Rock Stars and Marketers Need to “Play for the Last Row”

last rowONCE YOU’VE SEEN A ROCK STAR snort cocaine off a roasted chicken leg, you could say you’ve seen it all.

In the case of a friend who relayed this first-hand account, however, the “chicken leg” incident was one of his tamer anecdotes. This is what happens when your life story includes buying hot dogs on a German street corner with John Lennon and touring with The Who.

One particular story struck me more than others. My friend — who for his own sake shall remain nameless — told me about the time he was in charge of a long concert tour with multiple big-name acts. Day after day, week after week, the buoyancy of live rock and roll gave way to the complacency of the road. The bands did their thing on stage, but my client feared it wasn’t enough.

One evening before show number — I don’t know, 30 or something — my friend sat everyone down for a little tough love pep talk. These weren’t kids, mind you, but full-grown millionaire rock stars. It was only out of respect for my friend and the fact that he cut everyone’s checks that the bands acquiesced.

“Each night, there are people out there who are seeing you for the first time, maybe for the only time,” he said. “And they aren’t the ones up in front, who follow you around and have money to burn.

“The people you need to play for are in the last row. They deserve your best every night, on every song, with every note. If you do that, they will have the night of their lives, and everyone else in the building will, too. But if you just play for the fans in front, you will fail.”

Imagine saying this to a Bono or Bruce. But it was what they needed to hear — and it’s what every CMO and marketer needs to hear, too.

We need to play for the last row.

As marketers and communications professionals, we tend to gravitate toward the “influencers,” the top-tier targets and the A-list bloggers. We buy media to reach the most desirable and those with the most disposable incomes. We engage only when it matters to us.

This isn’t all bad, of course — it’s how we spread our message and, more often than not, it works when done well. Data gives us the tools to target not just those who matter, but those who matter most.

But there is a downside, too. When you only get the news you say you want, you miss the news you might have needed to hear. And when you only focus on the people whom your data says you need to reach, you might miss those whom the data overlooked.

This will be less of an issue in the forthcoming intention-based economy, when individuals will control their data and decide what companies to share it with. But for now, everyone deserves our best, whether their Klout score is 1 or 100 (and really, if you still use Klout scores as a key metric, you need to stop. Now. Please.)

“If you just play for the fans in front, you will fail,” my friend said. And if we just market to those assumed most worthy, we will fail.

We need to play for everyone. We need to use data, yes, but we also need to tell stories and create content with emotion — that’s how we get beyond data and reach into our audience’s humanity. It’s how we give everyone with whom we communicate, regardless of tool or channel, the best damn concert of his or her life.

Be a marketing rock star. Play for the last row.

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