My colleague and business partner, Saffron Baggallay runs our training company out of our Johannesburg. She’s also our team’s resident “Gen Y” guru, and had these insights earlier this week:

On 4 June 2012 Justin Bieber became the youngest person ever to appear on the cover of Forbes magazine. He has also been ranked as Forbes’ third most influential celebrity (based on his income and fame), after Jennifer Lopez and Oprah Winfrey. If you look at the list of names on the top 100 list as of June 2012, he is also the only person listed under the age of 20. These are not the only things that Justin has pioneered. I don’t think that anybody has ever been this famous at such a young age before (the guy was only born in 1994), certainly not as a solo artist. Nor has anybody so young made so much money so quickly. Justin has personally made $108 million in the last two years; and $55 million this year, primarily through record sales and tours (157 tour dates across two dozen countries). Since 2009 he has sold 15 million albums, grossing $150 million. In a digital age, that’s pretty impressive. I don’t think any other artist has used social media tools so effectively to acquire and maintain his fame the way Justin has. Much like MTV helped launch Michael Jackson’s career; and he became the pop phenomenon of his generation, so Justin is the first social media super star and certainly the King of music for his generation.

So, here are some amazing facts about Justin:

  • @JustinBieber has 21 million Twitter followers (that’s more than anyone else on earth apart from Lady Gaga (who ranked 6th on Frobes’ top 100 list) and as Justin would say himself, Lady Gaga still had more off-line fans before on-line ones when she first started, which was the opposite for him.
  • Justin has 43 million Facebook friends, which is more than Barak Obama (the other social media phenomenon) and Mitt Romney have put together.
  • Justin’s first performance at Madison Square Gardens in New York City sold out in just 22 seconds.
  • Justin’s YouTube channel was the biggest in the world before he even had a record deal.
  • It didn’t just happen for Justin. He and manager Scooter Braun worked hard for three years to build his brand on YouTube.
  • Justin has sold 1 million bottles of his ‘One Less Lonely Girl’ nail polish.
  • Justin’s perfume Someday made $60 million worth of sales in its first 6 months.

The guy that discovered Justin (on You.Tube before all the millions of screaming girl-teens made him famous) is called Scott ‘Scooter’ Braun. It was Braun who was trawling the Internet when he happened upon the clips Justin’s young single mother uploaded for friends and family to benefit from. It was Braun who hunted this kid down in small-town Canada and it is Braun who continues to guide and manage ‘Justin the brand’.

Justin is also turning into a budding businessman and venture capitalist. Not only does he have weekly meetings with his business manager and lawyer but he has also made some savvy investments. What’s interesting about the investments, however, is that he has not been tempted to go the conventional banking and property route (and lets face it those industries are in a spot of bother in the USA at the moment). Remaining true to himself; and what he is interested in, he has backed mainly avant garde (possibly risky?) internet-based start-up businesses that Generation Y like and participate in (so will fund). For example:

  • Stamped (an app that allows you to rate stuff from restaurants to music)
  • WeTopia (a Facebook based Farmvillesque game where money can be won and donated to charity)
  • Sojo Studios (a gaming outfit)
  • Spotify (a music streaming service)

You can see the theme and the attraction. Justin has invested in things he can promote and ultimately benefit from.

So, why did (and does) the Internet work so well for Justin? Because his market spend more time and money on the Internet than anything else. Why is Justin investing in the social media space as a venture capitalist? Because it’s the space he knows, understands, is familiar with, believes in an likes. Just like his music fans.

So, what has Justin highlighted for you and your business in terms of understanding Generation Y? Hopefully he has provided you with an understanding that Gen Y use social media in every aspect of their lives (communication, buying, education) just like Gen X’s used TV and Boomers used radio (when they were young).

So, why I am talking about Justin (again!)? Because there is so much to learn about Generation Y, how to do business with them and what they can teach us, from his story. Here are some things to think about:

  • The importance of using social media and the Internet (or at least being aware of their significance) in the marketing, branding and sales; and the statistics to back this up, existed long before Justin. Justin just brought it to our attention. So now you know, what are you doing in this space for your business?
  • Everybody in your business is in the business of sales and needs to be versatile. Justin started as a musician, now he is an actor, writer, venture capitalist and most importantly a self-promoter almost equally. What are you doing to empower your employees to self-promote (or sell) themselves and your brand?
  • Loyalty amongst customers is a business imperative. Justin has incredible loyalty from the most fickle, irrationally predictable generation on earth. Why, because he understands his market. He broke into the toughest business in the world with no Disney TV show to propel him there (like other ‘kids’ like Justin Timberlake or Brittany Spears). He let his fans feel like they discovered him through social media, a modality they understand (much like Elvis used radio and television). They therefore own him; and that’s what they love about him, which is why they always will. What are you doing to understand your market? Bearing in mind that your market today is probably multifaceted with different ‘hot buttons’. Do you have a multifaceted marketing approach?
  • If brand management is dead, and your customers are the brand (which I believe is true today), what are you doing to engage with your customers; and do you even know what your brand stands for these days?
  • The secret to Justin’s sustained success is that his personal brand is organic and authentic. These are fundamentally important aspects to Generation Y and the new world of work. What are you doing to keep your brand organic and authentic?

Remember, Generation Y live in a transparent world. They know how to find out about you and they want to know if you are real. They are a powerful generation, not only because they are the biggest population group in South Africa and the world, not only because they are technologically savvy, not only because they are informed and opinionated and are fantastic networkers (so they will spread the negative or positive word about your brand), but because they have a huge influence over Baby Boomers, whose qualities they echo in many of the spaces I have mentioned above. The big difference between Baby Boomers and the baby Baby Boomers (as I have seen Generation Y called) is that the latter are younger and prettier.

But once you have engaged Generation Y don’t suddenly change your methodologies and revert back to the ‘way things have always been done’. Justin continues to post thing on YouTube, he continues to Tweet and he still spends time on Facebook with his friends (all 50 million of them!).

If you want to know more about Generation Y, contact [email protected]

TomorrowToday Global