The beautiful Purple One is, sadly, gone. His most enduring legacy will be his virtuoso guitar playing followed by fabulous showmanship in a killer wardrobe. But there are other ways Prince left his mark, and content marketers could learn a thing or two from him in our own work.
Stories and visual prose are more memorable than facts (usually). From “Little Red Corvette” to “Purple Rain” and on through “Baltimore,” Prince used vivid, indelible images to tell stories of ambition, love, loss, betrayal, and injustice. Few were better at capturing the intense emotions that are part of the human condition. Lesson: Tell stories with real people on personal journeys to make your point.
Share credit to get content in to the market. Prince was famously generous with other musicians, whether relative newcomers like Sinead O’Connor (her biggest hit was Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 You”) or veterans like Chaka Khan. Sometimes he took less credit as a songwriter, arranger, or musician than he was due. Lesson: Sometimes it’s more important to get your stuff out there, than to grab credit.
Look for ways to grow and expand your reach. Prince worked across genres (jazz, rock, folk, pop, gospel, funk, soul) and pushed other musicians to their limits as well. When asked to compose two songs for a Batman movie, he did the whole soundtrack instead. Never has the Joker been so funky! Lesson: Don’t let anyone put you in a box—over deliver, and don’t fall into a rut doing the same thing.
Keep working and keep creating. Yes, we all need some down time to think, but creatives need to . . ., well, create. It was reported that Prince’s vault contained “so much music his estate could put out an album a year for the next century,” and that he went through periods when he wrote a song a day. Not all of them will be the next “When Doves Cry,” but there are sure to be a few gems. Lesson: Creativity and discipline are complements, not opposites—get something down on paper or film, and don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good.
Balance hard truths with uplift. He printed the word “SLAVE” on his face to shame Warner Bros. over ownership of his master recordings; he wasn’t afraid to be controversial and wallow in pathos. But he knew when to lighten up. And light up he did—for every “Sign o’ the Times” there were two or three songs of pure, sly fun. “Delirious.” “Let’s Go Crazy.” “Baby I’m a Star.” “1999.” And that’s just the first decade. Lesson: Balance tough messages with humor and an appreciation of life’s absurdities to connect with audiences.
Like many who grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I spent a lot of time over the last weeks listening to Prince’s music and watching those outrageous videos. And wearing purple every day. It is super hard to know he is gone. But then, I found this video of Prince and Stevie Wonder in Paris ripping through “Superstition” which reminds me of all the joy he brought.
Thanks, Prince. Thanks for everything.