want to know the ins and outs of your business, who your competition is, what sets you apart from your competition, and any other pertinent information pertaining to your business that they might be able to use to create a website that’s uniquely tailored to you and what you do. A web designer’s job is to create a “home” for your business online that will represent you to potential clients. The best thing you can do is to give the designer as much information about your business as possible. In return, the designer will most likely do lots of additional research to be sure he or she is creating something truly unique to your industry.

Give the designer some inspiration.

Designers want to know what you like, what you don’t like, what you absolutely love and what you absolutely cannot stand (in terms of design, color palette, etc.). If you cannot STAND the color red, be sure to mention that to your designer, so they don’t start creating a website with a red color palette (yes, that really happened). Or if you truly despise full screen websites, be sure to mention that to your designer as well. The more information that can be given on the front end, the faster the designer can get to the perfect solution for you. It’s also not a bad idea to give them a couple of ideas of websites you really love (but make sure to tell them why you love about them). But in turn, remember that a designer can’t completely replicate a design, just take inspiration from it.

Allow the designer some room to be creative.

On the flip side, allow your designer some room to play around. Chances are, they want to create something that’s unique (and epic), and it might mean trying something that’s never been done before, or going in a bit of a different direction that you originally thought you would like. Instead of shutting them down right away, give their idea a try. Chances are they’ve put in the research, have some experience, and know what will work and be attractive from a design standpoint.

Remember that good design takes time.

Some designers get things done really quickly. They come up with the best idea first, run with it, and hit it out of the park from the get-go. However, for many designers, coming up with the perfect idea usually takes a little bit of time (and usually the best idea isn’t their first idea). Time frame usually varies from project to project, so make sure to discuss the project time frame with your designer from the project’s onset so you’re both on the same page. Remember, your designer will be doing research, creating sketches, wire frames, color palettes, and choosing font pairings in an attempt to create something not only unique, but distinctive to your business, which can take quite a bit of time.

The next time you contact your web designer or start a new web project, try keeping these four simple guidelines in mind. In doing so, you’ll be sure to get the most value out of your web designer, and in turn, help them create something you’ll be proud to display to clients.


New Changes to Thumbtack Come to the Detriment of Website Services

There aren’t many good places to go on the Internet to generate leads in the world of prospecting and finding new business. Some places try to sell you contact lists, others may ask that you advertise with them in exchange for being in an exclusive directory, and sometimes you even have to dive into the depths of Craigslist. In my own experience, none of these ever proved to be fruitful.

I spent the first three years of business by prospecting through my own general list of contacts and spider-webbing referrals from there. I was always able to find enough business that way but I still continued to search for other ways to find leads. About a year ago I came across a website called “Thumbtack” and instantly found success and more importantly, RETURN.

Thumbtack is a website that promises to “introduce consumers to pros” when they are looking for a particular service. For example; you are interested in a website for yourself or your business. You can go to Thumbtack, answer a few quick questions about the project in mind, and within hours, you’ll be receiving quotes from verified Professionals of that industry.

All was extremely well until after the first of the New Year and I noticed every lead coming through Thumbtack had an extremely low budget in comparison to before and what it really costs to have a website designed and developed. I decided to call Thumbtack and asked a representative if there had been a change in the questionnaire parameters as it pertained to budget for the project. The answer was “Yes”.

So what changed?


As of January 1, 2016, Thumbtack added a small, yet significant change to their questionnaire. When asking a consumer the budget for their project, Thumbtack began offering these options; Under $200, $200-500, $500-$1,000, Over $1,000, Not sure yet. That slight change is resulting in a once incredible lead website that could boast significant ROI to professionals of the web industry into becoming a more aesthetically pleasing Craigslist.

There is more to this than Thumbtack just presenting low prices for website design/development services. When a person seeking the services of a website/design professional sees those price options, there is an immediate change in their expectation of what it costs to design and develop of a website. Thumbtack stopping at ‘Over $1,000’ causes the consumer to believe that at most, a website may only cost a tad over $1,000. Consumers will not read that option and expect a price to be much more than $1,000. This expectation carries beyond Thumbtack and will change the consumer’s opinion of all website companies as they continue their search to get the project completed.

The most important effect of such a change likely has not been felt by Thumbtack just yet but soon will be. The reality is that any consumer can get a website within the price parameters that Thumbtack is presenting but what they get may, as the saying goes, “be exactly what they paid for.”

You see, Thumbtacks biggest error in judgement is that they thought they were doing a favor to the consumer by offering them lower cost solutions. However, after enough consumers are disappointed by low-cost solutions, it won’t take long for Thumbtack’s reputation to spoil and soon become the second most popular place on the Internet to get cheap service.

Of course, maybe I am off base and Thumbtack was never intended to be a place for an agency to hunt for leads. I just know that at one time it was a service that I greatly appreciated for the return potential and even adopted as mandatory to use for all of our employees. Now it has become something that gets little more than a passing glance.

Thumbtack’s success hinges on positive consumer to professional experiences and their recent changes now have them walking a tightrope with consumer trust and once it is lost, it won’t come back.

jb_teamJim Blundo is the Vice President at Sparq Designs, a digital marketing agency in Pittsburgh. Learn more about him, here. If you have questions about building a relationship, contact the  Sparq team today.

Follow Jim on Twitter & LinkedIn!