What Can Stephen Sondheim Teach Us About Digital Marketing?

Published on December 2, 2016

Digital media isn’t exactly a Broadway musical. Yet one of our dearest, geekiest friends, a self-described “Stephen Sondheim addict,” insists that the legendary composer and lyricist can teach us many things.

“You have no idea,” she’s prone to saying, “how applicable his lyrics are. To life. To humanity. To digital marketing!”

Um. We challenged her on that last point. “Okay,” she said. “I’ll give you Sondheim and raise you one Rogers and Hammerstein.” Despite not actually having any clue what that challenge meant, we started to really think about what she had to say as she made her case, complete with lots of humming and expressive arm-waving. And it turns out, she was right! Like Star Wars and the animal kingdom, musical theater and great digital marketing have more in common than we ever thought possible.

But enough exposition! As Sondheim might have said, let’s “finish the hat” and get going. Here’s what the mind behind West Side Story and Sweeney Todd has to teach us about the complex world of digital marketing:

“Putting it together, bit by bit…” (from Sunday in the Park with George)

In his infinite wisdom, Sondheim knew that working slap-dash leads not just to inferior content, but also to a digital marketing platform that has a goal with no strategy. And having no strategy puts you in a highly vulnerable position, leaving you directionless and open to getting swallowed whole by the open maw of analytics, data, choices, and trends.

Like the titular painter of Sunday in the Park with George, consider all sides of your digital strategy, and be ready to experiment. Ask yourself some questions: What are the goals of your digital marketing – lead capture? Increased brand recognition? Retention? Further, what methods are you going to use to judge if your digital marketing is working for you? What methods will be most cost-effective for your budget? What are the right channels for achieving your stated goals?

At the get-go define your objectives and reasonable expectations, then continually monitor your results. It is only once you develop a strategy that you can implement proven tactics – such as email marketing, social media, or SEO-focused content – into your overall marketing plan.

“Now, as the sweet imbecilities tumble so rapidly onto her lap…” (from A Little Night Music)

Is there such a thing as a “sweet imbecility?” Not when it comes to your business, and certainly not when it comes to your content marketing campaign’s social media strategy!

What are we trying to say? Don’t just blow hot air; instead, be sure that your content – on your site and across your social platforms – is loaded with free value. The last thing you want to be is irrelevant or forgettable. Instead, use your digital presence to provide meaningful information, distribute diverse content, and promote broader conversations by sharing and retweeting interesting, industry-specific news, opinion pieces, or studies. Ask questions or hold contests on social media, follow through with any complaints you receive, and really have conversations with your audience.

Just don’t let the imbecilities, sweet or otherwise, tumble onto your Facebook business page.

“We might have been left bereft of FDR…” (from Assassins)

The FDR of Sondheim’s Assassins believed in a diverse, multifaceted economy, where lots of smaller parts created a larger whole. If you don’t optimize of the channels available to you - including social media, email marketing, responsive and mobile-optimized web development, and SEO-focused content creation – you will be left bereft of dozens of potential customers.

It should come as no surprise that most people get their information online; we do, and we’re reasonably certain you do, too. In fact, as a culture, we go to the web even above our own family, according to a 2012 global study by Fleishman Hillard and Harris Interactive, which reports:

“Exploration of products and services starts on the web While the Internet trumps all other sources, including advice from friends and family, the ability to reach consumers with a consistent message across the variety of channels available – such as social channels – is key to thriving in the ever-changing and competitive landscape.”

This means taking advantage of new social opportunities, including Instagram, Snapchat, and the live streaming video opportunities provided by Facebook Live and Periscope.

And it also means optimizing your personal blog and website for the user of today: Make sure your website design is attractive and uncluttered. Make sure the copy is concise and SEO-optimized, and that it works with your design to reflect the personality of your business. Make sure, too, that customers can maneuver around the site rapidly, especially on mobile, and easily move through your conversion funnel by creating a clear call to action.

“Move on…” (from Sunday in the Park with George)

“So,” our friend concluded. “What are you waiting for?” If you have any questions or you’d like to keep the conversation going – about digital marketing or musical theater – drop us a line or reach out on Facebook or Twitter!

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