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What marketers can learn from Miles Davis April 1, 2009

Posted by Mike Gospe in Integrated Marketing.
Tags: , , ,

I’m listening to Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and pondering one of life’s deep questions: what defines great jazz?   We all know great jazz when we hear it.  But why exactly is his music so good while jazz performed by so many other musicians just don’t quite measure up?  The simple answer for me is: it’s his bands’ ability to listen to each other and the spaces between the notes.

Great jazz groups are great not only because each musician is an expert with their own instrument, but also because they know how to play as a group.  They know how to listen, to set the cadence with piano, drums, and bass while the trumpet or sax dances on notes following a spring breeze.  They know never to play over each other, but to take turns to highlight the uniqueness of each individual instrument — for example, to create space so the bass can rise above the rest and impart its own magic in the mix.  Listening and adjusting for the greater good of the tune is what it’s all about.  The star may be Miles, but do you think he discounts the value Bill Evans brings on piano?  No way.

The same goes for understanding what makes great integrated marketing campaigns.  The marketing functions are the instruments; the campaign is the tune. 

Consider a product launch campaign where “thought leadership” webinars, executive presentations, Google adwords and syndicated articles provide the cadence, just like the piano, drums, and bass.   Momentum towards the product launch date builds with direct marketing and social media commentary, just as the trumpet rings the notes of the melody.  The cadence of the piano, drums, and bass continues to nurture our ears as we prepare for the solo.  Then, with rising anticipation, a press announcement and customer event punctuate the timeline just like a euphoric saxophone solo played by John Coltrane.   Our story unfolds which each marketing vehicle being highlighted at the right time, all with a single purpose of supporting the campaign. 

For me, this lesson hit home when I joined a jazz combo group.  (I play piano, but I’m not quitting my day job.)   It’s easy to play with a group and sound crappy; playing like Miles takes dedication to check your ego at the door, listening to each other, and holding the greater good of the tune above any individual instrument.  That is the secret.

My prescription for success: take time out of your busy week to listen to your favorite jazz tune.  Listen for the spaces between the notes. And enjoy!

What’s your favorite jazz tune?


1. cindeemock - April 2, 2009

Nice analogy. Agree that it’s important for each instrument to gracefully step aside and let a fellow instrument (element ) “shine.” But it takes an entire band to create the richness that no single instrument can!

P.S. I’m a jazz fan too!

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