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On Pete Seeger and the Delicate Dance of Inserting Your Brand into Cultural Conversations

Posted @ 8:16 pm by The SolutionSetter | Category: Community & Social Media, Digital Marketing | 0 Comments

I heard the news the other day, oh boy: Pete Seeger died. Did you know who he was? Did you love his music and what he stood for? Did you contribute to the conversation about him on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn?

The specific subject isn’t terribly important to discuss, from a digital strategy perspective, but the trending response is. Simply having a response to meaningful news is what we need to be thinking about more in digital marketing today. Every brand should be taking a stand. Every brand should be adding content of value. At the same time, if you don’t have something of value to add to a trending conversation, it’s best to stay quiet or risk being that marketing jerk who decided to use someone’s death as a springboard for talking about your new product line. Don’t be that guy. But do allot some of your social strategy time to thinking about where your brand fits into the conversations of the day.

Does your company sell services that might reach the Pete Seeger demographic? Do something more than retweet the New York Times obituary. Google “Pete Seeger” and “rare,” and find a video of the singer-songwriter that most people haven’t seen. Or find something that they have seen, and quote an unusual line from it, or talk about how much your mom or dad loved him.

Here was a born messenger. Seeger might have been anti-commercial, but by aligning yourself with something he said or stood for, or simply appreciating his music with a unique post or piece of content via social media, you might seem less mercenary and more like a brand with soul.

Part of me cringes at even making that suggestion. Is it too soon? Maybe. But the lesson is a good one, and we have a powerful example here. You don’t need to have a TV advertising budget like Apple and the expensive rights to stream John Lennon songs over images of your product.

Social and digital give you the right to align yourself with the great thinkers and messengers of history, to create your own ads in the moment. And when current events present an opportunity, you can drop the corporate chatter about “trends” and “platforms” and “ROI” and engage with people on a human level.

Who knows? That person who finds your Pete Seeger tweet with the video he never saw and a line he never heard might be the CMO at a company with whom you want to partner. I’m not endorsing the usage of sacred cultural treasures for callous reasons, but I am suggesting that people who connect to others because of what they find dear and meaningful are people who will likely want to do business with you, or at least have coffee.

But there’s more here, and I hinted about it above: It’s taking a piece of current news and, as Robin Williams puts it in “Dead Poet’s Society”, “contributing a verse.” Staying plugged in to things that involve more than your company and your company’s playing field, and then sharing an original contribution related to that important piece of trending news that might interest your demographic.

Because, guess what? Robin Williams in “Dead Poet’s Society” was quoting epic poet Walt Whitman when he said that thing about “contributing a verse,” and that speech is what’s running above clips of people using iPads in Apple’s latest TV advertising campaign:

Is that wrong? That Apple knows its customers loved the film “Dead Poet’s Society,” and would recognize Williams’ voice (perhaps not Whitman’s), and that moment in the film, even subconsciously? And that they might respond by thinking of all the truly meaningful ways they can use an Apple product to make an impact on the world? I don’t think so. It’s smart business, and sometimes smart business has to tear at the heartstrings (and, truthfully, it has to tear at them all the time, if you believe that our hearts and minds are connected).

The only other lesson to learn here is that you don’t need to make great TV commercials now that we have digital marketing. You can take a meaningful cultural event and make it your own, step outside your box and use the stuff people really care about to show that you care about the same deep things. Make sure that when you contribute a verse, it will be something to remember among a sea of ReTweets and Obligation-Faves.

One of my favorite Pete Seeger quotes is: “I feel that my whole life is a contribution.” Brands could steal a little inspiration there and commit to making their whole digital presence a contribution, not just a sales pitch.

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