James DeKoven
Writer & Content Strategist

Blog of marketing and branding ideas

Opinions, ideas and ramblings

Fly On, Freebird: Or How to Shed New Light On a Familiar Message

Anyone who grew up listening to rock radio has probably heard “Freebird” about 5,000 times. That’s why many of us, upon hearing the song’s dramatic opening chords, have also changed the station about 1,000 times. Yes, we’re sick of it.

It’s kind of a shame. Other than the Allman Brothers, few American bands match Lynyrd Skynyrd’s level of artistic spirit, songcraft, and musicianship. Too bad, then, that “Freebird”, the epic, slow-burning composition that builds to a legendary crescendo, carried by the narrator’s raw confessional, has become the stuff of pop culture sarcasm, a joke song request shouted at concerts. In turn, we have a watered-down perception of the song and the band itself.

Yet if you knew the back-story, you might gain new appreciation for one of the most requested tracks in radio history.

“Freebird” isn’t a fictional tale about a young man’s romantic yearning to leave his woman for a life on the road. The song had deeply personal roots for Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Allen Collins. As Gene Odom wrote in Lynyrd Skynrd: Remembering the Free Birds of Southern Rock:

“It was a song that had been under development for almost a year, having begun with a question posed by Allen’s girlfriend and future wife. For Kathy Johns it was obvious that there would always be another love in Allen’s life, and that was music. Watching him practice in his mother’s living room one day, she asked, ’If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?’”

As we know, that existential question became the poignant, word-for-word opening lyric. Before I read that story, the song’s trivial place in our culture prevented me from fully appreciating its true sentiment. But knowing its origins, I’m now able to see “Freebird” from a new angle.

In a way, we face the same roadblocks with our marketing efforts; negative perceptions are hard to overcome, whether they’re of a rock n roll song, political party or brand of toothpaste. The public is so weary of dumbed-down, conventional messages that they’ve erected cognitive barriers to even consider what you have to say. On top of that, depending on the study you believe, there are 300 to 5,000 marketing messages competing for our attention each day. There’s just not a lot of room to break through the noise.

We need to shed new light on the familiar. Some ideas:

What if your offering didn’t exist? Forget features and benefits for a minute. Help people imagine a world (or a day or scenario) where there was no such thing as your product or service. No architects, no dog food, no carpenters, no CRM solutions, no data warehousing. What are the implications for their lives, their businesses, their families?

I’m not suggesting to literally use those answers in your messaging. Rather, the exercise will spark creativity and mine original concepts.

Listen to your sales people. They often pull out verbal gems when meeting prospects, but those don’t often get passed on to marketing. How are they creating those “a-ha” moments? Capture them. 

I’ve found that even with clients who have “open” office spaces, marketing and sales rarely collaborate. Get away from “we do this and they do that” and focus on the collective good.

Work harder than the competition. Many in your category probably have similar positioning, with the same conventional messaging. It’s not due to a lack of intelligence.They’re lazy.

Do something fresh. You shouldn’t invent a zany idea just to be different. Provide a new slant on a generic product/service benefit that’s shared across your industry. Inject more humanity and personality into the tone of voice. Work harder.

Alter the experience. Your brand isn’t a combination of colors, typefaces and taglines; it’s the feelings and attributes people associate with your company. Much of that is how they access the message.

Try something off the beaten path with your web design, navigation, interactive elements, call to action, even how people click through case studies. Obviously, you want an intuitive user experience so people can easily complete their tasks. Just try to create some daylight between you and the competition along the way.