5 Marketing lessons from Jazz Musicians

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Keeping true to the spirit of improvisation that’s of the essence in jazz music, I was inspired to talk about marketing as if squeezed through a blue note. Like jazz, marketing has had its share of major evolutions, countless variations and unlimited interpretations. But jazz shows us that you have to hold true to your core ideas and start from there. Here are five of the best parallelisms between jazz and marketing as exemplified through several of the genre’s finest.

Jazz1. “The most important thing I look for in a musician is whether he knows how to listen.”Duke Ellington

Marketing today is no longer a one way channel, especially with the proliferation of social media channels and 360 degree engagement. The ability to listen to your consumers and prospects has become such a valuable asset that is exponentially growing in importance.

2. “Master your instrument. Master the music. And then forget all that BS and just play.”Charlie Parker

Strategic frameworks are always important and planning is irreplaceable, but nothing can substitute the tangible and intangible that creativity and agility brings to the table. A good marketer is good partly because he knows how to follow the framework, but what makes him truly great and separates him from the rest of the flock is the ability to adapt to any given situation (however dire it may be) and the ability to to improvise from such a vantage point.

3. “It’s taken me all my life to learn what not to play.” Dizzy Gillespie

The world of marketing always has too many things going on at the same time. You are saturated with too many channels and options while having too little time. Marketers must learn to prioritize. The ability to decide what matters most and focus your time, energy and resources on it are much prized assets.

4. “You can play a shoestring if you’re sincere.” John Coltrane

Contrary to popular belief, constraints (in whatever form they come in) are good because they stretch the limits of creativity. Be it in terms of budget or media, a good marketer can turn these limitations into their favour.

5. “I can’t stand to sing the same song the same way two nights in succession. If you can, then it ain’t music, it’s close order drill, or exercise or yodeling or something, not music.”Billie Holiday

The marketing scene is saturated with copycats and the accompanying infectious mind-sets. There are too many ‘me-too’ marketing initiatives out in the wild. But it’s an open secret that the best practices in marketing are not always the best things for you to copy mainly because the context of two products can’t be the same. It’s like trying to say that free jazz and soul is exactly the same banana. They aren’t.

To conclude this free-flowing, “easy speaking” mash-up between jazz and marketing in true jazz fashion with an encore:

“Risk is at the heart of jazz. Every note we play is a risk.” Steve Lacy

No matter how well-structured and thought-through your marketing plan is, every act is a risk and there is no way to predict the outcome. Embrace the ambiguity and everything will flow as smoothly as John Coltrane’s Blue Train. Now that’s what I call jazz!

This article was originally posted at Paulwriter.com.

Paul Writer believes that there is a rich pool of innovation in B2B industries and all that is required for this potential to be unlocked is marketing. Founded by Jessie Paul, author of No Money Marketing, Paul Writer aims to be a membership platform that provides B2B marketers resources, research, insights, benchmarks and tools that will make their professional lives simpler, more efficient and richer. And make their social networking more relevant.


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February 16, 2011

Asuthosh Nair

Thanks for the comment. Would be nice to see marketing adopt a more free-flow and improvisatory approach, rather than stick to strictures.

February 15, 2011

Andrea Edwards

I love this perspective - really great and so very true!