The Press,  May 2010

Canadian teenage pop sensation Justin Bieber took New Zealand by storm recently. Biebermania underlines the marketing fundamental that presentation counts, but also suggests substance is critical to long term success.

For some reason New Zealand seemed to stop when the diminutive pop star flew in, with TV media as fascinated by him as the thousands of screaming teenage girls who followed him around. Bizarrely he was headline news on TV3.

Like so many before him – think The Spice Girls, Britney Spears or Hanson – Bieber is a manufactured star, carefully shaped to become famous.

According to a New York Times article his producer Scooter Braun had a deliberate strategy of promoting Bieber through ‘home-made’ looking videos on the internet. “We’ll give it to the kids, let them do the work, so that they feel like it’s theirs.” Fake ‘authenticity’ in other words, which fits with a sculptured image.

It has worked. When his January 2010 hit “Baby”, basically a song involving him repeating Oh Baby Baby over and over in his high pitched squeak, debuted  on Billboard 200 in the US, he was the youngest star to achieve this since Stevie Wonder in 1963.

The Bieber phenomenon shows the importance of image, which study after study bear out.

A recent study published in the Harvard Business Review involved academics studying a group of executives at a party, recording their tone of voice, gestures and how they mixed with others. A few days later the executives presented business cases to a panel of judges in a contest. The academics predicted who would do well based purely on their study of the original party; they didn’t see the presentations or read the cases. Their predictions were 87% correct, underlining how crucial that ability to present oneself is – whether as an individual or a company.

Or what about the importance of beards? A study from the Journal of Marketing Communications in the US recently found that men in advertisements with neat beards are deemed more credible than clean shaven ones. Participants in the study thought men with beards had more expertise about the product and could be trusted more. Impressions count when you are trying to sell something.

A final piece of evidence is the recent announcement of the Australian government about cigarette packaging. From 2012 cigarette packs will only be sold as plain, with no manufacturer’s markings or logos. The government understands how important that presentation is to buyers and have tried to remove another enticement to buy. As a tobacco company spokeswoman was quoted as saying “Introducing plain packaging just takes away the ability of a consumer to identify our brand from another brand, and that’s of value to us.”

So will presenting your company and its products powerfully and professionally deliver huge commercial success? Is that all marketing is about – slick presentation of your image? All good presentation does is give you an opportunity to compete in a market, it is what you then deliver to a customer on a consistent a basis that ensures ongoing success and sales.

It’s like comparing Justin Bieber to music legends U2. The presentation of the durable Irish band is just as sharp as the Canadian newbie- but they have kept on delivering for over 30 years. Bieber comes across well to his fans, but he’ll have to keep on delivering the hits to stay in the limelight and pulling in the earnings.

How do you create a strong projection of your brand?

First is understanding how an image is built in the customer’s mind. Their impressions are not based on a single advertisement or brochure, they are an accumulation of many interactions with your organisation. The challenge is to consistently present yourself well across all many ‘touchpoints’ a customer has with your organisation.

Second is being clear about your audience. You need to project yourself quite differently depending on who you are appealing to. Is your audience CFOs at large corporate? Then they will tend to be middle-class white males who are relatively conservative, and need to be communicated to appropriately. A funky campaign with bright colours and lots of edgy images would backfire. Or perhaps it is the public health service? Decision-makers are much more likely to be women. Conservative, male oriented imagery with sombre colours wouldn’t work.

Third is being clear about your message. For example, if your differentiation is based on being the low risk approach, or the highest quality, or the cheapest, your image needs to fit with that.

Jade Software Corporation are a local example of company who have been doing this well. Last year they refreshed their ‘image’, developing a new logo, using new colours, launching a new website. Jade have effectively conveyed that they are about fresh ideas, about innovation.

They would be the first to say that this is just a start, an opportunity to compete for business. It is about delivering on the promise your image creates that builds a brand that delivers durable commercial success.

That’s the challenge for the Bieber machine. While a slick image and clever, if cynical, promotion have launched him, it will be churning out the hits year after year that will create a legacy that is more Bono than Backstreet Boys.

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