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5 Ways Marketers Should Be More Like Bob Marley

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Today marks exactly 31 years since the death of reggae legend Bob Marley. It's a day that an increasing number of people will recognize thanks to Marley, the documentary by Kevin Macdonald that shook up the movie scene this spring.

I saw the documentary recently and couldn’t help but draw parallels between Marley's career and marketing. Don't be surprised! We've made similar connections in the past, most notably in the book, Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead, authored by HubSpot's CEO Brian Halligan and Marketing Strategist David Meerman Scott.

Similarly, Bob Marley's dedication and talent shines as a symbol of inspiration across many disciplines, including marketing. In this blog post, I'll explore five lessons the reggae icon's work ethic can teach us about marketing. (Recommendation: Read this blog post while listening to some reggae tunes.) 

1) Remix & Adapt

Reggae evolved out of ska, the indigenous Jamaican music that emerged in the late 1950s. So Bob Marley’s music was influenced by Caribbean mento, calypso, American soul, and R&B (phew!). The documentary shows how tunes from the Temptations, Dion and the Belmonts, and Elvis Presley impacted the music of Bob Marley and the Wailers. A few years later, British label founder Chris Blackwell introduced more changes to the character of Marley’s music. As Andrew Perry, reporter for The Telegraph notes, Blackwell “overdubbed white session musicians onto [the album] 'Catch A Fire' in order to make Marley more palatable to white rock audiences.” These remixes and adaptations helped Marley get visibility in front of the international audience. “After that, it was just a matter of getting people to see him perform, and word of mouth did the rest,” says Blackwell. 

The marketing world is all about remixes. In order to expand the top of the marketing funnel, businesses need to broaden the scope of their content and develop remarkable interpretations out of the raw material they have access to in a way that caters to their target audience and buyer personas. As a matter of fact, this blog post can serve as an example of a remix—it provides marketing tips by deconstructing the successes of a music legend. Marketing Strategist David Meerman Scott calls this strategy 'newsjacking' - “the process by which you inject your ideas or angles into breaking news, in real time, in order to generate media coverage for yourself or your business.” 

2) Work for the People 

Bob Marley didn’t create music for fame, wealth, or ambition. He did it for the people. He was inspired by his community, describing their struggles and beauty in his songs. This authenticity resonated with his audience and brought him international appeal.

In marketing, you need to be focused on your prospects and customers. Find out more about them, listen to their challenges, get inspired by their successes, and give them the tools they need to make their lives easier. Use marketing analytics to learn more about the behavior of your contacts, and bring constant value to them. For example, rather than simply sending them email blasts asking them to purchase your product or service, consider what it is they actually need at their particular stage of engagement with your business.

3) Have a Consistent Message 

Since the beginning of his career, Bob Marley had a message to spread. It was about where he was raised, who he was, and what he believed in. This was his ‘product,’ and it was rare and meaningful.

Similarly, your marketing campaigns need to have a cohesive message. Revisit your company’s mission—something that you are proud of and would like to tell the whole world about. Is this mission incorporated in your marketing campaigns and practices? If you are working on a trade show or some other type of event, for instance, think about your overarching message and brainstorm ways in which you can convey it effectively. For more about how to create a consistent marketing message, check out our blog post about the 7 components that comprise a comprehensive brand strategy.

4) Stay Disciplined 

While watching the documentary, I was surprised (and impressed) to see that Bob Marley exercised regularly: he'd go running in the mornings and play soccer with friends. He also followed a strict work regimen, writing music and practicing with the Wailers into the wee hours of the night. “He was so immersed in writing that he was said to sleep only four hours a night,” writes Stephen Holden in his New York Times’ review of the documentary. 

Successful marketing also requires discipline and hard work. As the industry has established, modern marketing is like a gym membership—you may have access to helpful marketing software tools, but you still need to put in the work to see results. Blogging, social media marketing, content creation, analyzing data—it all takes time, hard work, and dedication in order execute well. Make time for it if you want it to pay off. 

5) Embrace Being the Corner Stone 

Bob Marley was the son of a black woman, Cedella Marley Booker, and a white, British Army man, Norval Marley. Due to his mixed racial background, he was seen as a social outcast and was filled with uncertainty about his identity. He “attempted to forge a connection with the wealthy side of the Marley family,” writes historian Colin Grant, “only to be spurned.” This experience led him to write the song “Corner Stone,” which begins with the words: 

The stone that the builder refuse
Will always be the head cornerstone

In marketing, working with the outliers can be an insightful process. Brian Millar, strategy director at Sense Worldwide, highlights the benefits of seeking out extraordinary people in his Fast Company article “Want Breakthrough Ideas? First, Listen To The Freaks And Geeks.” Extreme customers, he argues, think differently and often set new trends in marketing. “If you’re going to get ambitious about your next task, don’t go and talk to normal people about it. You’ll only get normal answers. Get out of your comfortable little world and step into a completely alien one,” writes Millar.

If you haven't seen the documentary, check it out and let us know if you see any other parallels between Bob Marley and marketing.

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