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Buzz, the lovechild of strategic marketing and public relations, has been key in establishing street credibility for brands targeting the billion-dollar urban lifestyle market worldwide.

This market is not an urban myth. It is arguably the top luxury lifestyle to which the youth market aspires. This is the same market that has been burning an increasing sum of money on items like Phat Farm polo T-shirts at $75 (or more) a pop.

Centered around urban music stars and their lifestyles, the urban market's potential was first discovered by Russell Simmons' rap group Run DMC in 1986 with its song "My Adidas." After its release, the shoe quickly became a symbol of 1980s rap culture. More recently, even McDonald's has jumped in with the introduction of its "I'm Lovin' It" slogan. It commissioned local urban market specialists across Canada to give street cred to the slogan prior to the official launch.

If you're looking to grab buzz for your own brand, here are some key pointers for reaching urban markets:

Be exclusive: Like the urban lifestyle that so many pre-teens, teenagers and even young adults want a part of, successful buzz targeting this lucrative segment should be perceived as privileged information. Once something becomes common knowledge, it loses its buzz-worthiness, just as an urban brand is cool until it becomes commercial.

Those who have the privilege of hearing buzz feel like they belong to an elite group. So spread the buzz only to tastemakers and those next in line down the hierarchy of cool. The rest will be sure to catch on as they actively seek out trends and don't wait for trends to come to them.

Be original: If you try to imitate other successful buzz tactics, you risk having your brand perceived as the "follower." A unique brand requires unique buzz. Get your chief designer and his/her team involved; he or she absolutely understands the soul of the brand and intuitively understands how to present it in a way that resonates.

Stay true to your brand: Don't be a sell-out. For example, if your brand is firmly established as a family brand or a commercial teen brand, it may be hard to create true street credibility. The buzz could even backfire by positioning your brand as one that's trying too hard to be cool. Or it could confuse your existing customers, causing them to look elsewhere.

Know where that buzz comes from: The medium is the message when it comes to ad placement, and the same rule applies here. Some may argue that as long as the message spreads, you're doing your job. Not true. Buzz is created by word of mouth, which has a strong effect on shaping first impressions of your brand. You'll have a hard time conveying the message that your brand is "cool" if the person passing on the message isn't cool at all or if the buzz is seen as an obvious corporate ploy. Just as there are tastemakers there are also taste-killers.

Having your product or service perceived as commercial will significantly deter urban-oriented customers. As most corporations are considered commercial, the perception of the origin of the buzz is key.

Here, you have two options: Begin by giving street cred to your company, or distance yourself as much as possible from the buzz tactics. The former long-term strategy has proven to be the profitable choice of brands like Phat Farm and Rocawear, founded by hip-hop moguls Russell Simmons and rapper Jay-Z. If you're just looking to give street cred to one of your brands, the latter tactic is recommended.

Act locally: People are becoming increasingly aware of discrete marketing ploys. You cannot always rely on celebrities to act as believable tastemakers if they're seen as being in it for the money. Such celebrities don't create authentic buzz, they simply pass along a firm's message.

Local buzz and urban marketing experts know which local tastemakers to target depending on your strategy, and how local urban markets will react to different buzz tactics. If you want to do it on your own, you've got to become a credible part of the market, and start building extensive databases.

An advantage of working with local urban lifestyle specialists is that they are part of the scene and are more likely to get timely, candid feedback about your brand.

ROI of buzz marketing may be hard to quantify as it has long- and short-term effects on your brand and bottom line. But buzz marketing is essential when it comes to making sure your brand is accepted as authentic in the urban market.

Enough for now... we got to go hang with our posses.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Karl Moore is an associate professor of marketing strategy at the Faculty of Management, McGill University, Montreal, Canada.
Laura has worked in the music industry with Sony BMG, Def Jam, Soul Clap Records and a number of consumer-goods firms.