We Generate is a fast-growing ‘digital growth partner’ working with artists, managers, labels, brands and influencers to build audiences and generate unique opportunities through its own network of social media brands as well as a global network of third party relationships.
In the past, We Generate – which runs offices in London, Los Angeles and Hong Kong – has worked with esteemed music industry brands such as APG, Atlantic Records, Columbia Records, Parlophone, Polydor and Virgin Records, driving targeted online campaigns for big name artists.
Recent examples include its work with Lady Gaga, with We Generate brought in to amplify comeback single Stupid Love to LGBTQ+ audiences, which the company says it achieved via creator and meme content across Instagram and TikTok.
We Generate has also worked on recent campaigns for stars such as Selena Gomez (in the UK), plus the BRIT Award-winning Celeste, in addition to helping ensure a memorable co-appearance by Charlie Puth and Jennifer Aniston on US TV show Ellen (pictured) went viral.
The company’s roots lie in owned social media brands ,including meme machine Pubity, which currently boasts over 22m followers on Instagram and more than 30m across platforms. Another of the firm’s fast-growing , meme-focused platforms – Memezar – has attracted over 52m Likes (and 1.7m followers) on TikTok.
Increasingly, however, it is partnering with managers and labels to create bespoke campaigns, built on deep data insight and focused on ROI – forensically targeting audiences according to where artists are in their careers and, more importantly, where they want to get to.
Co-founders Joshua Brandon and Luka Zak combine experience in management and A&R (Brandon) with expertise in brands, media and marketing (Zak).
Here they tell MBW about We Generate’s approach, the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the digital/social marketing space – and their future goals as a company…
What prompted you to found We Generate?
Joshua Brandon: I had just left a company that had an influencer division and I could see all these brands coming to people who had huge profiles, while acts we looked after there with millions of records being sold were falling behind on followers and, subsequently, deals.
So we had the idea to build out a network of social media brands and accounts that we could build our talent’s profiles further with. We established some new account brands and niches, very quickly amassing tens of millions of followers and leading the charge on huge meme accounts.
“as things developed we realised there was a huge opportunity where I thought we could really add value back into the music industry through a more detailed offering.”
Joshua Brandon, We Generate
Our relationship with music was initially quite surface, not much strategy in there, just being paid for adverts and posts. But as things developed we realised there was a huge opportunity where I thought we could really add value back into the industry through a more detailed offering, filling some gaps where maybe labels had felt burned by less professional competitors of ours, by providing reliable results and being the conduit between them and accounts.
Now we have a team that works across the US, UK and Asia, across all platforms, getting really experimental with things. Some labels are so ready to tackle how the industry uses digital media to win and it’s great when we can add value to that ambition.
There are now probably more creative digital agencies than there are record shops in the world. In that environment, how do you stand out?
Luka Zak: We don’t really see ourselves in the same way. There is a lot of noise in this space, for sure, but we are essentially a digital growth partner and we have a pretty unique understanding of that.
We help brands make bold decisions from the data insights we capture. Not only do we have excellent partnerships with some of the biggest influencers in the industry, we worked our own social accounts to a reach of over 50 million people.
To stand out, you need to be able to analyse user behaviour data and forecast the future performance of social channels and campaigns. Analysing a campaign’s performance once it’s over is no longer enough to survive in this space. No two days are ever the same and subsequently no two strategies can be either.
Can you tell us about the digital brands you have created and own yourself, and why they are an important part of your arsenal?
JB: Our lead accounts, Pubity and Memezar, have over 40 million cross-platform followers and we now work with thousands of different creatives and other account owners, bringing them work as well as helping them develop their own offerings.
The numbers are astounding really when you start talking about billions of impressions. The pages are a huge part of how we got here and they really taught us that depth of strategy and quality of content in this space is everything. It’s what makes campaigns stand out.
Selling advertising space on a page is one thing, and for some people that’s all they want us for. However, being a part of the overall campaign strategy and understanding a whole new marketing sector that helps people then get a better ROI is how we can make a name for ourselves.
We’re still learning, everyone is, but these pages have given us access to insights and data way before anyone else could see what was happening in this area and that’s put us ahead of the game.
What are the most important digital platforms for breaking new artists right now – and why?
LZ: YouTube has long been considered the destination for music – and for a significant amount of time, that has been undisputed. Over the past few years, there has been a steep rise in music pages on Instagram, especially since Instagram extended the length of videos from 15 seconds to one minute, and then again following the introduction of IGTV, meaning artists can upload a full song or multiple songs.
The most recent example is in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, recording artists and musical institutions have been taking advantage of Instagram’s Live Stream function, giving fans at home the chance to listen to both their favourite artists or form relationships with aspiring artists during the social surge seen during the lockdown period.
Many would argue 2019 and 2020 belong to TikTok when it comes to breaking new artists. The charts are awash with artists whose music has become ‘TikTok famous’, in addition to those who have enjoyed their music resurfacing on the platform and subsequently breaking into the charts.
“Development acts are quickly building followings on TikTok, using the platform as a vehicle to land record deals with labels, who, in turn are looking to transfer the success of the platform to mainstream radio.”
