What Kanye West Can Teach Us About Digital Strategy

What Kanye West Can Teach Us About Digital Strategy

Some people love him, others hate him, but one thing is for sure: Kanye West never stops surprising us.

Kanye West is iteratively live-editing his latest studio album.

February 14th was the day that Kanye West released The Life of Pablo, his seventh studio album, exclusively available through online music streaming service Tidal.

The Life of Pablo

February 14th was also the day that Kanye West announced he would “fix” “wolves,” one of the most popular tracks of the new album.

Ima Fix Wolves

Kanye originally performed “Wolves” on SNL. The performance saw the Chicago-born rapper alongside two more artists, Vic Mensa and Sia.


However, the studio version of “Wolves” that appeared on The Life of Pablo on February 14th did not include Vic Mensa and Sia, and featured singer Frank Ocean instead. Some fans protested, asking Kanye to bring the two artists back on the track, and to somehow keep Frank Ocean, maybe “at the end” of the track. What did Kanye do? He “fixed” “Wolves” and an array of other songs … a month after releasing the album.

Fan Feedback

West released the second iteration of “Wolves” two days ago. The new version now includes Vic Mensa and Sia, but not Frank Ocean, who was taken off the track and given his own 0:38 song, called “Frank’s Track.” This sounds pretty close to what some of Kanye’s fans were asking for, right? We don’t know whether Kanye listened to his fans, or whether he coincidentally felt the same way as them (talk about having a connection to your fans). However, one thing we know for sure: what Kanye did was definitely both innovative and strategic in its own way.

The Life of Pablo and Digital Strategy

Why should the digital strategy community be interested in this phenomena? Because it is a concrete representation of how digital strategies ought to work. Indeed, the key aspects of Kanye’s strategy for The Life of Pablo are:

  1. Personalization

“Customers have been spoiled. Thanks to companies such as Amazon and Apple, they now expect every organization to deliver products and services swiftly, with a seamless user experience. Customers want to log in to their online electricity account and see a real-time report of their consumption. They expect to buy a phone from their telecommunications provider and have it activated and set up immediately out of the box. They want bank loans to be preapproved or approved in minutes. They expect all service providers to have automated access to all the data they provided earlier and not to ask the same questions over and over again. They wonder why a bank needs their salary slips as proof of income when their money is being deposited directly into the bank every month by their employer.”

Accelerating the digitization of business processes by McKinsey&Company’s

Sounds a lot like fans who want their idol to listen to them.

  1. Iteration (a.k.a. Agile project management)

“Digitisation in its contemporary context reflects a technological leap, leveraging information technology (infrastructure) and information systems into becoming strategic assets, positing wise application of data and knowledge to constitute the strategic edge.”

–          Dynamic capabilities and digital strategy by Jens Christian Steenfos

Sounds a lot like an artist who gathered feedback and acted upon it on an iterative matter. Kanye has also been known for producing his albums with a “Think Thank” approach: take a group of people, put them in a room, and see what comes of it.

  1. Risk

The authors of MITSloan’s “Strategy, not Technology, Drives Digital Transformation” report that the most successful digitally maturing organization “are more comfortable taking risks than their less digitally mature peers.” To such organizations, “taking risks becomes a cultural norm.” It’s hard to keep up with technological innovations, and it’s even harder to convince people that an innovation is truly innovative until it becomes widely adopted. Because of that, sometimes the one true way to get ahead is to be the disruptor itself.

Which is exactly what Kanye did. The digital realm is a lot like the music industry: high barriers to entry, high expectations, and high uncertainty that leads people (or, in the case of music, managers and agents) not to believe in you.

The Icing on the CakeTIDAL press release

The day that The Life of Pablo was released exclusively on Tidal, the streaming app jumped to the top of the App Store. Interestingly enough, it took Kanye exactly 30 days to update The Life of Pablo, the length of a free Tidal trial. Marketing move or not, it doesn’t really matter at the moment because Tidal has publicly announced that it will extend its free trial for another 90 days to  make sure that Kanye listeners will be able to keep up with the updates, the next of which is scheduled to release soon.


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This article was written by

Carolina is a progressive strategic thinker and sports, art, literature, and music enthusiast with skills in business administration as well as design. She mixes business and design in all of her projects, because she considers design a perfect tool to guide business thinking and represent a project's outcome.