All I Needed to Know About Marketing I Learned from Stevie Ray Vaughan

Stevie Ray Vaughan on Marketing

image via CreativeCommons

On August 27, 1990, I sat in Mr. Stanford’s Advanced American Studies class (first period, senior year) as the news flashed across the television set: Stevie Ray Vaughan died in a helicopter crash earlier this morning. Here, in this first period class where we had great debates, told James Nowak to shut up every day and were free to be anyone we wanted to be, I heard words that would crush me on into my adult years. An admitted audiophile, I’d sit on my bedroom floor with liner notes from vinyl and cassettes strung about me (and yes, CDs hadn’t made their appearance yet so keep on keepin’ on with your Old As Dirt comments) and SRV was one of my guilty pleasures I’d never cop to owning to my goth friends.

Always the sucker for a sick blues riff and wicked guitar lick, it occurs to me that there might be some fans out there just like me who learned more than they know from Stevie Ray. From the first moment I heard Lovestruck to the day I learned that Stevie couldn’t read music and beyond, he’s held a piece of this Texas girl’s heart in his talented hands.  As a marketer and writer, I think there’s plenty we can (and have) learned from music. It has a way of telling us we’re doing shit wrong, reminding us that we’re not doing shit, and calling us shits when we fuck it up. Lemme take you through my reasoning that all I ever needed to know about marketing I learned from Stevie Ray Vaughan and who knows – maybe you’ll feel the same way or find some wisdom in the music that makes your life a better place to live.

Couldn’t Stand the Weather

Like a train that stops at every station,
we all deal with trials and tribulations
Fear hangs the fellow that ties up his years,
entangled in yellow and cries all his tears

How often do we waste time wrapped up in our own bullshit? Marketing is an -ing verb. It’s not a noun, for all that’s holy. Sure, use it as one if you want, but in my world, it’s a doing kinda thing. If you let fear paralyze you from taking a leap, you’ll never have truly exceptional results, truly appreciative clients and you’ll find yourself crying because the competition is doing what you really want to be doing. So why not just do? If you got into business only to give up, you let yourself be washed up because you couldn’t stand the weather.

Love Struck, Baby

I still remember and let it be said
The way you make me feel take a fool to forget
I swore a ton of bricks had hit me in the head
And what you do little baby ain’t over it yet

This is what a good marketing creates: unforgettable impressions. Brands we remember. Words to live by and an emotional impact on your target demographic that a ton of bricks can’t make you forget. But after the initial woo, you can’t stop there. You have to create lasting impact that carries over. Your audience? They need to be lovestruck and under your spell. If you can’t do this, then you’re doing something wrong, Vern. Take yer ass back to the drawing board and figure out how to make your audience a fool for you.

Rude Mood

Sometimes you don’t need words to say what you need to say. The elements of some of the most successful marketing campaigns and brands have been what’s unsaid. Jingles, logos, unspoken moments and mere glances in the heat of the moment – those are things just as memorable as words.


Walkin’ the tight rope, steppin on my friends
Walkin’ the tight rope, was a shame and a sin.

You don’t walk on people to get business done. Great marketing requires a team of people to get the message out there in every possible channel. We’ve all run across the colossal douchecopter who thinks he or she is an island. We collide with shitty work ethics and have to pick up the slack, which at times isn’t unlike clawing your way back up a slimy, moss-covered ravine. But we do it. People help people and no matter if you dwell in corporate walls or your own living room, there’s no arguing that people are the reason you can get your job done for the client. Learn to walk the tightrope and ask for help when you need it – don’t step on people along the way because you fall out of balance.

Pride and Joy

Well I love my baby, like the finest wine
Stick with her until the end of time
She’s my sweet little thing, she’s my pride and joy
She’s my sweet little baby, I’m her little lover boy

It’s the song every marketer wishes a consumer would sing about what they pour their heart and soul into. Our brands, our customers – they’re our pride and joy and we do all it is that we do to hope that others will feel the same way, too. Maybe it’s your MacBook. A Mini Cooper. A custom Tiemeyer bicycle. Whatever your passion, we want our pride and joy to be the pride and joy of others. It’s why we do what we do.

And finally…while this isn’t originally a Stevie Ray Vaughan tune, it’s brilliance and it’s one of those songs that reminds me that things don’t have to be complicated. Simplicity is what we most often overlook when we’re trying to design the Next Big Thing. Maybe we can work with what’s already there and find a way to make it our own. Make people happy to see it again. And in the process, remind ourselves to stop making things so damn complicated for complication’s sake.

34 replies
  1. Chris Tucker
    Chris Tucker says:

    You hit this one out of the park for me, Red! Love me some Stevie Ray…

    Excellent point via Rude Mood. Sometimes our most powerful message has nothing to do with what we say.

    Happy Monday – have an awesome week!

  2. onnabugeisha
    onnabugeisha says:

    Damn, girl…separated at birth?  Music has always been at the center of everything I do – whether it be marketing, writing, relationships or picking what the eff to wear. And Stevie, along with Joe Strummer, Mike Ness and a handful of others, is among those guiding voices whose lyrical lessons can be applied in a multitude of ways. Not only does this post of yours successfully marry SRV’s poignant lyrical lessons with marketing,  it also speaks to the power of staying true to passions that drive your life, and finding a way to apply them daily in whatever way works for you. It is possible – even if we are Old As Dirt – to still take music emotionally without reverting back to the teenage angst of finding perfect songs for a mix tape. Thank you for yet another super awesome post, girlfriend. You made me smile. Time to go listen to some SRV, starting with this one: . Rock on, red!

