Marketing Lessons From Justin Bieber

“Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a Belieber.”

It doesn’t get much worse. The comedians had a field day on TV & Twitter with that one over the weekend, as they should have. But I’ll minimize the moralizing and tell you why this matters to you.

Justin meets up with the legacy of an astounding young woman who was mercilessly slaughtered along with most of her family.  Through the writing she leaves behind, Anne Frank survives not only as a personification of unspeakable genocide, but as an enduring symbol of hope and the human spirit.

And Justin thinks it’s all about him.

Still, we can forgive him. He’s a kid who’s lived in a bubble most his whole life. Hopefully, he’ll get it one day. But do you get it? Now?

Marketers, not unlike celebrities such as Justin Bieber, live inside their own bubbles as well. Whether you own your business or you’re a hired hand, much of your life revolves around work.  So it’s easy to buy into the illusion that all that matters in the world is new Brown Rice & Wheat Triscuit, for example.

You know, they sound good. Maybe I’ll buy a box. But it’s just a snack, not world peace, not an end to hunger, not social justice. Their webpage tells me to “keep up with us on Facebook,” “join the conversation on Twitter,” and “see what we’re pinning on Pinterest.”

Think I’ll pass. I have a life, thank you very much.

I wouldn’t say hubris is at work with Justin Bieber or Triscuit. They just don’t get it. I might follow Triscuit on Twitter if they were doing something to mitigate world hunger or making some other meaningful contribution to the world at large or to my world in particular. If Bieber had talked about the inspiration he received from Anne Frank rather than imagining her as his fan, and possibly donated a percentage or proceeds from his next album to a high profile, related cause, the media conversation would have gone an entirely different way.

When celebrities overstep their bounds, there’s a huge media backlash. When brands overstep their bounds, i.e., make the mistake that their customers actually care more than they should, there is more likely to be a deafening media silence.

Only a handful of brands truly stir passions. These are generally not snacks, breakfast cereals, soft drinks or frozen foods. Nor are they brands that are sold on deal over half the time, i.e., nearly everything in the supermarket or department store.

It’s hard enough to win market share in a cutthroat environment characterized by ephemeral brand loyalty. So before you ask your user base to follow you, be sure to give them something to follow you for. And that has to be something more substantive than a slogan. “Triscuit, it’s snacking good,” doesn’t even cut it as reason to buy the product. Like Justin Bieber talking about Anne Frank as a fan, they seem to have it backwards. They’d be better off following the interests of their consumers before expecting any of their consumers to follow them.

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