What listening to classical music in a bar reminds us about branding

If you live in the Twin Cities, you know we’re graced with two nationally renowned classical music organizations. So when the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) announced that some of their musicians would assemble at a bar to play a bit of Nielsen and Dvorak, I immediately bought tickets.

Icehouse Minneapolis, the industrially chic venue, imbues a sort of hipster cool. Recently I saw another local band there, Hippocampus, for their release party, courtesy of MPR’s The Current.

This time, a different crowd was in the room. The marketer inside me wanted to label them classical music enthusiasts. Under dim lighting, they leaned forward, listening eagerly as their three-course tastings arrived to join glasses of wine.

Yet this was an altogether different experience. Here we were in a bar listening to a Dvorak string quartet played by two violins, a viola and a cello. This is the kind of cultural mash-up that cross-pollinates … the blending of two worlds you want to share with friends … the kind of experience that shapes brand perceptions.

Onstage, the seriously-talented musicians lit up the room with fast and gentle and jagged and smooth and happy music. In that moment, I felt part of something special: a momentarily intimate connection to the musicians through the music.

Then they stopped playing. The two short sets were finished. With a bow, the players filed out, and the lights came up. They were gone. It was over.

I found myself wishing the musicians had lingered. To play another song? Say hello? Let us buy them a beer? Anything. Instead, the air left the room.

This anticlimactic feeling reminded me of something marketers and brand planners forget too often: Brand relationships are like human relationships. Once there’s an attraction, we want a connection.

People want to feel part of something. This night, the SPCO created a cultural mash-up that took two things I enjoy and blended them seamlessly into an experience that connected. And I wasn’t alone. Icehouse was sold out.
Will I go back? Definitely. Yet why wasn’t this enough to make me want to give the SPCO money? From an audience perspective, the mash-up was terrific. But the connection was simply one moment in time. The experience seemed transactional … and the possibility for a personal or lasting connection was lost.

Brand relationships are like human relationships. When we lean in and demonstrate that we’re interested, we want to be recognized, encouraged and embraced. When brands recognize this and engage us, the relationship becomes reciprocal. That’s when lasting value is built. And true fans are born.

Michelle Fitzgerald is the principal and communications strategist at Brew: Creative Media in Minneapolis. She is also an adjunct faculty member in the professional masters of strategic communication at the University of Minnesota.