What Marketers Can Learn from Miles Davis

Mike Gospe
January 19, 2010 — 1,474 views  
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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 jazz musicians just doesn’t quite measure up?  The simple answer for me is this: 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.  That goes without saying.  Their greatness is defined by their ability to play as a group.  They know how to listen to each other as well as the music they collectively create.  They know how to lock in a structured rhythmic cadence with piano, drums, and bass, and yet have it feel as comfortable as a favorite sweater – all this while a trumpet or sax caresses the melody and brings the notes and phrases to life.  They know when to speed up the tempo, and when to turn down the volume.  And when it comes to soloing, they know never to play over each other because that would destroy the tune.  Too many notes played at once create chaos and confuses the ear.  Instead, they take turns highlighting the uniqueness of each instrument.  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.  It’s a partnership all the way.

The same goes for understanding what makes great integrated marketing campaigns.  The marketing functions are the instruments, with each function played by an expert.  But the campaign is the tune.

Consider a new product launch campaign that seeks to capture attention and build momentum leading up to a product introduction event.  To begin, a cadence is set where “thought leadership” webinars, executive presentations, and refreshed website content set the mood, just like a piano, drums, and bass trio.   As the product introduction date approaches, momentum builds with direct marketing and social media commentary added to the mix, just like a trumpet sounding the notes of a mesmerizing melody.   Then, with rising anticipation, a press announcement and customer event punctuate the timeline just like a euphoric saxophone solo played by John Coltrane.

Don’t confuse the campaign as being a singular product launch event.  It’s much more than that.  The campaign is a rhythm that unfolds with each marketing vehicle being highlighted at the right time, all with a single purpose of adding value to the campaign song.  For me, this lesson hit home when I joined a jazz combo group.  It’s easy to play with a group and sound crappy - just let your ego take control.  As a musician, when you let your ego take control you forget how to listen.   Playing like Miles takes the guts to check your ego at the door, and the discipline to truly listen to each other.  That’s 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!

Mike Gospe

KickStart Alliance