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Wait for It: 3 Important B2B Marketing Lessons from the Success of Hamilton

Published by in B2B Marketing

The instant you hear it, it grabs you.

One, tri-pl-et, three, four, one.

It’s loud and somewhat startling in its simplicity–just a snare drum and some brass, reminiscent of a military march. The march suddenly fades away into an ominous half-cadence on the strings. It’s smoother and flows a little more melodically, but leaves you feeling uneasy.

And then, as abruptly as it enters, the orchestra drops out entirely; only the sound of fingers snapping remains.

b2b marketing lessons

These are the first two bars of the score of Hamilton, the Broadway juggernaut smashing box office records and winning widespread critical acclaim. And if you’re not hooked by the dexterity of what composer and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda has packed into the first two bars of Hamilton, just wait until you hear what he’s packed into the rest of the show.

Take a listen to those two bars–and the rest of the opening number–and you can see what’s so infectious about it. It’s not just the novelty of rapping about the Founding Fathers. It’s the way it builds and churns, contrasting a full cast and orchestra used to highlight some sections against the deafening power of a minimalist accompaniment emphasize others.


“Genius,” First Lady Michelle Obama called the show. “The best art I have ever seen.” She and President Barack Obama have seen it at least twice, inviting the cast to the White House to perform a concert version for students. But the first family’s praise is just the tip of the iceberg. The show was nominated for a record-breaking sixteen Tony Awards (winning eleven of them on Sunday). Amy Schumer parodied the musical on her TV show. Lin-Manuel Miranda was featured on the cover of this month’s edition of Rolling Stone, where Hamilton was called “the Hottest Ticket in the World.” Heck, my friends even named their cat Meowlexander Hamilton. It’s a cultural phenomenon.

Meowlexander Hamilton. We call him HamiltonCat for short.

Meowlexander Hamilton. We call him HamiltonCat for short.

So what is it about Hamilton that’s so infectious? How did it earn so much buzz? In a sea of new musicals and plays–a seemingly endangered art merely months ago–how did this one explode?

What can others learn about standing out from the crowd from Hamilton?

1. Stop trying to “make [your B2B industry] sexy.”

B2B marketers are all too familiar with the struggle of appeal. “How can we make [insert boring B2B topic here] sexy?” is a common question reviled for both its difficulty and its cringeworthy choice of adjective. It’s agency speak: the question you ask when you’re at a loss for questions.

Let me tell you from the horse’s mouth, folks: business software can be an “unsexy” topic.

And–as many high schooler’s will tell you–so is U.S. History.

Part of what makes Lin-Manuel Miranda’s adaptation of Alexander Hamilton’s life so intriguing is the way he addresses this idea head-on. He knew it was a story most of America was uninterested in, but also one that could have widespread appeal.

“This is a story about America then, told by America now,” Miranda described to The Atlantic, “and we want to eliminate any distance between a contemporary audience and this story.”

It’s this idea of distance between a story and an audience that should be intriguing to B2B marketers. The distance is what makes financial planning, business software, and really any kind of insurance “unsexy.” Eliminating the distance is a more practical, more tangible (and less infuriating) way to think about inciting passion in consumers about a seemingly uninteresting industry.

“Make it sexy,” implies adding or generating qualities that don’t exist, or some sort of cheap lipstick-on-a-pig makeover. You’re instructed to get blood from a stone. “Eliminate the distance,” however, is solvable. It implies bridging a gap, or rectifying information that may get lost in translation. For Miranda, he identified the distance between the Founding Fathers and a modern audience as the constructs of “old white men in wigs,” and an antiquated, formal 17th century version of the English language. He eliminates the distance by telling the story with rap battles, an R&B-inspired score, and a purposefully diverse cast.  

How does this concept translate? For the insurance industry, eliminating the distance could mean breaking down the overwhelming rules, different coverage options, and pricing plans in a more digestible way. For the business software industry, it means showing them that the way things are is not the way things have to be. It means breaking down the time a tool saves a user daily: helping a user realize that the frustrations they’re dealing with on a daily basis (software lag time, creating massive spreadsheets, manual data entry) can be automated or fixed. It means helping them realize that the CRM or donor management or accounting system they use isn’t the only out there. Or it means helping them realize that switching to a new software is far easier, or less costly, or less daunting than it seems.

