What Musicians Can Teach Businesses About Inbound Marketing

by Dustin J. Hall | MIN READ

musicians inboundI've been a professional digital marketer for nearly a decade. But prior to my career in marketing, I was a professional drummer and band manager for several years. I toured many parts of the U.S., negotiated contracts, secured TV licensing, handled promotions, logistics, etc. And contrary to the care-free adventure people imagine the rock n' roll life being, it was grueling work. Much like being an entrepreneur, it involved a lot of sleepless nights on the computer (or in whatever coffee shop with free wi-fi you can find) trying to get people to buy into what you do. In fact, much of what I know as a marketer I originally learned as a musician.

That's right, professional musicians can teach even the most corporate marketing professionals a thing or two about great inbound marketing.

With that said, I want to share 6 fundamental marketing lessons musicians can teach any business about inbound marketing.

Music (Content) Comes First

musicians inbound marketingBefore we cover content, ask yourself this question: Have you ever bought an album or downloaded a song from a band you didn't like? Nope. Likewise, bands that make music people don't find appealing tend not to do very well. At the core of some of the most successful musicians, from the Beatles to Michael Jackson to George Straight is exceptional songwriting. And great songwriting, along with solid instrumentation, is what drives fans to buy and share their music. 

This exact same principle applies to businesses. You need great content that people will be willing to share with others. In the digital marketing world, you need this more than you need just about anything else. In fact, a 2014 study by the Content Marketing Institute shows that the most effective B2C marketers allocate 32% of their marketing budgets toward content marketing, while the least effective only allocate 10%. Without killer content, businesses are like a garage band, dreaming about someday winning the local Battle of the Bands.

Love Thy Fans

Sure there are plenty of musicians without fans out there, but can you name one (moms and spouses don't count)? Exactly. Musicians are acutely in tune (pun intended) with the fact that they can't survive without fans. Preferably lots of them. Showing love to the fans is critical because they are the only reason musicians can survive. 

And, guess what? Businesses have fans too - they're called clients, partners and employees.

And much like a band, these fans are the revenue generators of your organization. It's critical to show them love just like musicians would. I don't mean any awkward backstage activities but more like keeping them delighted with your business by recognizing them, consistently delivering content they value and taking the time to listen to them.

Related: 5 Survey Types that Boost Your Inbound Marketing Efforts

You Gotta Hit the Road

inbound-marketing-musicIn today's digital music landscape of illegal downloads and 360 deals, musicians know that if they want to make money, they can't just sit around recording in the studio all day, waiting for people to buy their music. They've gotta hit the road. Sure, there's a chance their music could go viral on iTunes or YouTube, but getting in front of people and sharing their content is the surest way to successful growth. The more time spent daydreaming and hoping their music goes viral, the less time spent paying off their mortgage. 

Businesses are no different. The odds of a blog article, video or even case study going viral are, well, close to zero. So if businesses want to be successful with inbound marketing, they too must "hit the road". The road is constructed of social media, email marketing, PPC and other channels of content promotion.

Organizations must plan on getting in front of as many people as they can. And much like musicians cut down on travel expenses by strategically organizing tour routes, businesses must also strategize the most efficient ways to route their online marketing journey through structured processes of data gathering.

Roll with the Punches

If every musician quit when somebody told them their music sucked or no one attended their concert, there would be no music in this world. Period.

One of the first things musicians learn is to roll with the punches. Not everyone is going to like the music. Not everyone will share it with all of their friends and wear the heinous sleeveless T-shirt out to parties. That's life. But it's not a good reason to quit playing music altogether.

This same philosophy applies to a business's content marketing endeavors. Not everyone is going to like your online content, or even read it for that matter. At first, it may even seem like NO ONE is paying attention at all. But does that mean it doesn't work, doomed to failure and worthless to pursue? No!

It simply means you have to keep trying, consistently learning from your failures by testing and analyzing. At some point, you'll realize small successes and build upon them to create a system that attracts fans on a regular basis.

Never "Sell Out" (Dominate Your Niche)

inboundOne of the biggest dilemmas for musicians is the concept of "selling out." But, what's that?

For the purpose of this article, it means changing their music to appeal to the masses. Or, put more universal terms, trying to be everything to everybody. Hang out with a group of musicians and you'll quickly discover this is hands-down, the worst thing any musician can do. Those musicians that "sell out" often lose credibility among their peers and, worse yet, among their niche fan base.

For example: Most people are not fans of death metal, drum n' bass or shoegaze music, yet artists within those small sub-genres dominate their niche, creating a ravenous fan base that spends their money within that family of music. Take the death metal band Morbid Angel - odds are high you've never heard of them and if you did, you may not like the music at all. Yet they managed to sell over a million albums worldwide and also make millions of dollars in the process. Had they one day decided to cut their hair, change their wardrobe and write pop music, they would have instantly lost just about every fan they had.

Businesses are no different. There is a product or service that solves a unique problem within a specific market...let's say, IT security solutions for manufacturers. If you're a manufacturer browsing the internet for IT security, would you sooner call the company who does general IT security for everyone, or the one who specializes in IT security for manufacturers?

History has proven that most people would not only opt for the specialist, they would also pay more for their services. Much like a neurosurgeon's compensation compared to most general practitioners.

By not "selling out" and appealing to the masses, marketers can dominate their niche (and make higher margins doing so).

Related: 5 Ways Inbound Marketing Reinforces Your Sales Team

Know Your Audience (and Segment)

Musicians learn early on that when they have a concert coming up in Los Angeles, they shouldn't promote it to their entire fan base. It's a quick way of earning some unnecessary unsubscribes, diminishing the size of their contact list -- and musicians survive on that contact list! In order to maximize each show's attendance and merchandise sales, they regularly segment their lists by geography, gender, age and other criteria. The key message here is relevance.

The two most important contact properties that are mandatory for just about any business to segment are:

1. Personas - the contact's demographics, industry, size, geographic location, etc.

2. Lifecycle Stage - their stage in the general buying cycle such as subscriber, lead, marketing qualified lead (MQL), sales qualified lead (SQL), opportunity and customer.

In the business world, we also survive on our contact lists. So it's absolutely critical that we segment those contact lists in our own email marketing campaigns in order to increase relevance. This ultimately improves open rates, click-through rates, unsubscribes and overall customer/prospect satisfaction.

Related: 3 Brilliant Buyer Persona Tools Every Inbound Marketer Should Know


When it comes to the fundamentals of marketing, musicians are actually pretty savvy marketers. So next time your at a concert next to a bunch of long haired, tattooed musicians, try getting the party started by striking up a conversation about marketing strategy! Or get the idea.

Guide to Buyer Personas

Originally published July 17, 2014. Updated February 7, 2017.