brand 2.0

I have to say this first. I did not have ‘Bieber fever’ before but I think I caught it now. I have not been able to escape this media blitz of Justin Bieber and his new movie Never Say Never will certainly delay my cure. Thus I have given up and admitted, whether I am a fan of his music or not, I do credit him for what he has built for himself- a brand name with 7,181,163 Twitter followers ranking him #2 based on followers in 2010 and 552,500 subscribers on YouTube and counting.

How does a 16 year old boy from Stratford, Canada discovered on YouTube become a global superstar? His stardom is a reflection of a world that we live in: a world connected by the internet where everyone can become a star online and use that platform to build something larger offline. He has leveraged his popularity from the web to fill venues around the country including most recently performing at the 2011 Grammys. Being an academic trying to understand the power of user generated content, I believe studying a YouTube sensation such as Justin Bieber seems like a great case study.

The first time I heard about Justin Bieber was through a friend who had her Gmail status message set as ‘Bieber fever’. Back then I actually thought to myself, what kind of a fever is this and should I tell her to get well soon or visit the doctor. I kept that thought to myself then. Over the summer of 2010, I was watching TechCrunch Disrupt over the internet. One of the panels featured Bieber’s manager Scooter Braun, and I was very intrigued to understand how he helped catapult Bieber’s popularity beyond online space. It was interesting to hear Scooter emphasizing Justin’s story as a boy next door who became famous and how he likes to connect with his fans on Twitter. In Wikipedia, it states that Braun wanted to build “Justin up more in YouTube first…we’ll give it to the kids, let them do the work, so that they feel like it’s theirs”. Scooter discovered Justin in 2008 and arranged Justin’s meeting with Usher eventually landing him a recording contract with Island Records.

What’s interesting is what has happened since 2008. The Bieber mania has taken over day time and late night talk shows, TV shows, a Superbowl commercial, a book, a film and now an eight country world tour. His successes have given more power to his fans who still feel very connected to him. The power in this digital age belongs to the consumer and the growth of user-generated content shows that consumers are engaged and share their good and bad experiences with their network. Individuals have the power to decide how they want to associate themselves with the brand. YouTube has given everyone a voice and a channel to showcase their talent, creativity and much more. Branding in this digital age is much different than what it was a few years ago and social media outlets such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook has definitely changed the meaning of branding today.

David Rogers, author of the book The Network Is Your Customer: 5 Strategies to Thrive in a Digital Age and teacher at Columbia Business School states that personality is key to building a brand online. He suggests four principles to consider when producing content on the web to build a brand: personal voice, out-sized personality, exclusivity and customer recognition. Justin has managed to successfully hone each of these four points and understands that he represents his fans. It is noteworthy to say that he initially became a sensation through people only connected over the internet and not on platforms like American Idol or America’s Got Talent.

There’s much to learn here and probably a bit early to say how far someone’s online popularity will take them but it’s fascinating to take a second and observe a new form of branding taking place. How far will ‘Bieber fever’ go and how will Justin stay connected to the online fans that made him famous are yet to be seen but till then we’ll either have to catch Bieber fever or just try very hard to ignore it.

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