Listen to The Boss: What Your Brand Can Learn From Springsteen

I’m known amongst my friends and loved ones as a Bruce Springsteen enthusiast. I remember the first time I heard "Thunder Road." I was in my dorm room at Indiana University and popped his greatest hits CD into my stereo (until then I’d just thought of him as the "Born in the U.S.A." guy). I think I uttered two words; the first one was "Holy."

So when I saw this article about how brands can benefit from being more like Springsteen, it was a no-brainer that I had to blog about it. There are some solid points here about staying current and relevant, and transcending your industry.

1. He’s a thought leader. Read the cover story from the recent Rolling Stone magazine to discover a man who’s well connected with the world around him and not afraid to express a point of view. He has tackled controversial topics throughout his 40-year career, sometimes stirring negative reactions, but he never backs down. He did it again with "American Skin (41 shots)," a song inspired by the 2000 police shooting death of Amadou Diallo. Speculation suggests Springsteen may have been making a statement about the recent shooting of Trayvon Martin.

Thought leaders shouldn’t be shy to share their opinions on issues that matter to their audience. Your employees and the public will respect you for speaking out on struggles they face, or are top of mind.

2. His values define him. In the "Rolling Stone" interview, Springsteen said, "In my music—if it has a purpose beyond dancing and fun and vacuuming your floor to it—I always try to gauge the distance between American reality and the American dream." He began this journey in 1972 when he signed his first record contract with Columbia; it continues today with "Wrecking Ball," his latest album.

There’s no denying that Springsteen’s message and values have been consistent. Brands should follow suit. Messaging should align with your company’s values. That extends internally. If one of your company’s core values is putting employees/associates first, then shouldn’t they be allowed to use social media at work?

3. He’s social. He’s a social animal who enjoys camaraderie and conversation. In an age of social media where the word "community" is fast becoming cliché, Springsteen has sustained an avidly engaged community that keeps expanding. One measure (besides selling more than 120 million albums) is his social media presence. He has 2,179,654 "likes" on Facebook and 157,843 Twitter followers. He is keeping the conversation alive, staying current in a digital age. He’s no Lady Gaga (with 49 million Facebook likes) but he’s definitely in the game.

There are so many ways to engage with employees, customers, and potential customers today that brands have no excuse for burying their heads in the sand.

4. He’s sensory. He may be a biological 62, but watching him perform, I marvel at his 20-something dexterity, strength and flexibility. Whether it’s sliding across the stage on his knees or bending backwards to the floor while holding a floor stand microphone, this guy logs hours in the gym to remain physically relevant. He’s a best case example of how staying fit keeps us young.

Brands like Target leverage the power of sensory in its store designs, which entice and engage shoppers and create a more fulfilling shopping experience.

5. He’s an innovator. A handful of artists transform their music, take risks, and push in new directions. The Beatles morphed in amazing ways over a too-short nine-year span; "I want to hold your hand" sounded nothing like "Day Tripper" which sounded nothing like "A day in the life."

Springsteen is in this pantheon. The rambling lyrical style of "Greetings from Asbury Park" morphed into the tighter pop structure of "Born to Run," which was re-shaped to "Nebraska" starkness and later to the Americana-influenced "We shall overcome: The Seeger sessions." One of the new songs from Wrecking Ball—"Rocky Ground"—features a hip hop interlude, something Springsteen has never done.

The takeaway is simple: Brands must be innovative if they hope to stay relevant.

6. It’s about us, not him. We brought two friends to the concert who had never seen him. I explained how Springsteen feeds off the audience and exists to give each person a gift. "It’s never about him, it’s about you," I said, explaining how Springsteen is passionate about making sure everyone has a good time, gets their money’s worth and leaves happy. When the show was over I said, "Now you’ve been baptized." They grinned and understood.

This is an important reminder for thought leaders. It’s not about your product per se, but delivering what your audience expects and needs—be it an experience or a service. Steve Jobs, for instance, was a master at creating products his fans didn’t even know they needed.

7. He’s more than music. I’m not hung up on awards, but Springsteen was robbed in 2003 when "The Rising" failed to win the Grammy for Best Album (he lost to Norah Jones). Inspired by the Sept. 11 attacks, the inspirational LP Springsteen created helped us heal. It was musical catharsis; it was more than an album. His giving spirit has impacted a range of organizations, from Amnesty International to the Rainforest Foundation Fund to WhyHunger. He endorses a local charity at every concert.

Go beyond what your company makes or does. Companies like Chipotle and Starbucks have given back to their communities, winning the admiration of many.

8. He’s the best kind of brand. Great brands create a feeling, a meaningful personal connection that sticks. We want to associate with that brand because it’s part of who we are, how we view ourselves. That’s why he’s more relevant than ever.

