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7 Things Marketers can Learn from Rick Rubin

7 Things Marketers can Learn from Rick Rubin

Like a lot of people, I was recently mesmerized by the 60 Minutes interview between Anderson Cooper and famed music producer Rick Rubin. If you think you aren’t familiar with his work, trust me. You are. Rubin has produced music for everyone from Public Enemy to Slayer to Donovan to Lady Gaga (and dozens more). 

If his resume isn’t enough to convince you how talented and creative he is, his book, The Creative Act: A Way of Being almost certainly will. As I was adding it to my online shopping cart, I got to thinking about his lessons on creativity from the interview and how they could apply to marketing. I boiled it down to 7 insights that can inspire my approach to the work, and maybe will inspire yours, too. 

1. Begin with intention.

At the start of the interview Rubin asks Anderson Cooper if they can start with a moment of meditation so they can really “get here.” That kind of intentionality and focus is freaking admirable. It honors the other person, their time, your collective purpose of spending that time together. 

And, according to Rubin it “Clears the distractions… which can get in the way with a direct connection to the creative force.”

Imagine if you brought even 30 seconds of that into your next meeting. Maybe you aren’t ready to fully “meditate” or ask others to do so. But could you set a tone by asking people to leave the stuff from their previous meetings behind…to forget (for a moment) about what’s coming up… and just be present? 

Consider the potential of that, especially in the hybrid-working world of back-to-back (to back) virtual meetings.

2. Focus on feelings

Rubin isn’t necessarily technically trained, so the coaching he is providing during recording sessions is all about the feels. 

Given all the time we spend talking about data and the power of data as marketers, this seems counterintuitive. Even in B2B marketing, we’d like to believe that buying decisions are informed by data. But here’s the thing: they are emotionally driven! (Probably because B2B buyers are people too.)

Sources: The Subconscious Mind of the Consumer (And How to Reach It)
From Promotion to Emotion: Connecting B2B Consumers to Brands
Why B2B Leaders Should Get in Touch With Their Customers' Feelings

Marketing is a blend of art and science already. What if we considered it to also be a blend of data and feelings?

This is where we have to bring up the big B word… BRAND. Your brand is the place to ensure you’re creating a consistent feeling for your employees, customers, prospects, and the world at large.

Rubin explained his approach when working with an artist like this: “We’re trying to tap into a feeling. We’re trying to tap into something that makes you want to lean forward and pay more attention. And I’m giving you cues to look for it in yourself.”

So put yourself into Rick Rubin’s shoes. Are you putting consistent messaging, creative, and experiences out there that make your audience want to lean forward and pay more attention? Are you giving the right cues to help them see themselves in your values? Your products and services?

3. Follow your instincts more

Throughout the interview it’s revealed that Rick Rubin is not a technically gifted producer, meaning he isn’t playing any instruments, nor is he running a soundboard. 

Anderson Cooper asks, “What are you being paid for?” Rubin replies, “The confidence that I have in my taste and my ability to express what I feel has proven helpful for artists.”

As marketing leaders, we’re entrusted with a lot of responsibility, but this might be the most important: have the confidence to act in the best interest of your brand, and ensure you’re demonstrating how it is helpful to your audience.

It can be tempting as a marketer to try to do what everyone else is doing, or feel like you need to keep up with whatever the new shiny object of the day is. Rubin’s approach is an invitation to do your own thing with confidence because you know it’s right for the brand, your goals  — and ultimately your audience — based on your own taste, knowledge, and experience. (And if you’re feeling shaky, you can always lean on us for support.)

4. Know what you influence vs. what you control

Later in the interview, in response to Anderson Cooper indicating that an idea must have been hard to sell, Rubin responds with: “I’m not trying to sell it. I’m just sharing what I’m feeling. If they don’t want to do it, it’s fine.”

Whether you’re creating brand awareness, trying to generate leads, or sell a product or service, your marketing efforts are designed to ideally change behavior. You can have the strongest strategy, the most persuasive copy, the best creative, the most dialed-in targeting… but it still may not work, or at least not in the way you want it to. 

In other words: you can influence all the right things, but the outcomes are still dependent on outside factors you do not control. So some days when the data doesn’t look as good as you’d like it to, try to be fine with it. Marketing requires a “practice mindset” that allows you to try things out, fail quickly (and learn), and trust that you have plenty of other campaigns or plans in place that will keep you on a successful path.

5. Editing matters more than you think

Rubin refers to himself as a reducer rather than a producer. He says, “I like the idea of getting the point across with the least amount of information possible.” 

I really identified with this one as I have collaborated with copy teams in the past on getting to what I call the Minimum Viable Story. What is absolutely necessary to communicate so that everyone understands what this is, first and foremost… and then why they should care… and then how they take the next step if they are persuaded to do so. 

If you can do that simply and cleanly while piquing interest you’re all but certain to meet your goals.

6. It’s not about you

There are a few times this theme is evident throughout Cooper and Rubin’s time together. But in talking about his contributions to the creative output, Rubin says, “My aim is not to have my presence felt, unless it’s necessary… unless it’s helpful.”

This again goes slightly back to having a strong brand, and ensuring that brand serves its target audience well. Sure, we can all find ourselves reflected in the brands we represent and work for, but more often than not we are not the audience we are trying to reach.

It can be challenging to remember this during the creative process, because it’s natural to look at things from a subjective point of view. Falling too in love with your own ideas is something to watch out for.

7. Have a simple principle / do it for the right reasons

It’s clear throughout the entire interview that Rubin is focused on creating the best output. Period. Kesha shares from her time working with him that he’s said, “I just want to make good music.” Not make a hit song. Not go viral. Not win awards. Just make it good.

When talking about the notion of winning awards for the work, he tells Cooper that way of thinking undermines the ability to keep the creative output pure.

Much like the intentionality of starting with meditation, by keeping a simple principle in mind always (creating the best output), as marketers we can help ourselves cut to the chase more quickly.

And the funny thing is, when you create from a place of wanting to do the best work, recognition and accolades tend to come along anyway.

Feeling inspired? We are too! Let’s see how we can collaborate on bringing a little more creativity to your marketing. Contact us to get started.

Heather Vaughn

Heather Vaughn

Executive Director of Marketing

Heather Vaughn is CI Design's Marketing Services Director. Her marketing career has been split with equal time on the agency and client sides, giving her a 360 perspective on marketing, and a keen understanding of how to use all its glorious data effectively.

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