The 5 marketing lessons I learned from Bruce Springsteen
Being a fan of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, I’ve heard and read over the years many stories about the legendary energy and length of their shows. Therefore, when I was given the opportunity to experience it myself, I jumped on the next plane to Brussels to go ‘to work’ with The Boss at the TW Classic Rock Festival in Werchter.
“If you watch a live concert of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, there is no return.”
One of the rules that I try to follow in life is to restrain my expectations in order to make it more likely to get excited instead of disappointed. However, based on the ecstatic testimonials by people I trust and respect, I was almost sold that this show would catapult into the Top 5 list with my favorite concerts. Top 5??? Well, I had no idea what I was about to see and feel.
At 22:00 the place was jam-packed and people looked thrilled, but I, on the other hand, was mostly curious. “Ok, let’s see how good you are, old fella”, I whispered and applauded politely when the 63-year old Bruce Springsteen appeared on stage.
“Can you feel the spiriiiiit? Can you feeeel the spirit now?”, he replied (to me) with his raspy voice. Suddenly, everyone responded by raising their hands in the air. “Yeeeeeah”, they screamed back. It was like a mystagogue, a sacred ritual, orchestrated by this charismatic leader.
Over 40.000 people became 1, dancing, singing and, most importantly, feeling that special emotional connection with the performer who had taken the stage by storm. I looked around me… I was stunned by the engagement of the audience and their willingness to “go down to the river with him”. Less than 10min into the show and I was already anticipating the next time I would attend one of his concerts (push the “play” button and keep reading…).
Simply put, The Boss is indeed amazing. However, writing this blog post is not (just) about my obsession with Springsteen. The reason why I decided to share this with you is because, watching him on stage, helped me understand as a marketer why he has millions of die-hard fans and is considered one of the best live performers of all time.
So, ladies and gentlemen, here are 5 marketing (and career) tips inspired by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street B(r)and!
1. “Respect your audience”
Bruce Springsteen treats his fans as human beings, not as wallets. He interacts with them… he brings them on stage and dances with them… he plays unrehearsed requests… he even comes out hours before the concert starts in order to play a short acoustic set as a “thank you” for the early comers (see video below). In everything he does, it’s obvious that not only does he respect them, but he also cares about the fans.
In theory, every marketer understands that this is the right path to follow. In practice though, this is a completely different story. So, next time you decide to engage with your audience, start with the obvious: remember that they are more than just a “target group”, keep their needs (and not yours) in mind, listen to what they are saying to you, and make them feel special.
Do it like Springsteen and his peers. In 2012, they played “Jungleland” for the first time since the death of great saxophonist and E Street Band founding member, Clarence Clemons. “We haven’t rehearsed this“, Springsteen said. “But this is for YOU and the Big Man.” Little does it matter if this was true or not; what really mattered was that the audience got the rare chance to listen to a classic.
2. “Be a storyteller”
When Bruce Springsteen entered the stage at Werchter, he addressed the audience with this phrase: “The E Street Band has come thousands of miles tonight and we need to know the answer to just one question. Can you feel the spirit?”.
As it was clearly illustrated in the previous example with “Jungleland”, he knows what to say and what to do in order to electrify and/or touch the audience. He is a master storyteller who sings our hopes, fears, angers and joy through his haunting/poetic lyrics. And people relate with him. For, he is authentic, puts them at the center of the story, and, last but not least, he is the embodiment of the “American dream”: A working-class guy from New Jersey who followed his passion, shot to stardom, later fought the daemons that threatened to derail his career and personal life, and who returned to the limelight in the 00s as a flawed yet beloved global hero. How flawsome is that?
3. “Work passionately”
Last year, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band wrapped up their european tour with a marathon set, clocking in at four hours and six minutes! And they usually perform on stage for over 3 hours, at an age when most people (not named Mick Jagger) are relaxing on a couch with their grandchildren. Age, fame and/or complacency haven’t slowed The Boss down. He knows that, every time, fans are expecting, an almost superhuman act of talent, passion and dedication. That’s why he strives in order to stay in great shape, not only physically, but also mentally.
As David Remnick, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, wrote in a brilliant article for the New Yorker, since the early days, Springsteen was eager to expand his horizons and open his mind. He read classic books and saw movies, which enabled him “to look at his own story, his family’s story, in terms of class and American archetypes. The imagery, the storytelling, and the sense of place in those novels and films helped fuel his songs”.
Do the same. Don’t expect anyone to help you. Take charge of your destiny and follow the advice of George Lois: “work passionately (even furiously) at being the best in the world at what you do”.
4. “Love what you do”
Born in 1949, The Boss has performed over the last couple of years in –wait for it- in 154 concerts (and there are more on schedule). Nonetheless, every time he looks so excited like the first time he saw, at the age of 7, Elvis Presley on The Ed Sullivan Show or when, at 13, his mother bought him his first guitar.
He is not rocking for 3+ hours just for the fans. He enjoys the marathonian shows as much as his fans, he is still “hungry”. Because he loves what he does and, damn it, if you love what you do, there is not much to be afraid of career-wise. For, as Steve Jobs once said, “the only way to do great work is to love what you do”. Capisci?
5. “Be surrounded by a great team”
It was in October 1972 when Bruce Springsteen formed the band which became known as The E Street Band. Four decades later, and despite a 10-year breakup, they are still playing together through good times and bad times. Springsteen, Steve Van Zandt, Max Weinberg, Garry Tallent and the rest of the team are a family that works like a well-oiled machine. The chemistry they have on stage is amazing, but this isn’t just a product of their everlasting relationship. They are brilliant musicians as well. The Boss was clever enough to join forces with this talented bunch of people and, to his credit he makes sure he highlights their greatness: “Tonight, you’ve just seen…the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, house-rocking, earth-quaking, booty-shaking, Viagra-taking, love-making -Le-gen-dary E – Street – Band!”, he said towards the end of the concert in Werchter, sending the noise level off the meter.
So, my dear marketer, stop being insecure and consider not only how beneficial some healthy competition can be for your career, but also one of David’s Ogilvy’s famous axioms: “If you ever find a man who is better than you are — hire him”.
Now it’s time to “sing along”! Which one of these “lessons” resonates the most with you and –I had to ask you this- which are the Bruce Springsteen songs that inspire you at work?
P.S.2 I would like to thank my good friend Enon Landenberg for offering me the ticket for the concert. You rock, amigo!