What I Learned About Marketing From Playing Third Violin

My dad texted me a picture the other day — a lined notebook — and handwritten across the top is this: “Orchestra Pieces I Have Played.” I recognized it immediately, maybe because my handwriting hasn’t changed since middle school, or because the names instantly sparked memories. It’s a record of the pieces I played when I played violin in youth orchestras in Nashville in middle and high school.

Perhaps this was a foretaste of my borderline unhealthy love of lists. Though I’m heavily right brained, my left brain makes itself heard loud and clear through meticulous list-keeping. I love keeping records and organizing ideas. If Google Sheets existed in 2001, I’d have been all over it. As I looked over that list, some of the pieces sparked vivid memories. Others, just vague recollections.

There’s a piece that’s not on the list that I’ll never forget. Before my full-fledged orchestra days, I learned to sight-read pieces from Suzuki method violin books. And sometimes I’d join a small group at a Suzuki teacher’s house to practice playing in groups. Which leads me to the piece I mentioned earlier – Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik – a “little serenade.” Attend most orchestra concerts and you’ll see dozens of violinists fanned out to the left of the conductor, divided up into first and second violins. The firsts usually get the melody and the flashy parts, and the seconds provide support and fill in the gaps.

But did you know that sometimes (as in my experience with Eine Kleine), there could be a third violin part? Granted, Mozart didn’t write it in the original, but some kind soul arranged it, perhaps to accommodate budding string artists like myself? And guess who got that part that day in Franklin, Tennessee? This guy. To be fair, I was no Itzhak Perlman, and I was pretty early in my study of the violin. Somebody had to hold down the fort with Violin 3. It’s not a flashy part, there’s a lot of bowing back and forth. But when you combine it with the other parts, it plays a role.

The way different parts of the orchestra work together in harmony reminds me of a marketing department. There are a plethora of players in modern marketing, and they’re all important. Without each person’s contributions, the marketing “orchestra” will be out of tune and out of sync. Everyone matters. I’ve played a few different roles, and I’m thankful for what I’ve learned in each one. Let’s take a short (and not exhaustive) tour around the marketing orchestra to remind ourselves of how it all works together. I’m sure I’ll accidentally leave someone out, so please pardon me in advance.

Operations and campaign-focused roles live and breathe data and details, and without them, content may never reach the right audiences. I’ve spent time in a role like this, and let’s just say I’ll never see a direct mail postcard the same way again. Email marketers know that rush of panic before they email thousands of people, and the rush of joy when a campaign brings in a bounty of leads. The data maestro on your team helps you make sure no one gets a postcard with “Prospect First Name” on the address label. Data wranglers embrace datasets that strike fear in others, and they know “pivot table” isn’t a nerdy dance move. And content operations experts make sure content moves efficiently through all the steps between idea and reality. Every team needs the other members in the team to make melodious music.

The content marketing and social media players (disclaimer: my section) are always thinking  “does this content matter to the people it matters to?” and “is it reaching the right people?” They spend their time thinking of new ways to tell the right stories without sounding like everyone else. They obsess over grammar and word choice, whether for that blog they’re about to hit “publish” on or the 50th tweet they’ve written that day. They rejoice when their content campaigns hit all the right notes, and when the social engagement score keeps rising. When the right content hits the ideal audiences at the ideal time (whether through content, social, or other campaigns,) it’s sweet music all around.

Now to the “creatives,” as they’re often labeled (though we’re all creatives). The creative director, the videographer, the designer. They make it possible for the copy that the writers and editors have worked so hard to create to combine in a beautiful melody and harmony of “art and copy. With the modern consumer’s brief attention span, the power of visual content can’t be overstated. I’m thankful for their work to create compelling visuals without sacrificing quality on the road to “final final.”

And finally, an orchestra looks up to its conductor. Every marketing team needs effective, empathic leaders that back up their words with actions. When a team knows their leader is willing to get their hands dirty, it’s a powerful motivator. Humble, transparent leadership works wonders for a marketing team, like a conductor inspiring an orchestra. And middle management is often the glue that holds it all together. When a conductor is effective, they bring out the best in their musicians, and it’s the same with marketing.

So whether you’re waving the baton or scratching out sixteenth notes, your part matters. Keep your eye on the score and play your best. Though you might not hear it all come together right now, you’re contributing to making beautiful marketing music. I see you back there, third violin — play on!

Author’s Note: The opinions expressed in this blog are my own views and not of Workday.

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Jeremiah Barba
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