Finding Inspiration in Improvisation: What Hip Brands can Learn from Jam Bands

Oct 25, 2018 • Aaron Goldman

I like jam bands. No, not stripes of preserves. And definitely not loops of material packed in to small spaces. I’m talking about musical groups that feature heavy improvisation. It all started with the Grateful Dead and continues today with Phish and Widespread Panic, among others. My favorite of all time is the Allman Brothers Band and my current fave is Tedeschi Trucks Band.

I’m going to go out on a limb (by limb) and guess that most readers are not familiar with all of these bands. Indeed, you won’t find them on the Top 40 radio charts but they’re Number 1 in a lot of people’s hearts. And they can teach marketers a thing or 2 about resonating with your audience and building lifelong fans.

Anyhow, here’s what hip brands can learn from jam bands.

Don’t play it by the book

Jam bands never play the same song the same way. Some don’t even play the same song over a 13 show run. In so doing they create massive FOMO. Unlike Taylor Swift – and no offense to Tay Tay, I love her as much as the next guy… ok, maybe not as much as this guy ­– each show is not a carbon copy from city to city on tour. Jam bands go where the winds – and audience signals – take them. To be sure, they have to have as good technical chops as any artist on the circuit, but they also have to be vulnerable enough to take risks and perform without a net. Similarly, marketing is an art and a science. In our rush to make data-driven decisions, let us not forget about the magic of creativity and the potency of authenticity in driving engagement.

It’s all about the experience

With jam bands, the studio albums barely resemble the live show experience. Tracks that are cut at 5 minutes for the “radio” extend to 30 minutes-plus on stage. Marketers must cultivate similar experiences. We can’t rely on polished brand stories or literal 6-second stories to create lifelong relationships. And we certainly can’t bet it all on a website or app. We need to create opportunities for audiences to immerse themselves in our brand vibe. These days, VR and AR are great places to “look.”

You must be a good listener

Musicians in jam bands feed off each other and the audience. They’re always tuned in. They’re reacting to the energy of the crowd. And they’re paying close attention to signals from band mates and reciprocating with subtle nods of their own. Marketers must be good listeners too. We must actively solicit and respond to customer feedback in real-time. We must also keep our ears open to internal stakeholders and share the treasure trove of insights we generate at every audience touchpoint.

OK, just like one of my favorite Allmans cuts that never wants to end, methinks I’m way over quota for this intro so I’ll do an elegant fade here.

If you dug this be sure to check out 10 Social Media Lessons from the Grateful Dead, a column I wrote for MediaPost back in 2015 after the Fare The Well send-off.

And Chicago-folk, let me know if you’ll be at any of the Phish shows this weekend in Rosemont.

Now it’s time to hit your crescendo with the rest of 4C’s Insights.

Get the rest of 4C’s Insights Volume 131 here.

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