Tremaine Aldon Neverson's (bka Trey Songz) first album was a commercial flop, selling a mere 40,000 albums its first week and never being certified by the RIAA (for the record, I was in the number ... I purchased the first album). A bit disconcerting considering he had the stamp of approval from the Queen of Soul herself, Ms. Aretha Franklin. It however is not surprising - at least for those of us in the PR, marketing and advertising industry.
Trey's failure was due in large part to the failure of his team to recognize that his look and sound didn't match his age or the audience they were targeting.
Trey's first album, "Gotta Make It," was designed to feature Trey as a young adult contemporary (AC) artist. They just forgot to make his appearance match the needs of the target audience. In PR terms, they failed at positioning Trey for success. What they didn't take into account when they started the positioning and promotion of the album is this: The AC demographic the look of an artist is everything. ACs respect and are loyal to polished, older artist (and I use the term loyal with this group loosely because they are rarely loyal to new artists). Trey's older sound and mature song lyrics didn't change the fact that he had a babyface and donned braids, both making him look young, inexperienced and a little thuggish. Even the stamp from Ms. Franklin couldn't help him.
His second album, "Trey Day," was still a commercial flop (becoming his second album to not be certified by the RIAA); but the album was the start of Trey's transition to fit his age and find a new audience. Trey's first single of the album, "Wonder Woman," featured a braided and cool Trey rapping and singing. The song, like many on the album, had a more hip hop feel. The album - and Trey - were now being marketed and promoted on urban radio stations (aka hip hop stations). The failure of "Wonder Woman" to impact radio forced a later release of Trey's album and his second single, "Can't Help But Wait," was released to AC and hip hop stations alike. This strategy allowed him to cater to the younger AC audience from "I Gotta Make It" and helped him continue to build his hip hop audience. "Can't Help But Wait" was a commercial success. The song peaked within the Top 20 of the Hot 100 at #14 and was nominated for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance at the 51st Annual Grammy Awards. The success of "Can't Help But Wait" and a new positioning strategy helped catapult Trey's career into what it has become.
With the success of "Can't Help But Wait" and a growing following of younger ACs and hip hop music lovers, Trey's team took off with their new positioning and marketing strategy, which I believe goes something like this:
- Trey is an R&B artist, which is an AC-driven musical genre. Marketing/positioning strategy: Keep the soulful singing that hooked them on "I Gotta Make It." Ditch the braids for a more mature look.
- Trey is younger than most ACs and right around the hip hop audience age. Marketing/positioning strategy: Create music that speaks to the genre by featuring pairing Trey with hip hop artists. Use social media and other youthful marketing tactics to further grow this audience.
These strategies (along with a few others) helped make Trey's third album, "Ready," a commerical super success. According to Wikipedia "Ready" reached #3 on the Billboard 200, selling 131,000 copies in its first week. These are his best first week sales to date and the album was his first to reach the Top 10 on the Billboard 200. The album has since sold 700,000 records in the US, earning a Gold certification from the RIAA in February of 2010, becoming his first album to be certified by the RIAA. Additionally:
- The lead single from the album, "I Need a Girl" reached #5 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop songs chart and #59 on the Hot 100, becoming an R&B/urban hit but not a mainstream hit.
- A promotional single, "Successful", featuring rapper Drake, was released in June of 2009 and reached #17 on the Hot 100, becoming Songz's third Top 20 hit. The single also served as the second and final single from Drake's EP, So Far Gone.
- The second official single from his third album, "LOL Smiley Face", featuring Soulja Boy Tell 'Em and Gucci Mane, reached #51 on the Hot 100 and #12 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
- The third single from the album, "I Invented Sex", featuring Drake, was reached #42 on the Hot 100 but #1 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, becoming his first single to top that chart. Like the first two singles from the album, it achieved success in the R&B/urban community but only some mainstream success - charted within the Billboard Hot 100, and topped the R&B chart.
- The fourth single from the album, "Say Aah", featuring rapper Fabolous, reached #9 on the Hot 100 and #3 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. The single has become Trey's highest charting single on the Hot 100 and one of his most successful singles on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
- The fifth and final single from the album, "Neighbors Know My Name", was #43 on the Hot 100 and #4 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
The success of "Ready" also opened the door for him to become the opening act for Jay-Z on his Jay-Z Fall Tour in late 2009. The album was nominated for Best Contemporary R&B Album at the 52nd Grammy Awards in 2010, but lost to Beyoncé's I Am... Sasha Fierce.
Trey also recorded an episode of MTV Unplugged and had a documentary-series Trey Songz: My Moment, that is currently airing on BET. The 10-part series will end in this month and follows Trey during his time as opening act on Jay-Z's Jay-Z Fall Tour in late 2009.
The lesson. The correct positioning can take you places - it took Trey from the bottom of the charts to the top of the charts and beyond (MTV and BET to be exact). The transition of Trey from an AC artist to an urban artist helped save his career. When you begin thinking about yourself, your product or organization, make sure you spend a lot of time thinking about your position. What's your position?
Also see - "What's your position?"