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Getting schooled in marketing: Be useful

Posted by Chad O'Connor  November 19, 2012 11:00 AM

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During Future M I had the pleasure of moderating a panel on the future of music marketing with the incredible musician, Lauren Zettler (aka I Am Lightyear), Geoff Cottrill, CMO of Converse, and Sean Rosenberg, SVP of Business Development at Indaba Media. Together these three panelists were able to bring to life examples of the immense value in facilitating the creative process and most importantly how critical it is for brands to simply be useful to their audience, users or customers.

Interestingly, the audience of our panel was made up mostly of agency representatives who, no doubt, face countless questions from clients about how to engage the audience they’ve worked to grow across digital channels and how to truly convert fan’s social actions into tangible business value. During the Q&A at the end of the session it was clear that some agencies are facing the uphill battle of convincing brands that being useful and authentic with your audience is at the root of any future conversion and that ROI is more fluid when it comes to digital fans than it was in the days of standardized ad impressions and a limited range of publications in which to buy or earn exposure.

To brands “being useful” has many definitions today depending on what platform they may be choosing to communicate with fans on, but in the case of our panel a strict definition applies. Useful: of a valuable or productive kind. Converse and Indaba Media take “adding value” to a whole other level as they don’t just speak to their fans, they give members of their core constituencies new opportunities to create art and possibly grow their careers. They’ve done this, very powerfully, together. As Geoff and Sean agreed on the panel, the reason they’ve worked together on so many campaigns is because they are truly like-minded organizations.

Indaba Media, as an entertainment technology and marketing platform, delivers its community of musicians professional opportunities that are usually tied to prizes like amazing gear, studio time, collaborations with huge name artists, etc.

Converse, especially through its Converse Rubber Tracks studio in Brooklyn, offers musicians and other creative people opportunities to simply make their art – no strings attached.

They don’t take a cut of the intellectual property created in their studios.

They don’t force them to wear or buy their clothing and shoes.

They just let them be and offer something they need – studio time in this case. Their only ask? Play your heart out. For that effort they, refreshingly, make no promises. They will gladly share an artist’s creation across their social channels, such as their 33 million Facebook Fans. It could lead to future opportunities with them or other brands but they do not guarantee fame – it would simply be a terrific byproduct.

The more I thought about the lessons from the panel the more I realized that Converse’s marketing mantra of “Be Useful” rivals that of Google’s corporate mantra, “Don’t Be Evil.” Being evil might not have been the thing you thought of when you heard Google’s name for the first time but they were already making the practice core to their business (and have tried to maintain it ever since). For Converse, the same seems true. When asked to introduce himself Geoff basically just said, “I sell sneakers.” Being useful and selling sneakers might not immediately seem to go hand in hand, however, for the brand and Geoff it came down to understanding the Converse audience and deciding how best to earn the trust and respect of their community while staying top of mind.

Lauren, the musician on the panel, validated the fact that there are tons of opportunities for musicians online but that as a musician her interest is in creating her art. She talked about her struggle with finding balance between being essentially her own digital strategist, CMO, and content director as well as finding time for the part-time job she needs to sustain herself. Yes, there are brands out there looking to break the “next big band” but they may not have a musician’s creative interests in mind. It can be hard to tell with wads of money being flashed in one’s face.

Geoff explained this principle and how Converse sees itself in the puzzle with the analogy of a cul-de-sac. He had our audience envision a circle of homes with garages and out on the sidewalk stand tons of brands with lots of money. Inside the garages are the consumers and they’re just playing music, hanging out, etc. All the brands, he said, want to be “in the garage” whether as one’s clothing of choice, instrument, beverage, you name it. Early on Converse realized that they were already in the garage. Converse had a strong brand and many people were already wearing their sneakers. They didn’t need to spend loads of money just to make people like them; they were already there. Some brands, upon realizing something like this, might still spend millions of dollars on simply trying to make more people love them. Converse instead became useful to those proud garage-dwellers. They allowed their genuine interest in the creative process to permeate their brand. While people may have been jealous that Lauren got studio time at Converse Rubber Tracks she simply told her friends and colleagues to sign up as well. The studio has been open only about a year and has seen hundreds of musicians come through its doors.

Kate Myers, Digital Producer at Arnold Worldwide, who attended the panel said to me over email after the event that, “It seems everyone wants in on the new hip thing – from fans to brands. But just like fans that supported their favorite band from small club to stadium shows, there’s something more authentic about brands that support artists' growth in a real way. When a brand like Converse lives out its mission to unleash the creative spirit to change the world, music fans and artists alike take notice.”

By partnering with Indaba Media and its 750,000 musicians already on the site, engaging with one another and the music being created, Converse was able to add even more authenticity and credibility to their Converse Rubber Tracks digital components. The Indaba Music community cares about the musicians doing the work. They understand the time it takes to re-imagine a song and record it. They understand needing time to iterate, consult friends, and share versions. By bringing the Converse Rubber Tracks music online and onto social channels in new ways Converse is now able to share the creative work they support with an even wider audience. It wasn’t made just for them, so why not spread its reach.

Music is a terrific way to engage new, digital audiences; as a content form it has a long online shelf life. Lauren noted that it was great to meet Geoff and Sean as she hadn’t truly believed that the opportunities she’d been given from the brands were real until meeting them in person. As someone who just wants to create her art it must have been so refreshing to hear their genuine interest in her creative process, the lack of smoke and mirrors in their dealings, and the intrinsic determination to simply Be Useful.

Kate Pokorny is the founder of Pluck PR.

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