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What Middle-Aged Marketers Can Learn from Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber

By Ira Kalb
Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber burst on the scene in 2008 from seemingly nowhere. Now they are everywhere. Justin is visiting talk shows, such as David Letterman, to promote his just-released movie Never Say Never, and Lady Gaga was interviewed on 60 Minutes.

Both were featured performers on the recent Grammy Awards and have huge followings on Twitter. At last count, Lady Gaga has over 8.2 million followers, and Justin is not far behind with just over 7.3 million. While many predicted they would both flame out by now, they are just getting bigger and bigger.

Why should marketing executives everywhere be paying attention to these young pop stars?

Even though their approaches to branding are different, both know how to plant their brand images in the minds of their target audience.

Bieber: A Consistent Icon

The first brand element people notice is Bieber's mop-top silky blond hair. It has become his signature, and it works really well with his target audience--young girls and their parents (who prefer their kids emulate the wholesome, innocent-looking Bieber than the cast of Skins or Jersey Shore.)

Of course, Bieber is not as innocent as he appears. He is a very clever young man that studies the branding elements of other pop idols, such as Elvis, the Beatles, and Michael Jackson. And he knows how to protect his carefully crafted image with a surprising degree of sophistication. When a hacker from Turkey hacked into his Twitter account and made his followers go to zero, Justin tweeted:

"So I woke up here in LA and Twitter has been hacked. Turns out I am no longer popular. He then added... "Hackers, I send a warning ... u have now p***** off over 2 million teenage girls. They are more dangerous than Navy Seals."

Lady Gaga: Being Outrageously Different

In contrast to Bieber's sameness, Lady Gaga continuously surprises. Her followers delight in seeing her look, dress, and act differently every time she appears in public. She is unique, interesting, and outrageous. One day she is wearing a meat dress and the next she is wearing what looks like scaffolding. People look forward to her next appearance. She is able to pull off being outrageous because she is really talented. As a classically trained musician, she can play the piano, sing, and put on a great performance. She delights her audience by being unexpected.

What They (and All Great Brands) Have In Common: Unique "Keys"
As different as Bieber and Lady Gaga appear, they both use unique "keys," or product images, that fit the "locks," or unfilled needs, of their target audiences. While some may dismiss them as short-lived "gimmicks," both stars have built followings that are growing at an accelerating pace (some may recall that the first Apple computer was dismissed by HP as a toy in 1976).

What are the lessons to be learned from these 17- and 24-year-old pop stars? Good branding comes in forms but always has in common the identification of a target audience that has a need and the creation of a unique product image that fills that need better than competitors.

How do you think you might apply this lesson to your company or product line?

Ira Kalb is president of Kalb & Associates, an international consulting and training firm, and professor of marketing at the Marshall School of Business at University of Southern California (USC). He has won numerous awards for marketing and teaching, authored ten books and over 30 articles, created marketing inventions that have made clients and students more successful. He is frequently interviewed by various media for his expertise in branding, crisis management and strategic marketing.

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Image courtesy of flickr user, Domain Barnyard

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