David Bowie can teach us about marketing

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Until the end, Bowie was nothing less than a consummate performer – even turning his death into a piece of art with the release of his last album whose song “Lazarus” was undeniably his final opus.

His intrinsic ability to manufacture drama and curate personas can only be attributed to the type of genius most of us witness only a few times in our lifetimes. Yet, with Bowie, nothing was ever forced or contrived – he embodied his characters with a rare authenticity and enthusiasm. He was a true master of marketing, and everything he touched – music, fashion or film – took on a distinct eccentricity that resonated across generations and genres.

Bowie was anything but “safe” and this was what made him so magnetic, so magical. In a time when marketing has become so data-driven and scientific, David Bowie has a lot to teach our industry about stepping outside of what is comfortable in order to give ourselves room to be great.

“Fame itself… doesn’t really afford you anything more than a good seat in a restaurant.” Q Magazine, 1990

Simply being recognizable does little for your brand. You can be recognizable for all of the wrong reasons and it won’t generate a positive ROI. Focus more on reputation and what makes you or your brand different and noteworthy.

“I suppose for me as an artist it wasn’t always just about expressing my work; I really wanted, more than anything else, to contribute in some way to the culture I was living in.”

Especially in the current era of marketing, it seems a number of brands create content just to hear the sounds of their own voice. Just as Bowie wanted more than art for art’s sake, marketers should build campaigns that bring value to consumers. Some of the best and most memorable advertising campaigns took on the voice of a generation and used it to connect with consumers (think Apple’s Macintosh advertisement).

“You know, what I do is not terribly intellectual. I’m a pop singer for Christ’s sake.”

No one likes pretentious marketing tactics. The reason that things go viral or reach larger audiences is because they don’t isolate people. They are concepts that are easy to understand, easy to remember, and easy to share – much like pop music. Use short, easy to understand sentences and words to achieve a clear and effective marketing message.

“I was virtually trying anything… And I think I have done just about everything that it’s possible to do – except really dangerous things, like being an explorer. But anything that Western culture has to offer – I’ve put myself through it.”

I’m sure Bowie never tried a PPC campaign or guerilla marketing, but the message is the same. Don’t discount a new, unusual, or scary marketing strategy. Try everything, explore new solutions, and don’t be afraid of failure.

“All my big mistakes are when I try to second-guess or please an audience. My work is always stronger when I get very selfish about it.” The Word, 2003

Don’t overthink things. When you over analyze an audience or an idea, you risk losing the genuine authenticity of the message you are trying to deliver. Stop creating problems and trust your gut.

“I’ve come to realizations that I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing half the time.”

Many of us use data to understand our customers and their motivations, but with a new platform or strategy being introduced daily, a lot of us feel like we have no idea what we are doing. Embrace the strange and learn to love being uncomfortable. The places we don’t understand are usually the places where all of the magic happens.

“Fame can take interesting men and thrust mediocrity upon them.”

As companies grow, they have the tendency to get comfortable, to fall into a routine. Routine is a dangerous thing because it means you are less likely to take chances that could actually result in something amazing for your brand. Just because something works doesn’t mean stop trying to find something else that could work better. Strive to be exceptional not acceptable.

“You can neither win nor lose if you don’t run the race.”

This sounds a lot like another piece of familiar wisdom. “Do or do not. There is no try.” Pretty self-explanatory.

“I can ask for cigarettes in every language.”

Now don’t take this as advice to go out a buy a pack of Pall Malls, but there is something to said about obsessing over something. Understand what is important to your brand, become addicted to it, and learn everything that you can about it so that it becomes second nature to your marketing efforts.

“I don’t know where I’m going from here but I promise it won’t be boring.” Madison Square Gardens on his 50th birthday.

Nothing says unsuccessful marketing campaign like being predictable. No one wants to engage with your brand if you aren’t funny, compelling, or fresh. Simply put – don’t be boring.