What Justin Bieber can teach us about Web marketing

One of the things that I saw in the Justin Bieber concert film Never Say Never (besides disturbing scenes of prepubescent lust) is how important the Internet is in promoting artists. Justin Bieber is an Internet creation. He was discovered from his YouTube videos and built his fan base through Twitter. So, what can the rest of us learn about viral marketing from Justin?

It’s true that the Internet draws the most attention to the extraordinarily good, the extraordinarily bad, and cats. For the rest of us, the Internet can help us find a target audience and build a relationship with it. The Internet offers us two-way communication with our audience. Not only can we keep fans immediately informed, we can hear back from them just as quickly. We can build a virtual intimacy that builds strong loyalty and word-of-mouth.

This isn’t possible with traditional mass-market promotion. Imagine if Justin Bieber came of age 15 years earlier, in the early 1990s. A music industry executive would find his demo cassette (not MP3 or YouTube clip) in his slush pile and think, “Well, he’s from Canada, which is sort of Seattle-ish. But he doesn’t do grunge, and he doesn’t do gansta rap. And purple? Only if it’s flannel. Pass.” Even in the 2000s, most music industry executives would have said that “teeny bop” music died at the same time as Saddam Hussein. By using the Internet, Justin proved there was a market for his type of music. There was a market because he used the Internet to find and build it. So, the same music industry executives would see that they weren’t just signing a singer, but they were also getting the mass of devoted fans who came with him. In a risk-adverse business like entertainment, this is too irresistible for executives to pass up. And once that time of home-grown audience building get pumped up with mass-market dollars, you get a sensation like Justin Bieber.

There are a couple of precautions I see with this type of marketing.

First, viral marketing can’t be manufactured. Internet audiences are too savvy. They like what’s real and genuine, and they can see  through what’s too slick and manipulative. Web users are a democratic, grass-roots society. They want to see people like them who use equipment like theirs make their way up. And seeing one of their kind become a hit makes them even more loyal and supportive. This is why corporate-manufactured “viral campaigns” often fail.

Second, you have to be good. Sure, people like William Hung may have a wide-spread novelty appeal, but it wears off very quickly. If you want to be successful in the long term, you have to deliver to your fans with everything you create.

The Internet, like any other form of marketing, can only open the door. We have to prove constantly that we deserve to stay with our audience.