I took in one of two sold out Zac Brown Band concerts last week here in Toronto, and it got me thinking a lot about all the lessons they could teach as a band, and as a business organization when it comes to content marketing. I've been a fan for a long time, and in a previous life I had the pleasure of meeting them. Every lesson they teach, whether consciously or not, comes from a place of authenticity, passion and creativity.
1) Hone your craft
They aren't some fly by night, out of the blue, pop sensation. Each member of the band toiled in bars and clubs individually or as part of another band before ever meeting one another, and they've been building this band since 2002. That by the way is no small feat. They are all masters of their own instrument and could each teach a master class in performance and showmanship. 12 years in, they are reaping the rewards of a gruelling tour schedule, and endless hours working at what they do.
You need to continuously learn and build your skills as a content marketer. You need to identify your audience, create great content for them and build your story on various platforms. Like Zac and his band mates you passion and making everyday count is important while you hone your craft.
2) Create great content
Since their major label breakout "The Foundation" in 2008, the Zac Brown Band has delighted their fans with 2 additional full length albums (You Get What You Give, Uncaged), 1 live double record (Pass the Jar) (which captures the band's live sound), and more recently an EP (The Grohl Sessions) produced by of all people Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters. All in the time the accolades have been tremendous, from a 2010 Grammy nod as best new Artist, to countless awards and nominations by both mainstream music associations (Grammy, American Music Awards) and Country specific ones (CMT, Academy of Country Music, Country Music Association etc.). This is a band that creates great content, and one could and should argue, that the great success around their content is the thousands of loyal fans that come to their sold out shows and sing every lyric, to every song.
Not everyone can master a breakout hit, every time they create content. The goal though, is to create new content consistently, and try to make it as great. Use tools that will help you reach that goal but realize too that practice is the best medicine.
3) Collaborate, it's fun
Zac and his bandmates are by their very nature natural collaborators. They've released a single with Jimmy Buffett (Knee Deep), opened for The Dave Matthews Band, shared the stage with Gregg Allman, and completed a 4 song EP with Foo Fighter frontman Dave Grohl. There are countless other examples of great work. Southern Ground Records, Zac's personal record label is home to great artists that always collaborate in one way or another with Zac too.
As a content marketer, you need to find partners to help you spread your message. Whether that's a business partner, a co-marketer, influencers or bloggers, when you collaborate more people get in the know about the work you are trying to do. The other neat thing about collaborating, is that by working with different groups of people, you potentially will introduce your story to a whole new audience of people who are not familiar with your work.
4) Curate great content, your audience will love you
Zac and his band mates are passionate about music. They've been known to weave cover songs from bands like The Band, Van Morrison, Guns n' Roses, Metallica, Foo Fighters, Charlie Daniels Band, John Mayer to name a few into their set. What I find fascinating about cover songs, and the way in which Zac Brown Band approach these cover songs, is that while they play homage to the original creators, they also find a way to make the songs their own.
It's not exclusively about writing and performing your hits. Sometimes borrowing great content from others will help your audience understand your perspective, or your thought leadership. When Zac Brown performs a cover of a song I know, or at least one that I am familiar with, I get a whole new appreciation for him as an artist. It's like he's letting me into his record collection, and I get to learn more about the artists and music he loves.
There are several touring bands that have a rich tradition of building and nurturing community around their work. One of my favorite things about the Zac Brown Band is something he does called and Eat and Greet. As a member of his fan club, you can have dinner with the band before some of their shows. This is an opportunity for you to meet the band, but also hang out with some of his other fans. It's a really nice experience and I gotta tell you, the food is delicious. There are several other things Zac does for his fans, and knowing that they played to packed groups on tour, suggests to me that they have a great community around their music. Zac has also built an amazing community around Southern Ground Records and the musicians on that label. He does everything he can to work these fellow musicians into his act, his music, etc.
This kinship that the Zac Brown Band has with its audience is certainly not exclusive to them, but every band and indeed brand can manifest what community means to them, in their own way and grow that connection with their audience.
A former camp counsellor himself, Zac understands how much fun a summer camp experience is, and has built Camp Southern Ground a camp for children with all abilities to enjoy their summers. The band donates proceeds from their tour to the summer camp, and Zac never fails to mention the camp and what it means to him.
What makes Zac's story around Camp Southern Ground so special is that he is able to connect with his audience on a very visceral level about something he cares about. That deepens the connection he has with his audience, but more to the point, makes a Grammy winning artist, seem more real and genuine to that audience. Amazing.
All of our favourite brands, and bands, could all likely teach us lessons on how to content market. That's what makes them our favorites. They have managed in some way to form a connection, a bond with us, and that's why we go back to them time and time again. What are you doing to build that bond with your audience?