It might be hard to believe looking at me now, but a full-time music career and pursuit of rock-and-roll stardom preceded my foray into marketing and public relations. That’s me in the center down there…looking too cool for school.
But what I learned as a starving artist back in the early 90s taught me the basics of nearly everything I do today as a marcom professional. In order for us to survive, it was all about promotion…and I mean, literally, “survive.” Here, then, are the 11 lessons I look back on and draw upon even today (musicians always “go to 11”):
1.) Video killed the radio star. The birth of MTV in the early 80s totally reshaped the music industry. Video gave adoring fans instant access to the personalities behind the music, and labels had to rethink the way they packaged their artists. It was not enough to sound good anymore, you had to visually appeal to your fans, and give them a side of you the music couldn’t otherwise convey. Brands and B2B marketers need to do the same. Video conveys personality, passion and persona far better than the written word, yet many businesses are slow to leverage the power of what can be extremely affordable video communications.
2.) Nothing travels faster than word of mouth. Good or bad, word of mouth will travel faster than your ability to control the message. If your band had a lousy live performance, people would scorch you. If you rocked live, your following would quickly grow. The same goes for social media today. People are talking about brands all day on social media. Are you listening? Are you engaging with the conversants? Are you keeping up with word of mouth?
3.) Publicity is platinum. Record reviews, live show write-ups and artist profiles were invaluable to the indie artist (in an era before the emergence of social media). Get your band in the press, and you would gain instant credibility and raised recognition. No one needed to know that you as the artist peddled your CD around with free pizzas to get access to the reporter…and no one needs to know a PR firm is behind the scenes generating your company’s publicity today.
4.) Constant contact. Third-party and indirect communications are clever and vital, and all…but never discard the power of direct communications. Back then, it was the periodic mailing with upcoming tour dates, sent via postcard to our database. Today, this can take many forms, from e-blasts and newsletters to compelling print communications artfully designed and packaged…all of which will serve to keep your company top-of-mind among current and prospective customers.
5.) You’re nothing without a database. Pursuant to the above, you simply MUST maintain a current database of vital contacts, including customers, prospects, referral sources, vendors, associates and friends of the firm. It sounds simple and self-evident, but you’d be shocked how many companies we talk to who have absolutely no database established. This is like planning a concert and not telling anyone about it. Or sending out a show announcement without mailing labels. (I would know…my keyboardist tried it once.)
6.) Advertising works. That is, if you have a measurable call to action. (Image advertising also works, but is a lot more difficult to measure.) The grunt work of being in a band performing at college towns in the early 90s included the exhaustive process of “flyering the gig.” This meant illegally adorning every tree, streetlight, kiosk and powerline pole on campus with flyers promoting the gig at the local bar. How did we know they work? On the flyers, we asked people to mention the “free shots” at the bar upon arrival. The bar owner didn’t care much for the tactic, but we knew the flyers were working.
7.) Your fans will do your bidding for you. If truly engaged, your fans become your greatest asset. They aren’t afraid to tell their friends how awesome your band is, but you might be. Brands, by the same token, need to empower their “fans.” Give them a place to gather (social media communities like Facebook and LinkedIn), let them engage with you so that they feel like part of a movement (Twitter and other social media), give them tools to spread the word on your behalf (sharable content on your website and public content communities such as SlideShare, YouTube and Flickr). Most small companies today ignore social media as a marketing strategy. Big mistake.
8.) If you can’t get signed, put out your own CD. The barrier to entry for a local band was the ever-elusive record contract. Without it, no one could get to the music, at least not on a large scale. So many local bands simply recorded their own CDs, distributed them independently, and grew their followings organically. Today, companies perceive a barrier to mass communications being the difficulty in engaging a mass media outlet to spread the word about an event or other news story. But content communities like YouTube, Flickr…and the sheer breadth of the Internet’s reach allow any brand to be a mass communicator. They have the option of simply creating the content themselves and using the available online channels to spread the word. Like the local indie artists, nothing is stopping them but their own imaginations, budgets and level of commitment.
9.) Not all bands should toot horns. All of the marketing in the world won’t work if you’re not honest about what you’re selling. Marketing is often spin, but it can’t be spun out of control. Social media is keeping brands more and more honest these days. Keep that in mind when you’re communicating your product’s or service’s strengths to your key audiences. It’s like the band that uses studio tricks and effects to make their album sound masterfully polished…but then can’t pull it off live. You WILL get found out.
10.) Grow your hair out and wear second-hand clothes. Brands need to be known for something—big brands and small businesses alike. In music-artist terms, you need to have an “image.” Do some in-depth soul searching to discover what yours is—and what you want it to be—then carefully craft that message for all to behold. Preach that message internally, and live it always externally. Be consistent, and be recognizable.
11.) Have fun. Life’s too short to sweat the small stuff. In other words, “Rock on!”