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Digital Marketing

Guitars, Business & SEO: Lessons from the Stage


by Luke Cerny
I’ve learned over my years as a musician that connecting with your audience is much more important than being technically “good”. This was one of those hard lessons learned only by going to countless open mics, where I would spend hours and hours perfecting difficult guitar pieces only to have them fall on deaf ears. I would finish the song and get a few polite claps, but I would rarely get the feeling that I had caught anybody’s attention.

I assumed that by choosing uncommon songs or playing my own material, people would automatically respect me for being unique and technically good. But time and time again, I saw others get up and easily grab the audience’s attention, despite what they played or how well they actually played it.


I began to realize that it didn’t matter what I was playing anywhere near as much as how I was connecting with the audience. I could play the most difficult song in the world, but most people would ignore me if I failed to connect with them first.
I finally understood the main reason I was failing: I wasn’t really playing for my audience – I was playing for myself and expecting others to invite themselves into my world. I was my own audience.
Once I had this revelation, I realized that this exact same principle can (and should) be applied by companies to their marketing and advertising efforts. There are multitudes of companies out there that focus so much on the product or service that they miss out on connecting with an actual audience. They don’t know how to ground their brand as a personality, allowing a target group of people to easily relate to it and understand the benefit they will receive by using its products or services.

What about online?

This has never been more evident than it is now for brands competing in the online space, where constant innovation and change can completely transform the competitive landscape in a short matter of time.
Now, more than ever, brands need to reassess who they are. Just like people, they need to grow and develop rich, unique personalities if they expect to succeed. Doing this requires a deep understanding of customers so that they will develop a relationship with your brand.
As I eventually identified many characteristics that great performers possess, here is how some of those same tips can be used to connect your brand to your audience online:

  • Don’t assume – test:

The biggest mistake I made starting out as a performer was assuming that everybody would like what I was playing for what it was. It was only after testing different ways to present my music and arrange my set-lists that I realized the interaction is much more dynamic. Only through testing and looking at what worked for others did I start to do better for myself.
One of the greatest benefits of the online space is our ability to track metrics and test. In the history of time, humans have never had access to so much data! Take advantage of this and test as much as you can so that you can have data to back up your reasoning behind keeping the flash intro page to your website from 1999 up. (Hint: just take it down already, man!)

  • Avoid shortcuts:

I have been playing musical instruments since I was young, so I find it relatively easy to learn new songs due to my technical experience. The only reason I can play what I can play is because I have practiced for thousands and thousands of hours. You must be willing to put in the time if you want to move toward mastery.
Shortcuts are great when they are practical. It’s always great to be efficient. When it comes to your brand and website, however, you should avoid shortcuts. This holds especially true in the world of SEO, where spammy “black-hat” practices have yielded companies short-term results in exchange for long-term ass pain. Many of these companies spent thousands of dollars trying to game Google’s search algorithm by paying for unnatural links and employing other “black-hat” tactics, only to be caught and manually taken out of search results. Don’t cheat – put in the work.

  • Do it for your audience:

I have a fairly uncommon taste in music, fed by various musical obsessions I’ve developed over the years. Delta blues is one of my favorite kinds of music to play and listen to. I remember one show in particular in which I planned a set consisting of several old blues songs. I practiced for a long time and learned several new techniques. so I was excited to bring something unique to the bar I was playing. After playing through several songs, however, nobody was really responding. Finally, someone requested some 90s music, and it dawned on me that I had been playing for myself, not the audience. As soon as I made the shift to more popular music, people paid attention. The best part was, after playing a couple songs they could relate to, they were more open to hearing other more unconventional material.
Don’t start a business for the main purpose of making money. Start a business because you found something that you truly believe makes the world a better place. When you focus on this, you will have no problem connecting with your audience because you actually care about them and want to give them the best experience possible. The web is an increasingly cluttered place, and it’s readily apparent when I go to a website if they care about my experience or they just want to spam me with ads and deals. Don’t be annoying – be useful.

  • Don’t take yourself too seriously:

One of my favorite memories is playing at a bar where several friends were present. I was visibly nervous and went on stage without a word to begin playing a song. When I started singing, however, I realized that I was in my upper range and should have started lower. Eventually, I screwed up and stopped. I felt like I had let everybody in the world down, until a friend yelled, “Don’t stop – who cares!” I immediately was able to laugh at myself, and the rest of the show was easy and fun to play.
When you take yourself too seriously you look arrogant. Then, when you screw up, you look like a fool. Always remember that you should be focused on other’s experiences. Innovative brands aren’t afraid to mess up, as long as they understand what happened and learn from it. Companies that take themselves too seriously tend to avoid risks, ultimately stagnating in their ability to offer value. Don’t be that company – learn from your mistakes and take a jovial approach to business and life. These are the businesses that remain flexible enough to stay ahead!

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