Creative Quest: Marketing Lessons from the Roots’ Drummer

Creative Quest: Marketing Lessons from the Roots’ Drummer

I just finished reading Questlove’s new book, Creative Quest.

Now, 99% of my time reading it, my focus was on how it could speak to writing, theater, and writing for the theater. In fact, I read a decent chunk of it between scenes of the Shakespeare show I’m performing in across the Twin Cities right now.

But I also found myself connecting some of what Quest said back to 9 Clouds and the creativity that goes into our marketing. Here are three big takeaways from Questlove on creative marketing.

1. With Great Creative Power…

First off, Questlove brings a strong sense of responsibility to the creative process.

As an artist (or a marketer), you create things with a responsibility to yourself. And a responsibility to your audience. You even have a responsibility to your competition, to the inspirations to which you pay homage, to the critics of the work you’re doing.

That’s important to remember when the work is hard or when the big, awesome idea isn’t coming. Before you settle for that okay idea, think about all the people you’re cheating by falling short of your ability.

2. Eyes Forward

Creative Quest also offers this beautiful concept of “the train” to talk about how far you can push your artistry or medium before something else comes along.

“If the Roots put out an album right on the cutting edge of jazz and hip-hop, we could enjoy it for a moment. We were the only kid on the platform. But there was always another train about fifty yards behind us. We couldn’t turn to make sure,” Questlove says. “We had to keep going, keep making things, stay creative, stay challenged.”

The next big thing is always coming, whether that’s another great slam poet or chef or new marketing approach by the dealership down the block — or whether it’s some game-changing news from Facebook or Google. So you have to keep moving and thinking ahead.

When the next train comes, especially in the world of online marketing, you’ve got to ask yourself how you’re going to catch back up to it and keep moving forward — because there’s bound to be another train, probably not much more than 50 yards back and gaining.

(Please don’t walk on train tracks, kids.)

3. Order from Chaos

The final Questlove wisdom I’ll share (besides just pointedly saying go buy the man’s book) is about curation.

As a musician (and writer and chef and 48 other things), Quest knows about creation. But as a DJ, hand-selecting and ordering songs in his sets, he has a better sense than most of the intersection between creation and curation, the need to sort through the existing information you have.

In order to deliver for your audience, you have to give order to all of your resources and articles and inspirations and messages. You have to put your content together in a way that someone can follow from start to finish. As marketers, just like DJs or curators at a gallery, we have to shape what those journeys can look like, while allowing for the person who is going to show up late or skip a section.

We need to not only build content — online ads and landing pages and blog posts and emails — but also give order to that chaos, so we create an experience that makes sense for the user.

Happy Questing!

There are just a few ways to apply Creative Quest to what we do with online marketing. Here’s hoping they can give you some help too (and give me some help with playwriting).

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P.S. We wrote a book, too. There are fewer hip-hop and Tonight Show stories, but way more Facebook ad strategies for dealerships, if that’s your thing.