May 28, 2013

How Thinking Differently Leads to Success

Bands used to just play music. And you either liked it or you didn’t. If you liked it enough, maybe you’d decide to cough up some money and go check them out live. Though you think artists should play what they’re inspired to play in that moment, deep down you would still hope they played your favorite song from their newest record when you saw them.

But that favorite song wasn’t one of the singles the band released. And even your fellow fans scoffed at you when you mentioned how much you liked the tune.

As it happens, the times have changed. And so too have pioneering bands who’ve embraced the power that technologies like social media and smartphones can add to their brand. Despite how a common conception might be that a band’s brand is the sum of its musical output, there are some groups who are pushing that definition further and reaping financial and artistic success.

Case in point: Umphrey’s McGee, a progressive rock sextet from Chicago. The band—which lacks what many would call a major label, yet still has attracted more than 180,000 Facebook fans—understands that anyone can have a social media presence. But it’s quite another thing to use that social media presence to innovate in ways none of your competitors or peers have. 

Harnessing the power of social media and technology—and how quickly word of mouth can spread through those avenues—the band has taken audience interactivity to the next level. It has become the band that will continue to push the envelope as to how much say its fans have in the music the band produces. The musicians have proven that social media has the ability to generate hype and brand loyalty when used correctly and innovatively.

Perhaps most notably, last month the band held its fourth annual UM Bowl, a four-set concert designed to be the Super Bowl of Umphrey’s McGee shows wherein the fans in attendance dictated what the band would play both by voting via ballot beforehand and texting in real time what they should play next a la “choose your own adventure.”  

Here’s how the sets were chosen for the heavily-promoted-on-social-media, sold-out- in-12-seconds show:

  • First set: Concert attendees voted by ballot for the band to recreate specific pieces of improvisation from past shows, stringing them together to form one long piece of cohesive music
  • Second set: Concert attendees voted by ballot what the band should play
  • Third set: During the show, concert attendees texted themes and ideas—think “soaring, uplifting jam”—for the band to improvise off of, which the band received in real time, forcing the members to quickly decide which theme to attack
  • Fourth set: The band presented choices to the audience, who then texted their preferences with the alternative getting the most votes winning

For those unable to purchase $99 tickets, the band even offered an opportunity for fans to stream the concert via a professionally shot eight-camera HD feed for $14.99. The much-hyped show is also available for an mp3 download for $11.95.

The UM Bowl represents the tip of the iceberg of the band’s social media mastery. Fans are also able to vote for which live songs will make an annual “Hall of Fame” album; a constant stream of exclusive video content is released on its YouTube page; and special discounts and presales are accessible through its social media channels.

Ninety-six percent of chief marketing officers are looking beyond sales goals and web metrics to put their finger on the pulse of the value of social marketing efforts. Because brands—no matter in what industry—should be interested in building interest and hype. That’s what converts new loyal customers, who think about you and what you’re going to do next.

Umphrey’s McGee has securely grabbed hold of the intangible treasure of hype. If UM Bowl IV sold out in 12 seconds this year, UM Bowl V will sell out in 10.

Edited by Carrie Schmelkin

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