The Saigon Kick secret to living a face-melting creative life, despite the setbacks

Rock god and alleged hand model Jason Bieler talks storytelling and social media’s changing rules of engagement on The Sophisticated Marketer’s Podcast

October 16, 2018

The Saigon Kick secret to living a face-melting creative life, despite the setbacks

Ever felt kicked in the teeth by a marketing career? Stymied by constantly shifting politics at work? Sidelined by arbitrary budget cuts? Your very existence threatened by the next disruptive technology? Wondering why you keep going and considering whether now might be the time to pack it all in?

Then I have a post that you really should read.
It’s written by the guitarist and songwriter for what was, very briefly, one of the biggest bands in the world. It’s called NO WAY THAT JUST HAPPENED! (or words to that effect – we have some restrictions on offensive language on the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions blog), and it captures the feeling of panic and frustration as deals and opportunities collapse and your career feels blocked in on all sides. More than anything though, it’s about the reality that success and fulfilment in life comes down to your ability to roll with the inevitable, frequent setbacks. Jason puts the influence of this post (one of the most widely shared ever written about the music business) down to this core truth.

He should know. If you took a simplistic, outsider’s view, you’d say that Jason is a musician who’s been very unlucky. Saigon Kick were cruelly cut out of the music industry mainly because they’d had a huge, accidental hit with a ballad – and in the Nirvana-inspired era of grunge that made them a toxic property. “We pretty much killed hair metal,” as he puts it.

Jason though, has kept finding ways to live a creative life by embracing the need to be a multi-platform marketer as well as a musician. From founding Bieler Bros. Records with his brother Aaron, to building one of the funniest and most irreverent social media profiles out there, to finding a new way to record and distribute music in the age of Spotify. He’s found new opportunities everywhere he’s turned, kept his warmth and warped, wicked sense of humour, combined a thick skin with constant creative thinking, and spent a life doing the thing he loves as a result.

That’s why I find Jason Bieler such an inspiring example of a marketer succeeding in the age of disruption – and why I was absolutely thrilled to welcome him onto this episode of The Sophisticated Marketer’s Podcast. If you want a 50-minute take on marketing and technology that’s flavoured with rock ‘n roll attitude and very, very funny, then you’ve come to the right place.

Click on the link below to hear Jason’s unique take on storytelling, social media branding and the real secret of successful content marketing. Then scroll down for the three thoughts I scribbled down straight after our conversation – they’re insights on marketing that could only come from someone living on the cruel cutting edge that is today’s music industry:

Stories with straight-line trajectories aren’t really stories
Social media is filled with very simple stories where success flows in a hugely straightforward way from a single, simple trigger. If we’re honest, a lot of marketing does too. While we talk about storytelling a great deal, our stories often lack the dramatic tension that a real story’s plot requires. Jason characterises these straight-line trajectories as “I had a tennis lesson and then became world champion.” In marketing, we might characterise it as “I bought the brand and everything was instantly better, for ever.”

The important point to realise is that these straight-line trajectories aren’t really stories. They don’t reflect the two-steps-forward-one-step-back reality of most people’s professional experiences; the fact that success is often defined by consistently getting back up again rather than knocking it out of the park first time. As a result, they aren’t relatable – and there’s a limit to the depth of engagement they’ll ever generate. They may make the point that we want to make well enough, they may make us look great, but they won’t do much more. It’s a question of what your objectives are when you tell these tales. If you want people to take a deeper interest in you, you need to go deeper with what you share.

People want to be taken on a journey – but not your journey
Jason told me that he refuses to answer questions about what this or that song lyric is really all about – and that’s because it prevents an audience taking ownership of those ideas and relating them to their own lives. “People want to be taken on a journey – but they don’t want it to be your journey,” he says. They want something that they can overlay onto their own circumstance and experience. That’s the key to staying relevant – and it’s an insight well worth applying to the content that we create as marketers. “If Paul McCartney were to tell me Yesterday was really all about his leveraged buy-out of a sandwich shop chain, I’d be heartbroken,” says Jason. I couldn’t have put it better.

Be interesting – and people will take a natural interest in what you’re selling
Hand model, amateur surgeon, paranormal instigator, Baron Von Bielski… the real Jason Bieler is none of these things, yet he’s branded himself as all of them at one time or another on social media. Why? It’s all part of a carefully considered marketing strategy to raise awareness of the music he writes and records – and the bands he puts out through Bieler Bros. Records. The way Jason sees it, the rules of social media engagement have changed. Audiences no longer respond to self-appointed life or career coaches preaching about what you should be doing with little hard evidence to back them up. And they’re far less interested in influencers using social as a one-way megaphone to tell the world what they’re up to. They’re only interested in those they instinctively find funny and interesting. Doing the unexpected, being charismatic, throwing the odd surreal grenade out there… it’s the most reliable strategy that exists for building an audience. And once you have that interest there’s no need to promote your product directly. As Jason puts it: “I don’t sell the music. If you’re interested enough in me then eventually, you are going to go there anyway.”

The rewards of building an audience slowly
Jason isn’t one to complain overly about the impact of Spotify and other streaming services on a professional music career. You may make less money from your tracks, but on the flipside you’re able to record music, put it in front of people around the world, and get instant feedback in a way that was never possible before. The way he talks about it, today’s digital music industry still has much in common with the experience of bands trying to break through in the 70s and 80s – it’s about doing the hard yards of thousands of gigs (and thousands of downloads), reaching and engaging one fan at a time. “U2 got to be U2 because of the 8 million gigs that they did. You can’t get that through winning a talent show or doing a months-worth of gigs on TV. The problem so many acts today have is that they haven’t got the foundation to fall back on after that instant fame wears off.”

There’s an interesting insight in there for marketers – even though it’s not always an easy insight to apply. We often find ourselves under pressure to deliver instant results – or at least very fast ones. We’re accustomed to think of success as building an audience quickly, or generating as many leads as we can in a short space of time. However, there’s a question of depth, quality and relevance of engagement that can easily get lost in the process. Taking time to build an audience more slowly, through more personalised and relevant experiences, can deliver more sustained attention, greater loyalty, higher-value leads and greater lifetime customer value. We just need the patience to do it – and having the right measures of success to back us up can help as well.

Talk to Jason Bieler and you get a sense of why the way that you measure success matters. You need to adopt the metric that makes sense – whether in the context of your life or your marketing objectives. If you want to last in this business (marketing or music), it’s vital to get that right.

New to The Sophisticated Marketer’s Podcast? you can catch up on all previous episodes here. And tweet your review @JasonMillerCA for a chance to win Sophisticated Marketer’s swag!