Marketers can learn a lot about teens by following the pop charts. Sure, they’ll know what music is hot and what’s not, but they can also pick up a few tips about branding. In music, as in marketing, image is everything. Lately, the coolest image a band or brand can project is that of just being itself.
Social media has brought fans and brands closer together than ever because the connection they forge is personal. Fans thrill over seeing pictures of celebs and beauty icons without makeup, reading the uncensored story of what bands are doing on the road via their Twitter accounts, and even getting behind-the-scenes looks at the offices of their favorite brands on Tumblr. They’ve come to expect such access — they want to know the real you.
In late 2011, Iggy Azalea rose to fame when she posted some videos of herself freestyle rapping on YouTube. They were a huge hit, and she seemed poised to become the next young star discovered via the power of social media. She has talent, and she has some impressive connections in the industry. But listening to her rap about “Murda Bizness” with T.I., something is off — it isn’t real. She projects an image of thug life, but she grew up on a ranging property in small-town Australia. The effect is the equivalent of listening to a great cover band — they do a good job of representing the sound, but they obviously didn’t “live” the music. In recent months, Azalea’s music career has stalled a bit as critics and listeners call her out for being fake or sounding “forced, as if she’s creating a voice that is just for her records.”
Demi Lovato ran into a similar problem of invention vs. authenticity when she began her career releasing albums under the perfectly polished persona of a Disney Channel star. She was a middling act. But when that veneer crumbled and fans got a glimpse of the girl behind the music, her singing career took off. No doubt her agents and reps worried that a teen star doing a stint in rehab would scare away fans (and parents). Instead of sweeping her personal life under the rug, however, Lovato opened up about her past and spoke honestly about her issues. She let her fans see the real her — in interviews and in her music — which is why her fans feel such a deep connection with her, and she with them.
Some stars manage to get it right from the start, such as Taylor Swift, who currently tops the Billboard Hot 100 chart. She’s maintained her good girl image throughout her career because that’s who she is. She may be occasionally criticized for her lack of “edginess” and being so squeaky clean, but if she had tried to infuse her music with a cutting tone, it simply wouldn’t fit, and her audience would have noticed that the image wasn’t genuine.
The issue with inventing an image instead of being oneself is that today’s fans want to know everything about their favorite bands — and brands. They’ll research their origins, read all the interviews, and follow every word they say on social media. They don’t mind digging up news about their favorite stars making mistakes — when handled right, it can even make them more relatable — but if their idol’s back-story and image don’t match up, that just makes them fake.
Teens, in particular, have a fine-tuned sense for knowing when someone is trying too hard to be something they’re not. After all, they’re fully engulfed in the process of figuring out who they are, trying on various personas to see what fits and feels right and making adjustments on the way to self-actualization. And they can tell what fits and feels right for celebs and brands.
While brands aren’t people, fans still want to know the back-story of the brands they’re passionate about. Sharing that history helps fans discover the personality behind the products and creates a deeper connection with fans when the story is authentic and honest. It takes a lot of self-confidence and self-awareness for a star to present their real selves on stage, and the same is true for a brand connecting with its audience. But pulling back the curtain and showing fans and followers the real you has its rewards.