Did anyone have “Billion Dollar Barbie Blockbuster” on their summer 2023 bingo card? Can’t say I saw that coming. But perhaps I should have given the extraordinary marketing efforts that created a pink wave of consumerism and social media buzz in the months leading up to the film’s July release.

You don’t have to love Barbie to learn from her. And if you’re in charge of your organization’s brand marketing, you should.

I know, I know – “Barbie” had a baller marketing budget. In fact, reports estimate that Warner Bros. spent $150 million on marketing, which is more than they spent on the film’s actual production! This is fantasyBarbieland spending for practically all of us, but the good news is that we can all apply some of Barbie’s tactics for building a strong brand.

Define and OWN Your Brand’s Personality

If your brand was a car, what would it be?”

This is a question we often pose to clients during workshops to explore new or refreshed brand visuals and messaging. Sometimes an organization says they are a Honda Accord – trustworthy, no frills, in it for the long haul. Others have said they are a Ford F-150 – full of power and prepared for hard work.

Barbie is, of course, a Pink Convertible Corvette – flashy, stylish, iconic. She’s true to herself through and through, even if her choices seem frivolous to others. (See also the scene in the movie where she can’t fathom slipping on a pair of Birkenstocks.)

What I’m getting at is that every brand needs to define its personality – and then OWN IT through its visual representation and messaging. How does your brand speak…where would it hang out…where would it shop? These answers should align with the tone of your social media posts, your brand logo, typography and more. 

If you’re not sure how to answer these questions, or feel like your answers don’t match up with how your organization actually shows up in the world, it’s time to prioritize this work with your team, your board or some folks who can guide you.

Know What Makes Your Audience Tick

In “Barbie,” America Ferrera’s character gives a monologue about being a woman in today’s society that is resonating deeply with audiences. I think it’s quite possible that the virality of this speech is what prompted some people who thought this movie wasn’t for them to reconsider.

Director Greta Gerwig didn’t just stumble upon some movie magic for this scene – she did her research.

All of us who work in marketing have the power – and the responsibility – to dig in on what makes our audiences tick. And that can only happen if we go deeper than looking at surface level demographics like age, location, income level, gender, family status and ethnicity.

If we want to build brand trust and loyalty, we need to prove we understand the physical, emotional and psychological needs of our target audience. What delights them…what outrages them…what motivates them to roll up their sleeves and join your cause or buy your product?

How can you accomplish this? At Next Stage, we believe conversations are the best way through as opposed to surveys or third-party data. Get proximate to the people you currently serve or want to engage by spending time in their environments (instead of asking them to meet at your office or side of town) and allocate the right amount of time to really get into the good stuff (at least an hour). This can look like 1-1 meet-ups or focus groups.

Knowing what makes your audience tick through community voice work isn’t a task that’s accomplished quickly – and you need to be mindful that it will shift over time and through circumstances – but it’s necessary work to ensure your marketing tactics meet the mark.

Have Some Fun and Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

It turns out that you can have important conversations about patriarchy, feminism and inclusivity and still have a few laughs. That’s what I loved the most about “Barbie” and being able to share it with my tweenager.

The weight and complexity of problems we face in our communities, nation and world can feel insurmountable at times and they are hard to escape. I’m not advocating that we bury our heads in the sand and act as though we have the privilege not to care, but I am asking if we can just give ourselves a break sometimes.

“Barbie” tackles big issues WHILE making it okay to want to gather up your best pals or daughter, plan a fun outfit and escape into some dopamine-inducing nostalgia and lightheartedness. 

Your brand can find a way to do that, too. I know some of you are leading organizations that serve critical needs or are addressing issues of racism, trauma and sustainability. To do these important causes justice, we may find ourselves only focusing on what’s lacking, what’s hard and what has to be overcome. 

But remember – your brand is a personality and, just like our own personalities, is multifaceted. This doesn’t mean being inauthentic to who you are, but instead building in thoughtful, REAL, glimpses of the joyful or hopeful part of your work. (If there isn’t any, that’s a bigger issue.) Plan something that’s actually fun with your constituents and customers. Find a way to eventize the release of a new program or initiative that invites people to engage. Celebrate your staff and share their accomplishments and milestones with your stakeholders. 

You’re “Kenough”

Would it be great to have “Barbie’s” giant budget, an army of marketing professionals at your service and companies lining up to collab with your brand? Of course. But what matters the most when it comes to a solid marketing plan is knowing – deeply – who you are and who you are speaking to.

Thanks for the reminder, Barbie!