Six ways to make crowd connections like Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder

Last month I saw Pearl Jam perform on their North American tour promoting their latest album, Lightning Bolt. I left both shows (yes, I went on back-to-back nights) with admiration for the way in which their lead singer, Eddie Vedder, made a connection with the 13,000 fans in attendance each night.

In the spirit of David Meerman Scott’s book “Marketing Lessons from the Dead,” I believe there are communication practices from these live concerts that can carry over to content creation.

Here are six techniques I jotted down:

1. Cut to the chase

Pearl Jam did not have an opening act to warm up the crowd at either show. Pearl Jam is a 20-year-old rock band abundant with loyal fans. Normally, fans of well-established artists of Pearl Jam’s stature will not enter the arena early to see the opening act. They paid an outrageous price for tickets to see the headliner, not an up-and-coming musician.

Similarly, when crafting contagious content, quickly deliver the substance of your article, video, or podcast. Your audience is on the move, multitasking on a mobile device that provides a convergent platform for reviewing and responding to email, social media, SMS, and mobile app push notifications. To capture, convince, and convert today’s attention-deficit consumer, marketers must rapidly deliver genuine assistance through clear and straightforward communications.

The easiest way to accomplish this goal is to shorten the copy. This is how Twitter’s 140-character limit and YouTube’s original 3-minute video restriction propelled these social media giants’ successes. However, also consider the reader’s thought sequence to understand the message, and the subject’s level of complexity.

2. Show you care

When drafting communications, I often consider John C. Maxwell’s quote:

People do not care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

By taking a moment to empathize with readers, I hope to better communicate my sincerity in wanting to help them overcome a challenge, or just brighten their day. Once trust and respect is established, then I can discuss their internal IT, Marketing and Sales departments’ plans, processes, and problems.

The concert’s venue was located less than an hour outside Boston, Massachusetts. During the song Long Road, the band’s camera zoomed in tight on the “Boston Strong” patch on Eddie Vedder’s coat sleeve, and broadcast the image across large overhead screens. The crowd erupted with cheers during the slow ballad, making for a very touching moment. However, this was more than just a pandering sentiment an outsider would attempt to make.

Throughout the evening, Vedder shared personal stories of his experiences in Boston:

  • Before singing Yellow Moon, he compassionately shared that his band was in their Seattle recording studio, mixing tracks for the new album when they heard the news of the Boston Marathon bombing.

“We were thinking about you then, and we’ve been thinking about you the whole time.”

  • He dedicated the song Man of the Hour to the late Boston University professor Howard Zinn, and author of “A People’s History of the United States of America.”
  • In the middle of the set, Vedder asked that the house lights be turned on, and gave a toast saying:

“When you are finding your way in the world, you don’t know a lot of people, and others don’t accept you for who you are.  It hit me after that last song, seeing all your faces, and you all singing the words, that this job has allowed me to be accepted by a large group. And looking out there it seems like you are all friends. Not every town is like that. Boston is one of the few places like this on earth.”

Eddie commanded the arena as if it was a small conference room, intermediately showing vulnerability, adding humor with tales of the band’s early days at Boston’s famed Axis club, and swinging out into the crowd from dangling light bulbs that hung above the stage to evoke excitement.

His heartfelt song introductions were moving and greatly appreciated. Pearl Jam cemented its credibility with Bostonians by sincerely demonstrating the respect the band has for the region.

3. Share common interests

This rapport between the band and the audience carried over to baseball conversations. Eddie, a long-time Chicago Cubs baseball fan, attended Game 2 of the American League Championship Series at Fenway Park a few nights before. Preceding “Better Man,” he thanked Chicago Cub executive and former Red Sox GM, Theo Epstein, for tickets to the game. The game featured a historic comeback, highlighted by David Ortiz’s grand slam in the eighth inning. This prompted Vedder to express,

“I now have a strong belief in God. His name is David Ortiz and he wears #34.”

By sharing personal stories, and their own connections to the city and region, the band gained access to an exclusive club of New England sports enthusiasts. Content producers can write more meaningful messages when they use the industry’s lexicon, discuss trending topics, or debate authoritative thought leaders’ ideas.

