It's Not Marketing

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Confession time.

A few months ago I found myself on a long flight with nothing to watch. I had already seen the many Hollywood blockbusters along with the documentaries and news specials that were being shown on-board. In a moment of weakness, I decided to watch the Justin Bieber documentary, Never Say Never. I thought Never Say Never was a live "concert" film mingled with some backstage footage of the teen heartthrob blow drying his hair, playing Xbox with Usher or clips of young girls professing their love to The Bieb. I put the word "concert" in quote marks earlier, because I wondered how much of the live footage would truly be live. I know nothing about Justin Bieber other than he was discovered on YouTube by his now-manager Scooter Braun. With over a decade of music industry experience, I’ve had my own fair share of interviewing these types of teen sensations. Many of them don’t last more than five years in the music industry (and the majority of them flame out sooner). It’s not cynicism. It’s a matter of fact that the music industry (and mass populous) have a short attention span for this genre. Today’s Justin Bieber is yesterday’s New Kids On The Block (or Backstreet Boys… or…). And, there’s always something new and different right around the corner.


The movie captivated me. Justin is not only portrayed as a very smart and focused young man, he is a musician. A true musician. He cares about playing, writing and performing. Yes, the glitz is there and there are plenty of scenes with Bieber horsing around and clips of young girls professing their love to him, but it’s a touching and personal story. A key figure in Bieber’s success is his manager, Scooter Braun. After seeing some videos on YouTube, Scooter moved Justin and his mom from his home in Stratford, Ontario into a townhouse in Atlanta where they struggled to get Justin a record deal. It’s a very touching and real story. In a few scenes I found myself holding back tears and in other scenes, the tears were flowing. Laugh all you want, but his story is both impressive and inspiring, it almost seems like it’s impossible that it’s a work of non-fiction.

This is where you come in.

Scooter Braun shared the stage with pro-skateboarder and entrepreneur, Tony Hawk, at this year’s Google Zeitgeist event. During their panel discussion on music, entertainment and new media, the host, Sal Masekela (ESPN X Games) asked Scooter about his use of Social Media to build Justin’s audience. Scooter re-iterated a key point from my recent Blog post on direct relationships (more on that here: What The Next Five Years Will Be About): when Justin was turned down by the music industry, it only fueled them more to use Social Media to create that direct and tangible relationship with the fans. Their strategy worked so well, that Justin, Scooter and the entire Bieber Fever crew truly do control the relationship between Justin and his fans. When further pressed about using Social Media as a marketing channel, Scooter said something that fascinated me:

"It’s not marketing. It’s real."

It’s true and it’s powerful and it’s the number one reason why corporations are not all that successful with these platforms. Instead of using Social Media to be real, they’re using it as another engine of advertising. I often say that Social Media is the most exciting form of marketing because it allows for real interactions between real human beings. It’s so basic. Justin could just communicate and connect to his fans. He could (virtually) touch them, share with them, play with them, inform them and ask them. Scooter used five words to describe the new realities of business: those who think that they can simply advertise and not balance it out with being real (creating connections and developing direct relationships) are going to struggle – deeply – with loyalty and long term success. While Justin may have a long, hard fight ahead of him to prove his mettle in the music industry as something more than a teen sensation, brands could learn a lot from him and Scooter about the power of being real by creating real relationships.

Being "real" – it seems so basic and simple. Then again, we all know what they say about common sense… it’s not all that common.


  1. Great point. I’ve spent a few decades in the ad biz (before moving on to branded entertainment) increasingly frustrated with clients who see every marketing “touch point” as another opportunity for a monologue-driven sales pitch. When these marketers delve into social media activities, they still want total and complete control of the message. I believe the real magic of social media is its ability to inspire honest, sincere dialogue. It doesn’t always happen. But when it does, brands can learn a ton, if they’re willing to listen and treat customers as peers. Too many marketers are still too cautious to have agenda-free conversations with customers. But when they do, it gets wonderfully real, and that’s when everyone wins.

  2. Lady GaGa’s manager, Troy Carter, at F8 said something similar – GaGa is so big, the challenge now is how do we laser focus on the community and make it less passive? How do we appeal to the superfan as opposed to someone who might like one song?
    Most importantly he said, “It’s not about GaGa talking to the community, it’s about them talking to each other about her and things she does…sharing information.
    They understand its about bonding…branding will take care of itself.

  3. Mitch, you make good points but the same was said about Fabian 50 years ago. He used to meet his fans everywhere and they all believed he was their own “creation”. In essence he was nobody’s–and that is the point w Bieber. This is a cult that has brought smart people into the fold–folks like, uhm, you–because the creators of Justin Bieber understand the psychology of creating a seemingly businesslike persona. But as in most creations it’s the hands maneuvering a puppet who do all the heavy lifting. And it will come out that much of the lore here (and his story that Usher takes so much credit for) is unBeliebable. Because it isn’t real, it’s bubblegum pop with nothing to inspire us. “Baby, baby, baby” is moronic, and he could be the most talented musician in the world and I still would laugh at the fact a 17 year old has his own perfume. David Cassidy is back!

  4. Great post, Mitch!! I think whether you’re a fan of something or not, if it’s successful, it’s in our best interest to figure out why it’s successful so we can learn something from it.

