Marketing is a lot like attending a rock concert. Who’s your favorite musician or band? Simon and Garfunkel get first place with me, but Billy Joel is definitely a close second.

I first saw him in concert in the late 70s, when I was in college. He played at Arkansas State in the basketball gym. I’d never heard of him, but a couple of friends were going and I figured I might as well. There was a piano on the floor in the middle of the gym and a guy in jeans and running shoes sat down at the piano, with about 25 of us gathered around, sitting on the floor. So the first time I heard Piano Man, I was sitting at Joel’s feet, close enough I could have untied his shoelaces if I’d wanted to. He played for a good two hours, chatted with us and sipped beer. Though I loved the music, I never dreamed he’d be the star he became. Watching this video took me back to college and the floor of that gym.

About two minutes in, the crowd is singing along so loudly that Joel stops for a bit and lets the audience take it, and at the end the whole band cuts out for eight bars or so. The applause is thundering.

It started me thinking about communications and how we try to reach our audience. One of the reasons Billy Joel is such an engaging performer is that he’s as much a regular guy as a rock star can be. His music is about life, relationships, loss — things we all relate to.

You know you’ve really connected when the crowd sings your song to you. When that happens, you’ve created a moment they will not forget.

So you’re not a rock star … how do you get people to sing along?

  1. Relate. Billy Joel’s songs and onstage chatter are relatable: a favorite restaurant, trying to get the girl in high school, a failed relationship. Finding common ground is the first step to building relationships, online or real life.
  2. Don’t hog the spotlight. The cheers were loudest when the crowd sang. People love to contribute, they love to be heard. Listen more than you talk, and highlight others, not yourself.
  3. Stir emotions. Memories are powerful and feelings influence business decisions more than any of us would like to admit. Find a way to associate your product or service with things that evoke pleasant thoughts or bring back happy moments if you can do so without compromising your message.
  4. Be yourself. Billy Joel doesn’t put on airs. His language is often NSFW and he makes no effort to clean it up for the stage. Like it or not, he is who he is. Putting on a false persona is exhausting and builds walls. You’re the only one who can really be you.
  5. Bring your A game. Joel isn’t a young man, but he still puts on a phenomenal show. He sounds great, the band is tight and, rather than rest on his considerable laurels, he works up a sweat to please the audience. Never stop striving for your best.

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