4. Shine the spotlight on the unknown

During a break in the concert on the second night, Pearl Jam brought on stage their favorite member of the event security staff. This gentleman guards the band’s dressing room door each time they visit Massachusetts. Of course, the crowd  gave a rowdy round of applause, as the humble officer waved to his new fans.

There are moments in every brand experience when there is an opportunity to recognize people who can enchant, enthuse, and surprise the public. Look only to Virgin America’s Safety Video for inspiration, a pre-flight video that turned an annoying process for boarding a plane into an entertaining marketing program. This video has since gone viral, expanding the content’s reach far beyond the passengers on the plane. Remember as a marketer, you have the ability and responsibility to turn every customer interaction into a memorable moment, even the mundane.

5. Celebrate together

Pearl Jam released their 10th studio album Lightning Bolt on the day of the concert. Leading into the song Let the Records Play, Pearl Jam’s lead singer held up the new album’s cover, and gave a vinyl record version to one lucky fan. While near the crowd, a spectator gave Eddie a note which stated that “Lightning Bolt” had become the #1 album on iTunes in 56 countries.

This did not seem boastful, rather the band wanted to celebrate the new album’s successful launch with its fiercely loyal fans. Eddie made a quick toast to say thank you, asked for a universal salute, and even shared his bottle of wine with some fans in the front row. From my vantage point, this exemplifies the leadership adage to “Share the fame and take the blame.”

Occasionally as content creators and curators, we need to sit down to the table, and eat a large piece of humble pie. The material generated is much less about us or the brand, and much more about the customer. We all do not have Steve Jobs’ extraordinary vision to say,

“…People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

For most of us, ensuring our communications contain valuable information in the form of data-rich reports, entertaining videos, and inspiring stories requires us to ask what a customer wants. This questioning forces us to go out into the crowd, listen to complaints, take suggestions, and, hopefully, hear enough words of appreciation to keep us moving forward.

6. Give the gift of surprise

When you go to a concert to see your favorite band, you hope to hear those songs that have been part of your life’s soundtrack and have a special meaning to you. Depending on your musical tastes, these songs may be the band’s most popular, or rare B-side album tracks. Typically, a groups most devoted fans enjoy hearing songs that are seldom played. Pearl Jam’s song list is extensive, and yet they performed a mix of their biggest hits, such as Alive, Better Man, and Even Flow, as well as rarities like Just Breathe, Man of the Hour, and Fatal that have only been played in concert 81, 45 and 5 times respectively.

Another concertgoer expectation is the customary encore. Pearl Jam obliged, but surprised the audience with a second encore. The stadium stagehands were unprepared for this, and the house lights came on to signal it was time to exit the building. Pearl Jam continued to play another five songs for a total of 32 for the night. Over two performances, the band played 60 songs, and only repeated seven songs.

For data-driven marketers, it is easy to make a content’s conversion rate a priority, and then generate off shoots from the highest performing material. This is a tried-and-true best practice. Nonetheless, I encourage you to go rouge, break out of your content calendar boxes, and compose something daring and unpredictable. Choose a subject that challenges the status quo to keep your audience awake and on their toes. Select a topic that is near and dear to your customers’ hearts. With the intention to move them emotionally, spur these devoted supporters to remember why they affiliate so closely with your brand and its core principals.

Expert entertainers, whether they are comedians, motivational speakers, musicians, politicians, or thespians, have honed their craft to be able to engage a very large group of listeners to hang onto their every word. This commanding stage presence allows gifted orators to speak to an audience as if it’s just a gathering of a small group of friends. This goal is the same for any marketing communications writer, we want to captivate an audience’s attention, and leave an adoring crowd chanting for our return. By incorporating these six extraordinary showmanship skills into content production, marketers can invigorate their organization’s brand and improve communications.

Have you had a similar experience drawing on the power of a live event to become your muse and spark new ideas? If so please share in the comments section below.

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Image from PolicyMic’s article “Keeping 90s Grunge Alive” by Andrew Bruss


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