  5. I’ve been avoiding that movie, but you’ve convinced me Mitch. I’ll rent it the next time it’s available for free.
    In my experience I’d agree with the statement – It’s not marketing, its real. SM allows me to connect with real people. To build real relationships and collaborative groups. To create real business and build a real brand for myself.
    What is also very real about social media is the potential backlash from senior management. While some companies are adopting and creating social engagement guidelines for staff, there are many employees who live in fear of stepping over an imaginary corporate line. It’s a scary time for some. They can see the benefits, the value, the potential but are afraid to step on the dance floor.
    In my opinion, this will only be temporary state. Mitch I believe this is what you and Avinash were discussing in the Extinction of the Marketing Dinosaur podcast. Eventually, corporations will understand that real communication is what is going on and will either adapt for real or be left behind.

  6. That’s exactly what I demand when I follow a household cleanser on Twitter…that relationship HAS to be real.
    But your point in a broader sense is bang on. Thanks for the post, will grab a box of Kleenex, grab my 10 year old daughter as camouflage and watch the movie.

  7. Hate to say it Mitch, but you’ve convinced me to watch this movie.
    I love how this disintermediation of the media has given artists and brands (which the former invariably also are) the ability to connect with their audiences without having to deal with the traditional gatekeepers (media, record labels, etc.) and Justin Bieber’s story is anoter great example of this.

  8. Mike – that’s good information. Hadn’t really thought about it that way, but for stars with a large following – that is a big part of it. It is almost about providing the space for the fan base to interact with each other. Bonding is key.
    Thanks for adding that – more brain food!

  9. Great post again Mitch, I think that “real” is a very scary concept for many companies.
    If the company culture is one of secrecy and viewing the public or customers as a painful necessity (it happens in more places than you think!) then moving to an engaged two way relationship with them is not only a scary proposition, but something they will do with a great deal of reluctance.
    Companies born now, already have the new social philosophy ingrained in their DNA, engagement and transparency comes naturally. The “Brand” hasn’t been polished and shined to before being exposed to the public, it has grown in full view.
    Businesses from the last millenium will need to take the leap and show their true colors (warts and all) or risk being viewed as archaic and out of time in comparison.

  10. On the music side tip, it has always been funny to watch the onslaught of negativity toward another Canadian musical entity – Nickleback. The haters scream loudly, the naysayers scoff quickly yet the band has a rich relationship with their millions of fans around the planet.
    If we spend a moment on those who want to tear us down we’ve let them win.
    You are bang on – just be a real human being – actually, for real, seriously.
    But when I say that to prospects and clients they keep looking for the wizard behind the curtain. Nope, no wizard here.

  11. “I’ll rent it the next time it’s available for free.”
    Sow sparingly, reap sparingly.

  12. Thanks for the post. The movie tells the story well – Justin has worked hard for what he has achieved. As a resident of Stratford, I can vouch for it.
    Funny how knee-jerk cynics mistake professionalism and a bit of showmanship for manipulation as soon as it comes to music, eh?

  13. Your post actually reminded me of a Kid Rock quote:
    “If it looks good, you’ll see it.
    If it sounds good, you’ll hear it.
    If it’s marketed right, you’ll buy it.
    But…if it’s real, you’ll feel it”
    I would have never thought Never Say Never would have such great lessons but musicians are great teachers…
    Thanks for the post!

  14. Mecha,
    I assume your first sentence is sarcastic, and I think it points to the fact that no one really wants to follow a household cleaner product. Their only hope to use social media effectively, is to make it personable. Start using internal social media and find someone in their organization that brings a real personality to the brand. Let them become a spokesperson.
    Even then, it is very possible that no one will care, but it is one of the few paths to long term success in social media for a less than exciting consumer product.

  15. While I know zippo about the music industry, Mitch, your blog captivated me for a couple of reasons: (1) your own willingness to be real (starting with a true confession, admitting to tearing up unexpectedly) and (2) your take on social media as, plain and simple, a way to allow for “real interactions between real human beings.” I’ve had — and written about — my own love/hate relationship with Twitter et. al. Today you’ve tipped the scales for me in their favor.

  16. There’s been a lot of noise about Bieber in the marketing/content generation industries of late. Maybe if his music career doesn’t pan out, Bieb will have a shot at being a PR pro. He’s certainly got the goods to back it up, and there’s definitely a lesson at successful strategy for us all to take heed of here.

  17. See? Now this is why I named you one of my “Brain Crushes” over on Gini Dietrich’s blog…
    My DD loves Bieber so it was inevitable that I would see this movie. And I loved it. It’s a real rags to riches story, driven by, among other things, social media.
    But when I see Bieber now? The ‘thing’ that made him so likeable to his fan base was his honesty..years later his handlers have made him sound so much more scripted..taking away that authenticity. It will be interesting to see how much they mess with the ‘real thing’…
    Another great post…and shana tova..

  18. It sure was Josh (but not in this sentence FYI).
    And you’re right – if you look at a corporation as a person, far too many are devoid of any personality (real personality). What’s needed is to bring the company and associated brand(s) to life and be who they are in an honest and open way. If your company is a jerk, I guess you just set-up those social channels for rolls of paper towel and keep things dry.

  19. I had no idea this movie was going to be so good. My kids wanted to watch it so I sat down with them to make sure it was appropriate. Next thing I knew I was completely captivated by the movie.
    Seeing how Justin and his team worked to get where they are now is an inspiration. Justin’s talent would not be enough without his work ethic. And there’s something to be learned from what his team did for him to promote his career through social media. They built a tribe… authentically
    Lot’s of companies make use of social media with “making money” in mind instead of building relationships with their potential market. There’s the automation of tweets and the likes which defeats the purpose of building rapport with your people. Most either don’t get the idea of social networking or are just in the rush to build their company and would rather opt for quick fixes that don’t work nor last.
    It was nice to see how a real phenomenon was built using social media. Two thumbs up

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