Does the strong and deep company culture you have nurtured and sustained still resonate with employees and attract customers? As new generations replace retirees and your customers change, is your company culture still aligned with your company’s goals? If you are thinking your company culture is too embedded to change, consider the most truly American form of music, the Blues, and you will see that if it’s culture can change with the times, so can yours! How so? The Blues as a music form was born out of the roots of slavery and Jim Crow but was first heard across the world through the voice of Robert Johnson. His songs and voice expressed the hardship endured by African Americans that was carried forward through the great migration north to Chicago.
While I’ve always enjoyed the Blues, only now did I learn about the business, the artists and the hard-core fans that support and have changed this music as it thrives in the 21st century. Recently, I was embedded on the 23rd sailing of the week–long Blues Cruise with 25 bands and 1500 fans. Conceived by the entrepreneur Roger Naber and co-sponsored by the Blues Society, the Blues Hall of Fame and various other Blues organizations and media, each cruise sells out months before sailing.
Why are the Blues a role model for your culture change in your business? Because it’s radical shifts in culture change proves all businesses can to adapt to keep up with the times. Here are 3 reasons and examples of why the Blues had to and the implications these have for your company’s culture change.
1. The Blues was carried forward from its Black roots to mainstream audiences. The early Bluesmen, particularly Muddy Waters, were role models for many bands particularly the Rolling Stones. In his autobiography, Keith Richards acknowledges there would be no Rolling Stones if it weren’t for the Blues. But today, there are fewer African-American recording artists who are taking the place of BB King and Buddy Guy. It’s more likely you will be listening to white, Latino and female performers. On the cruise ship, for every great master Bluesman such as Taj Mahal, there were 5-10 up-and-coming musicians from different cultural backgrounds
a. Implication for your business: Consider how your new suppliers will influence the product you have to sell and determine your value proposition.
2. The Blues has needed to find a new audience if it was to thrive today. To continue to attract Blues fans, the music has followed its audience to the suburbs and on vacation. The Blues Cruise is the perfect example of the thriving niche cruise business. And to attract more fans and insure capacity cruises, classic rock bands such as members of the J Geils Band
are included despite aggravating traditional fans. As one performer put it so eloquently, “Despite our differences, we are all in the same boat together.”
a. Implication for your business: Regardless of the protestations of your oldest customers, you may need to make accommodations to attract the next generation of customers.
3. The Blues have changed from music about suffering and surviving to music about feeling and coping. As the human condition of all ethnicities has improved since the days of slavery, especially among today’s 20-40 year-olds, Blues music has changed accordingly. For example, Deanna Bogart, a brilliant piano, saxophone and vocalist, sings one of her hits about being the only girl in the band.
that’s a long way from songs of survival. The younger generation of artists sang mostly about coping with today’s human conditions. On this bargain-priced cruise, cabins were available from “Motel 6” rates all the way up to the “Four Seasons” of suites, yet the audience was 95% white with an average age of 60.
a. Implication for your business: Despite what you and your devoted customers may want, let your new buyers influence not just what you provide but how you think about your whole business and its Best and Highest Use. Don’t be so defensive of your traditional culture at the risk of losing your new customers. Give them what they yearn and will pay for. If the Rolling Stones could have one of their greatest hits being a disco song called “Miss You” and Bob Dylan offended his folk song fans when he played the electric guitar, consider how you can stretch your limits. You can also choose to define the trends rather than react to them.
How does the Blues cruise succeed in the face of the changing culture of the Blues itself? As a business, www.bluescruise.com earns respect and profits. Here are 4 ways they do it.
1. The Blues Cruise thrives through endorsement and partnerships with industry associations and defenders. The night before the ship sailed, the Los Angeles Blues Society, an organization whose goal is preservation of the art form, sponsored a pre-concert event asking only that all those attending join the society to support the Blues itself.
a. Implication for your business. Continually find ways to engage your customers so they can leverage your efforts. While the attendance of many business association and tradeshows is down, the Blues Society demonstrates that a core group of devotees can carry a business forward.
2. Find innovative venues to provide immersive experiences. A weeklong program on a cruise ship is an ingenious way to build loyalty and community. On these cruises, the 30 bands, promoters and 1500 cruisers had the opportunity to get to know each other over lunches, at the pool and in the gym. This enabled bands to jam with each other, meet promoters and bond with their audiences. I leave with fond memories of meeting many of the musicians.
a. Implication for your business: How can you create bonding experiences for your customers with each other and with your staff?
3. Respect the legacy, promote the present and encourage the future of the Blues. All cruisers know that while the music is so steeped in tradition much is changing and are eager to look back, look around and look forward. The artist Taj Mahal, well into his 70s, was treated with great respect as a Blues Hall of Famer.
Young musicians eager to learn from his example and gain his wisdom often surrounded him. Similarly, the current star and single mother, Ruthie Foster,
who comes from sparse means brought her toddler child by necessity and was grateful for the support she earned. A young band for the future, California Honeydrops
brought a wonderful spirit of youthful enthusiasm and energy playing every morning till 3 AM. And young passenger Cheyenne, a 16-year-old guitarist invited to jam alongside the pros. She and several of the ship’s musicians were clearly in music heaven.
a. Implication for your business: In shifting your culture, don’t forget to honor the past, support the present and invest in the future. Culture change best occurs when all those involved can contribute.
4. Leverage current technology and the venue to enhance the audience experience. The Blues cruise was able to take advantage of the ship’s unique features. In addition to its theater, piano bars and small stages available, Roger’s team built a stage over one of the swimming pools creating a Festival–like experience. To sit around the pool, sip cocktails and get a tan while watching the performers was a delight. We enjoyed the upscale experience usually reserved for paying hundreds or thousands of dollars at an event such as the New Orleans Jazz Festival or Burning Man. Furthermore, a sampler CD was provided to the cruisers as they left the ship.. This gave the artists another way to thank their newly-expanded fan base.
a. Implication for your business: How can you better connect in unusual ways to your fan base? Mobile technology offers countless ways to take your customers out of conference halls and invite them to exciting locations for unforgettable experiences.
Conclusions/Summary. Culture change is one of the most critical and difficult components of insuring your business’ success. You must protect your firm’s deep roots, stay relevant and continue to appeal to new customers, employees and vendors. The Blues are embedded in this country’s heritage and consciousness because of how well it still expresses the human condition. Watching its evolution is fascinating. Imagine how Robert Johnson would feel if he witnessed the cruise spectacle that he helped create. Don’t you wish that your legacy could have the same impact on the future success of your business?