Marketing Lessons from David Bowie
“I don't know where I'm going from here, but I promise it won't be boring.” - David Bowie.
On January 10th, 2016, the world lost an iconic artist and creative genius. Bowie knew how to draw in an audience and keep them wanting more. He was a singer, songwriter, producer, actor - a force of nature. How did he do it? He knew success was a moving target and never stayed stationary. Many lessons can be learned by examining Bowie’s life, but what can he teach us as marketers?
“If it works, it's out of date.”
From the legendary persona of Ziggy Stardust, to the thunderbolt makeup of Aladdin Sane, to his Thin White Duke Berlin years, to Baroque style of the 2000s - David Bowie remastered his work creating intriguing and elaborate personas and transforming musical genres.
Staying within the status quo leads to vulnerability. People respond to the new and novel and let go of the old. Be different. Make your company and brand a new experience. Companies often put themselves in a box which traps them into being the same, instead of finding ways to be different. If your customers are consistently evolving shouldn’t that drive brand innovation and reinvention? If you want to stay relevant, it most certainly should.
Timing is your best friend
Bowie had many defining moments in his career. His persona Major Tom - an abandoned astronaut orbiting Earth - came out in 1969, the same year the first man landed on the moon. Bowie embraced the 80s dance revolution with Lets Dance and numerous world tours, introducing him to a new generation of fans. Bowie celebrated his 69th birthday on January 8th, 2016 - 3 days before his death - with the release of his newest album, Blackstar. An eerie tone that hinted at themes of death with lyrics, "Look up here, I'm in heaven," and "Oh, I'll be free / Just like that bluebird / Oh, I'll be free / Ain't that just like me?". Did Bowie predict his death? Is he communicating beyond the grave? Even in the end, Bowie knew how to keep his audience guessing.
The internet may make marketing more accessible, but it also makes it hard to stand out in the crowd. Timing your delivery and execution isn’t just important for comedians. After targeting, message, branding, and design are complete, timing is the final piece of the puzzle.
Always be authentic
“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.”
Ability to remake his appearance, his music, and even his personality lead to some criticizing him as a largely dishonest artist. Although he resembled a chameleon-like figure, he remained true to himself.
Be authentic and honest with your audience. Flaws and failures are a part of human nature. If you make a mistake, own it. Sounds simple, right? Yet so many businesses fail to embrace it. To earn trust, you must give it.
Know your audience
Unfortunately for David Bowie, it was a disgrace to be left handed in 1950s Brixton, England. His peers laughed at him, and his teachers tried to correct him by slapping his left hand each time he used it. He remained steadfast in his chosen hand. Many years later he reflected on the event, “It put me outside the others immediately. I didn’t feel the same as the others because of that….So I think it might have been one of those tips of how I was going to evaluate my journey through life: All right, I’m not the same as you mother%&*!, so I’ll be better than you.”
Bowie created a body of music for the outcasts, the weirdos, the misfits - the people who weren’t understood. He understood their needs because they mirrored his own. He used his music as a way to push the culture barrier forward and shatter stereotypes. And the masses followed.
“Make the best of every moment. We’re not evolving. We’re not going anywhere.”
Let these lessons from David Bowie inspire and drive innovations of your own. Though he may be gone from this world his legacy is always just a play button away.