These are all barriers business software marketers have to overcome–distances that have to be eliminated–between the customer and your story.

Daveed Diggs as Marquis de Lafayette, Okieriete Onaodowan as Hercules Mulligan, Anthony Ramos as John Laurens and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton. Production image by Joan Marcus, courtesy of Broadway.com

Daveed Diggs as Marquis de Lafayette, Okieriete Onaodowan as Hercules Mulligan, Anthony Ramos as John Laurens and Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton. Production image by Joan Marcus, courtesy of Broadway.com

2. Play to your team’s strengths.

If the score of Hamilton had been performed as it was originally written, at least one number would have been far less interesting than it currently is. Act one R&B-inspired showstopper, “The Schuyler Sisters,” performed by the three leading/featured women of the show, was originally devoid of the tight vocal harmonies that make it one of the show’s most memorable numbers.

The three actresses were singing together in a dressing room before a rehearsal when Miranda overheard them. Enthused by what they were doing, he let them take some time to fill in the score with harmonies they created themselves.

It’s an interesting anecdote, but why does it matter? As the show’s composer, Miranda could have walked past and thought, “Oh, that’s nice. Remember to sing the score the way I wrote it on stage,” and been done with it. But what he was able to do was recognize the strengths of these actresses, his team, and that what they were able to do together was better than what he was able to do alone.

Especially in B2B marketing, where teams are often lean, it’s important to remember that your team members have diverse backgrounds, skills, and experience. They can often contribute beyond the plan you originally outlined, or in different ways, so keep an open mind. Would you deny the team member who volunteers her time and background in graphic design the ability to make custom graphics for your blog just because you originally assigned her to draft tweets? At the end of the day, pride and hierarchy need to take a backseat to efficiency and effectiveness.

3. Take control of your narrative.

One of my favorite themes of Hamilton is the idea of storytelling. A recurring idea throughout the libretto is that “You have no control/ who lives, who dies, who tells your story,” a bit of a riff on the idea that “history is written by the winners.” The life and death of Alexander Hamilton an important narrative in our nation’s history that’s all but been forgotten, in part because the story has no winners. The character of Aaron Burr highlights this idea when, [spoiler?] after defeating Alexander Hamilton in a duel, he sings “Now I’m the villain in your history.” Miranda further emphasizes this idea by deftly tossing the role of the narrator between protagonist and antagonist, Hamilton and rival Aaron Burr, respectively, throughout the musical.

However, it’s Eliza Hamilton who pulls the biggest storytelling power move in the show. Defying her character’s most popular refrain of “Helpless,” and the constant affirmation by multiple characters that “You have no control” over your story, Eliza proves otherwise.

Breaking the fourth wall, it’s Eliza who acknowledges that she not only exists within the confines of the story, but exercises her power to alter it proactively. “I’m erasing myself from the narrative,” she sings in what is possibly the most powerful moment in the show.

This is the most important takeaway for B2B marketers from Hamilton: never believe your story is out of your control. Sure, things can come up at any time, but to think you can’t exercise power over it is practically giving up. You should always be working to craft your narrative. Sometimes that requires you to manually craft it, and sometimes it can develop naturally. And as time goes on, you’ll get a better understanding of when you should and should not exercise your power and participate in the conversation.

More?

Aside from being as entertaining as it is educational, Hamilton is a beacon of success that will be talked about for years. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the record-breaking success of the show in the comments below, and what you think B2B marketers can learn from it to improve their efforts.

And if you haven’t yet, I highly recommend taking a listen to the cast recording:


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About the Author

Dylan Echter

Dylan Echter

Dylan works on Public Relations, Social Media, and Brand Marketing at Capterra. He's a NJ native, DC resident, and graduate of the College of William and Mary. He enjoys live music and compelling stories, and has a casual interest in ekistics.

Comments

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Comment by Katie Ulch on

This weaves together two of my favorite things: Hamilton and marketing! What a great article, Dylan, and I love the connections you made between the two.

Also, very jealous that it seems you were able to see the show. 🙂

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Comment by Cathy Reisenwitz on

All this is interesting. But how did you get tickets???

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