Corporate Communication: Drop the Garbage and Actually Communicate

If you’re in charge of a corporate newsletter or outreach tool, either internally or externally, you have a valuable opportunity to provide your customers with beneficial information — so don’t insult them by peddling junk. In this delightful column by Steve Crescenzo, which I’m reposting in full from, he calls out one of America’s top condescenders advice givers:

Here at C.R.A.P. Central (Corporate Rhetoric Awards Program), we search far and wide to find the worst examples of corporate communication out there. And usually, we find at least two pieces of organizational feces to talk about.

This time, however, we are focusing on just one. Why? Because it is so bad that we need to stay laser focused on it. It’s so insidious, we’re petrified other editors might see it and be tempted to do something similar to fill space in their own publications.

And we can’t have that. So here we go, with what might be the worst C.R.A.P. ever.

You’ve all seen the “Dr. Phil” show, right? Well, if you haven’t, here’s an in-depth description of him:

He’s a jerk.

Oh, you need more? Okay … he’s bossy. He thinks he knows it all. He loves to tell people how to live their lives. He’s a hypocrite, in that he writes books about how to lose weight, and yells at people to lose weight … and yet he’s fat.

(I can call him fat, because I’m fat, too. It’s like how black rappers are able to use the "n" word.)

This C.R.A.P. award goes to an editor who … this is so hard for me to say … quotes Dr. Phil in her publication. That’s right. As if this half-shaved ape isn’t all over the media to begin with, now employees at this company also have to read his "advice" in the employee publication.

Here is the headline above the story where Dr. Phil makes his appearance; we changed the name of the company to protect the guilty:

XYZ Corp Trainer Loses Big on National Television

The trainer, it seems, is one of those sad souls who actually went on Dr. Phil, and let the bad doctor carp at him for being overweight. Now, the story has a nice ending for the trainer, because he lost 30 pounds (29 pounds of fat and one pound of self-esteem for going on national TV and admitting he’s a hog who needs Dr. Phil to help him lose weight).

But the story has a horrific ending for the other employees of the company, who a) have to read this boring article; and b) are subjected to a sidebar of "healthy tips for eating in a restaurant," courtesy of … you guessed it, Dr. Fatso himself.

And of course, Dr. Phil’s tips are asinine and patronizing. Here are some of them, along with our comments:

  • "Have clear soup, or a salad with lite dressing." Clear soup? What the hell is clear soup? Broth? Like the crap you get in the hospital after an emergency appendectomy? Thanks, Phil. Thanks for nothing. And by the way, those "lite" dressings are loaded with sugar. Maybe that’s why you’re so fat.
  • "Either skip an appetizer, or order two appetizers in place of an entree." Okay, Phil. I’ll have the bacon-stuffed oysters with hollandaise sauce appetizer, and the deep fried buffalo wings with blue-cheese dressing appetizer, instead of the Caesar salad entree. Idiot.
  • "Ask questions and be assertive with the wait staff." Can you even imagine how many waiters have spit in his food? Only Dr. Tub of Lard would tell you to be bossy with waiters to lose weight.
  • "Plan your order ahead of time, based on prior consumption." I don’t even know what the hell that means! Plan your order ahead of time? How? Call the restaurant and be assertive with whoever answers the phone? Make them recite the menu to you?
  • "No starches. No fats, oils, or sauces. Refuse a breadbasket unless it contains whole-wheat bread." Whew. Fathead doesn’t make it easy, does he? We can’t eat the bread, and we can’t eat anything with starch, fat, oil, or sauce. It would seem that Phil wants us to eat the actual menu, or the paper napkins.

Of course, the problem is not so much Dr. Phil’s stupid tips that he himself obviously can’t even follow. A lot of publications carry patronizing "life tips" that readers can and do ignore. What really got C.R.A.P. Central’s dander up is the concept of running a sidebar of tips from a talk show!

We’re scared to death that this might become a trend. Can you imagine?

Tips from “The Jerry Springer Show”: "What to do when you find out your transvestite husband is having an affair with your father, who is a paraplegic dwarf."

Tips from “The Oprah Winfrey Show ”: "If you are having self esteem problems, just start your own magazine, name it after yourself, then put yourself on every single cover, after paying designers thousands of dollars to airbrush all the fat off you so you look like Beyonce instead of Rerun from the TV show, ‘What’s Happening.’ If that doesn’t work, start your own network!”

Tips from “The Glenn Beck Show”: “Keep a knitting needle between your knees when you sit at corporate meetings. Whenever you want to appear passionate about a topic and win people over, covertly take the needle and jam it into your thigh, until the tears run down your face.”

Here’s a solid piece of advice that, unlike Dr. Phil’s nonsense, you can actually follow: Daytime talk show hosts pander to, and exploit, the simpletons in this country—the people H.L. Mencken used to call "The Booboisee."

Give your readers more credit than that.