Luka Zak, We Generate
Development acts are quickly building followings on TikTok, using the platform as a vehicle to land record deals with labels, who, in turn are looking to transfer the success of the platform to mainstream radio.
A winning strategy for any new artist is to review where their fans are most likely to engage with them by monitoring their own data insights on each of their platforms.
For example, Instagram has a very active network of teen pages that take content from TikTok and repurpose for Instagram. These pages have a strong female following (on average 75%) with 67% aged 13-24. The majority of posts are music based, with music selections ranging from pop to hip hop.
There is a huge opportunity to work with macro influencers who create native posts on TikTok using their music and then cross promote onto these pages.
Can you talk us through some of the music-specific campaigns you’ve managed in the last year or so?
LZ: There have been so many, which I’m proud to say have all been successful in different ways. We’ve done takeovers of owned accounts with user generated content for the artist AJ Mitchell, where followers of the accounts submitted their own videos aligning with the messaging of the song with the audience voting on their favourites.
We ran a similar campaign for the UK Afrobeat group NSG, leveraging an existing dance trend amongst their fan base to get audiences of huge global accounts to submit their own version of the dance.
“We’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the biggest recording artists in the world, from Lady Gaga to Young NBA and Charlie Puth.”
Luka Zak, We Generate
A small activation for Selena Gomez at the start of the year with her track Rare resulted in not only our immediate network posting to their channels but a further four global meme accounts re-posting organically due to the strength of the content we created.
More recently we have supported Alec Benjamin’s full catalogue. In just over two months, we’ve generated over 35 million views for Alec, resulting in an exponential growth on both his social and streaming, helping his track Oh My God impact radio in the US.
We’ve also had the pleasure of working with some of the biggest recording artists in the world, from Lady Gaga to Young NBA and Charlie Puth.
How important is data to labels and managers right now – and how trustworthy is it?
JB: I think the creative element and data are more intertwined than ever. Every aspect of the process from artist development, to A&R, to marketing are all focused on data.
Social media and streaming have both really pushed that forward in the level of detail you can go into and I feel that the data can be trusted a lot more than it could be when people used to fake followers more and manipulate numbers for perception. The only way to build a long lasting business is to use data to create genuine fanbases and customers that are going to get behind a release or major event.
“Data will tell you exactly where your audience is, which platforms to focus on, what the style the audience will engage with and more.”
Luka Zak, We Generate
LZ: Absolutely. Data is paramount. It’s needed at every stage of music’s promotion lifecycle. Data will tell you exactly where your audience is, which platforms to focus on, what the style the audience will engage with and more.
How trustworthy comes back to the point of driving business value. Does the data that is being supplied help with your business objectives? i.e. is the music charting and streaming well? Data certainly can’t be held accountable if a track doesn’t perform, it’s there to support and, if used in the right way, will help the label achieve what they set out to.
You mention basing campaigns on data analytics and insights – what is your edge in those areas?
LZ: We have the edge because our clients know that their spend is going a lot further. We have built, run and maintained one of the biggest accounts on Instagram and now one of the fastest growing on TikTok.
This consistent demonstration of expertise isn’t by luck, it’s by spending countless hours studying data insights and focusing in the areas where the data is telling us to. We invest in people who share not only our vision but an innate ability to deliver results with minimum wastage.
We apply the same ethos to our campaigns. We won’t simply run marketing on accounts that have big audiences if they have small engagement, or if they are targeting the wrong age group or gender.
How has the current pandemic changed the game in terms of the importance of digital marketing, or the methods, or the style, or what clients need from you?
JB: Massively. It’s changing the world completely. On a micro level we saw engagement double, triple, then dip, then settle. Trends and viral content are blowing up then getting old much quicker than normal, with people getting over saturated across different platforms. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster.
I’m so grateful we can be a help to people through that, and for people who have given us more of a chance as a result of the need for creative ways to market their releases.\
“On a micro level we saw engagement double, triple, then dip, then settle [during the pandemic lockdown].”
Joshua Brandon, We Generate
Only time will tell where the world ends up, but I think we will continue to see businesses like ours become increasingly important.
At a macro level, digital marketing was already predicted to top $200 billion [in annual spend] by 2025. That’s certainly been accelerated by the current pandemic.
What are your goals for the rest of 2020 and beyond?
LZ: 2020 has been a strange year. We have experienced our busiest ever period, but with the current climate, it’s hard to truly celebrate that.
Fortunately, we had already put quite a progressive structure in place due to the nature of the business. We already have team members strategically placed all around the world, working remotely, as it gives local knowledge of their respective social marketing landscape and gives us the opportunity to service clients around the clock.
Our goals are to continue delivering the results, keeping ourselves one step ahead of the social trends and curves and being able to provide counsel to our clients that helps them achieve their own goals and objectives. If we continue to do that, we will continue to scale our own team.
We have huge aspirations for this company, but we know there is a long way to go and a continued focus on quality of service first and foremost is the only way we will get there.Music Business Worldwide