      • Anonymous
        Anonymous says:

        Prove it…I have about 3-4 of his albums on vinyl. 🙂

        I was living in Tokyo when he died, and had picked up on his around the time I graduate college in late 1985.  I always wondered what the big hubbub was about John Lennon being killed.

        On August 27, 1990. I wondered no more.

        • The Redhead
          The Redhead says:

          *Sigh* I used to (before mom’s house lost its roof in a hurricane) have a collection of over 200 12″ singles and LPs. Now, they are but a flooded memory 🙁

  3. Mike Hale
    Mike Hale says:

    Great Stuff! I was supposed to go see his 2nd to last show at Alpine Valley, but I wasn’t able to go (best friend did though, said it was a GREAT show). I remember hearing the first reports on the radio that it was member’s of Clapton’s band that were killed. Then it broke that it was SRV. As a guitarist, in the same bluesy-rock vein, it was not a good day. 

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Was not an SRV fan until I met him in a hotel bar before a show.  I was a chauffeur and he was with his manager.  Nice guy.  He knew more about my hometown team than I did.   He knew who paid his bills and loved every fan…. Even the ones who were not yet…  One of those life moments I didn’t appreciate until I heard the news…  A fan for life… great article

    • The Redhead
      The Redhead says:

      Glad you enjoyed. One of my biggest regrets is never seeing him live, but I have one of his Montreaux Jazz Festival shows on DVD along with the Sessions he did with Albert King. SWOON.

  5. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    One other thing about SRV…Once he realized what he was good at and enjoyed it,  he was doing what he loved to do and didn’t matter if 5 people showed up or 5,000 – He played….

  6. Erica Allison
    Erica Allison says:

    Tisket. Tasket. I love this blog post baby! SRV is a fav of mine and I too had vinyl and liner notes, cassette tapes and little 45s with those little plastic cones you’d put on the record player in order to play them.  Awesome take-aways and the videos weren’t bad either! Thanks.  Great reminder.

  7. Michael LaRocca
    Michael LaRocca says:

    I can’t possibly call someone from the class of ’91 Old As Dirt, because I’m from the class of ’81. Wearing my granny glasses so I can see this newfangled computer thing.

    I can’t remember what I was doing when I heard that Syd Barrett died, but I had very similar feelings. I imagine it’ll be worse when we lose Roger Waters or Dave Gilmour, since really they are Pink Floyd.

  8. Michael
    Michael says:

    Old?  Apparently I was there at the Big Bang having seen SRV in a small club in 1984. Just found your blog with the help of Geno Prussakov’s blog recommending the top 20 affiliate blogs for 2011.  New to affiliate marketing, obviously not new to SRV, but you definitely have a fresh use of Stevie.  Thanks for the perspective. Sincerely – Love Struck Baby (boomer). 

  9. Al Smith
    Al Smith says:

    This is the Best ! So glad I went on twitter this morning and saw Ericas RT.  SRV was one of my Favs. And I am Old, but young at heart.  Anyone that can use music  and SRV to make some great marketing comparisons and educate as well, is a winner in my book.  Well done.  My first visit but definitely not my last.  I’m Love Struck Baby !!  Thank YOU !!

    Love SRV version of “Little’Wing”


    C.A.R.E. = Communicate, Appreciate, Respect, Encourage.

    • The Redhead
      The Redhead says:

      Glad you found me, too, Al. And welcome to the Dark Side. We have great conversations here and they only BEGIN with the blog posts 🙂 (What’s NOT to like about Little Wing?)

  10. Scott
    Scott says:

    I’ve been an island not by design or choice, but by constant two faced manipulation, slander and religion inspired psychotic intrusion on what I thought was my privacy. Not every island is stranded at sea because he or she is a “douchebag”. Most cutting edge ideas in science and philosophy were invented or discovered by “islands” who were simply ahead of their time or didn’t fit into their social mileau and decided to be true to themselves instead of the pack or mob. A truth some people have a hard time accepting…hence the insults from people who have benefited from them.

  11. The Franchise King
    The Franchise King says:

    Thanks, Erika.
    My friend TJ McCue RT’d this post, and since it involved SRV, I just had to stop on by.

    SRV wasn’t on my radar screen until about 5 years ago. Crazy. I’m a rocker from way back, and I just wasn’t into him.

    But now.


    The Franchise King®

  12. Watchthattip
    Watchthattip says:

    Did you know GOOD OLE Stevie just turned 51y.o. YOUNG yesterday?Oh yea! We have ALL his CD’s! 🙂

  13. simon george
    simon george says:

    Though I don’t think without a Jimi Hendrix there would be a
    Steview Ray Vaughn, I don’t think you can draw a line that says one of them is
    better. SRV demonstrated what it was to truly bleed music. Great post keep up the hard work. Check these
    out IStillGotMyGuitar.


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