Classical music is just that— classic. Painstakingly crafted (it’s estimated that Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony took a very deliberate nine years to compose) and scripted down to the minutest detail, each classical performance is mainly an exercise in trying to match the exact score in the composer’s head with as little deviation as possible. Whether London, Vienna, or The Met, classical performances adhere to the original notes on the page for the most part. 

Then there’s Jazz. Legendary pianist Herbie Hancock tells a story of how the even-more-legendary Miles Davis, whom Hancock accompanied for decades, would sometimes not even call out the tune. He’d simply call out a key and then begin playing— and expect everyone to follow in their own way

Here are some lessons today’s marketing band leaders can learn from.

Stay in the Moment

Sometimes things don’t go according to plan. During one performance with Davis, Miles was in the middle of one of his intense, beautiful trumpet solos when Hancock played what he very definitely considered the wrong note. For those of you who don’t know, Miles could be considered “intense,” and Hancock was justifiably concerned about reprisals. That made it all the more surprising when, rather than being rebuked for what he considered a cringe worthy note, Miles paused for less than a second before changing what he was playing to make Hancock’s note appropriate — “cool” even. 

The Mobile-First world most modern marketers operate in today much more closely mirrors free-flowing Jazz than the somewhat more formulaic “Classical” marketing of even a few years ago. It’s an entirely different paradigm. It’s real-time versus timeless. The most successful marketers are more agile “performers” than theoretical “composers” that script plans out in very fine detail. Technically proficient and broadly imaginative, today’s CMOs “make it up as they go along” based on experience, preparation, and most critically, having a trained ear for what’s going on around them right now.

In speaking with the CMO of a very large organization the other day, we laughed at how things used to be— how much time there was in retrospect between “notes.” Querying a database, sourcing a list, scrubbing it, appending more data to it if you could, creating a message (almost invariably delivered via email), sometimes even testing the message in focus groups, before finally pushing it out (usually the same email to the entire list at the same time—maybe personalizing the name in the salutation field) typically took months with weeks between each sequential step. 

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Make Every Night Like Carnegie Hall

Mozart may have had nine years to compose his masterpiece, but most CMOs don’t have nine weeks to demonstrate impact!

Today, rehearsals are few and far between. You’re playing to a paying audience nearly from Day One. Making the challenge even greater, the audience itself is part of the performance. In this new era, the customer plays a note— downloads your app, drops something in your website shopping cart, posts something on your Facebook page or Twitter feed…and you need to respond right now. You cannot deliberate on every interaction.

On a piano, there are approximately 144 different chords. There are easily that many reactions a marketer can take in response to a customer’s action. Sending an email is but one. Play that same note over and over and your career may be short-lived. More typically, it will be a push notification, an offer, an immersive experience, a Thank You, a satisfaction survey… The delivery mechanism will be the mobile device more often than not, but could be any channel, really. 

So, like Herbie Hancock, today’s CMO has to be on his or her game all the time, ready for anything.

Harmony, Not Chaos

Of course, there’s a basic framework to operate within—the song structure, if you will. Those are generally governed by a rules-engine— a technologically enhanced version of the classic B-School decision tree. The difference is, today’s “if the customer takes x action, we deliver response y” is done in milliseconds.

Miles himself would be proud.

The notion that Marketing is highly engineered and linear like Classical music seems somewhat stiff and dusty today. Customers don’t move from A to B to C, under the scripted orchestration of their marketing conductors. Marketers only thought that (if they ever really believed it at all) because there was no evidence to the contrary.

Today there is.

By observing the data, we know customers can and do follow a circuitous first Q then H then C then B and finally S pattern. 

People don’t talk about your brand or product around the water-cooler beyond your earshot as they once did. They do it in social media in plain view of millions or more-- all recorded for posterity. Similarly, they don’t tell people what they think only when asked by a friend, coworker or neighbor; they initiate the review very publicly (and often very theatrically). Marketers don’t wait to find out which customers made a purchase in a batch upload of credit card transactions delivered and analyzed weeks or months post-purchase. They get a beacon ping before the customer has even entered the front door. Each of these notes impacts the next note to be played.

The customer kicks the tune off with his or her actions. Where it goes from there is largely up to you.

To that end, Marketers are certainly advised to lead customers where you want them to go, but realize that more often than not you’ll be doing so at their cadence, according to their preferences (not just yours). They pay the band. They call the tune. Having a certain tempo and melody in mind is good. Having a specific series of notes that only work when played in a certain, rigid order is setting yourself up for failure.

Miles may have been forgiving. Your customers may not be. 

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