What brands stand to learn from Justin Bieber

It’s recently been announced that Bieber is bringing his sellout world tour to New Zealand, and the tickets (going for $250 plus) are selling out fast. A good portion of his audience will be made up of those who would have scoffed at the thought of going to a Bieber concert in the past, scared of being trampled by a stampede of screaming pre-teens. Bieber is no longer targeted at a niche audience of 12 to 15-year-old girls, but rather the the general masses.

Pop stars, like brands, often hit a dead end where they can no longer grow their fan base or keep satisfying the group. They’re forced to recreate themselves. Let’s face it, Bieber, like all pop stars, is a brand. He has a professional team managing his brand’s appearance at all times, much like any large business. So what can we learn from his brand transformation, from tween crush to serious superstar, in the space of two years?

Getting emotional

Bieber was forced to recreate his image in order to win over a new generation, hold onto his current fan base and grow beyond it. All pop stars who have gone through a transformation are attempting to create a unique image, different from every other wannabe pop star out there and one that appeals to their audience. Just like with brands, the more distinctive their image, the harder it is to imitate, and the more popular they become.

Bieber’s team have created a unique image that has the potential to mature as he does. This distinctiveness is important, because it means that even those who may not know his name or have heard his music will be able to recognise him if they see a photo or album cover.

But how do brands figure out this new look? Simply, it should be determined by the fan base you’re trying to reach and what resonates with them. Brands can either evolve with their existing target audience, or extend to a new one. Bieber has done the latter. In transforming his image, he is now a serious contender for the attention of an older demographic, male and female alike.

But it’s not enough to just be likeable. For a brand to succeed, it must create an emotional response. The world is divided on Bieber—some people love him while some can’t stand him. Either way, they feel something about him. Yes, he’s polarising, but in terms of his brand that is better than the “meh” identity he had pre-transformation. He now stands for something that people can relate to, or not.

Emotion is key to driving behaviour, whether it be a purchase or simply choosing to play Bieber’s latest album on Spotify. People by and large don’t expend a lot of thought about brands, which can be hard for a marketer who lives and breathes a brand to accept. What does make a brand stick in a person’s mind, without them realising, are emotional memories and associations. These emotional responses exist in our minds at an unconscious level, but they are a powerful driver of decision making when we’re considering purchasing an album in the iTunes store or standing in line at the supermarket checkout.

Be clear to survive

Prior to 2016, Bieber’s direction was unclear. His fashion style was all over the place, and his music was similarly confused. Firmly rooted in pop territory, Bieber was teaming up with big name rappers in an attempt to unsuccessfully toughen up his image.

This inconsistency was detrimental to his brand—a key learning for brands struggling to be taken seriously. But now, Bieber is the epitome of consistency. His appearance, his clothing, his mannerisms. He is the same guy, every day, across a huge range of platforms—the key is staying true to his distinctive brand.

Why is having a clear and consistent brand important? Because a distinctive brand leads to top-of-mindness  Being top of mind at the point of purchase is the biggest pre-cursor to someone buying your brand over another, through unconscious thought and emotion. Music choice, like the majority of purchase decisions, is largely free of rational product-differentiators. Within the pop music genre, it all sounds fairly similar—the songs are built around the same four chords, and there aren’t many radical differences between Bieber and other artists.

Much like the brands we buy repeatedly, we may keep choosing to play Bieber’s latest album because it’s readily available and at the top of our mind. We already have it downloaded onto our phone or saved in our Spotify library, we don’t have to think about finding a brand new artist to listen to each time and making a considered decision. This is what we call having mental and physical availability, or ‘brand salience’, and a distinctive brand is vital in achieving this. The salience of a brand is the most powerful driver of decision-making and loyalty.

Going with the crowd

Now that Bieber’s brand is resonating across a number of demographics and his ‘product’ is widely accepted, he has momentum. We like to call this a sense of ‘energy’. On a basic level this means that Bieber has hit on something that works, and he can keep building and developing this formula as his target market evolves. It also speaks to an individual’s desire to be part of the crowd. Now that Bieber is gaining popularity among elements of society that would have previously poo-pooed him, it makes others believe that he is worth taking note of.

There’s a lot that goes into creating a successful brand. Bieber is just one example of near perfect execution. It comes down to building a mental construct that stands the test of time, and which ultimately makes people want to jump on the bandwagon. Let’s just wait and see if the Bieber brand is as relevant in five years’ time.

  • Claire Tutill is a marketing coordinator at TRA.

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