One of the things I love about living in New York is that I'm just a few subway stops away from Broadway. It gives me the opportunity to see a lot of great theater, which almost never fails to entertain, enlighten, and often educate me on the finer points of branding and marketing.

However, on Wednesday night when I attended the preview of the new musical Escape to Margaritaville -- a story built around the songs of Jimmy Buffett -- I wasn't expecting much. Truth be told, I'm not a Parrot Head -- the slang term for Buffett fans. Honestly, I could take him or leave him.

But one minute into the show, as the lead began singing "License to Chill" surrounded by an energetic cast dressed in Island attire dancing like Hibiscus flowers blowing in a tropical wind, I knew I was in for something special.

In a flash I saw why Buffett's had such an enduring and popular brand for more than 40 years. Here're just a few of the branding brainstorms I walked away with.

Find the common ground and go with it.

There is a wonderful scene in the show where one of the main characters belts out Buffett's popular "Cheeseburger in Paradise."

25-plus people on stage sing with gusto about this iconic symbol of American culture, and I could feel the joy all around me. Much of the show, and Buffett's music, speaks to our simple pleasures and pains.

Buffett's songs have a winking quality to them, a nod to the audience that says, "Come on, let's tell the truth; you know what I mean."

Case in point, the song "We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us About." The humor in Escape to Margaritaville is smart, and the laughs are frequent. They're not at anyone's expense, but rather at our shared experience.

Theatrical takeaway: The more we can connect our brand with everyone's everyday experience, the more relatable we become.

The one who gets people participating wins.

To me, there is nothing quite so magical as live theater. And while it can be an engaging experience, it's generally not participatory.

One of the strokes of genius in the show is that it draws on the brand of Buffett's concerts -- concerts that are known for their tailgate parties. Long before Buffett steps onto the stage to sing, his fans pull into the parking lot, set up makeshift tropical bars, and begin the show all on their own.

Escape to Margaritaville makes the audience feel like they are not just a part of the show, but integral to it. No spoilers, but singalongs and beach balls are involved.

Theatrical takeaway: So much of the selling and presentation of our brands is done as "tell" rather than "show." Redesigning how we communicate about our brands to allow potential customers to be part of the process gets them on our side, and increases the investment they have in our success.

Don't take yourself (or your brand) too seriously.

The tune that Buffett is most famous for, "Margaritaville," has its shining moment in the show that bears its name. But rather than deliver the number with the reverence Buffett fans might expect, the lyricist, and cast, is not shy about making fun of the star song. 

In fact, some of the biggest laughs in the show come from poking fun at a few of Buffett's most iconic tunes.

Theatrical takeaway: Be willing to ease up on the sacred cow(s) of our brand and at least every once in a while have a good laugh at ourselves.

In a time when just turning on the TV and watching the daily news can be stressful, Escape to Margaritaville leaves audiences with the core of Buffett's music and brand. It gives us a license to chill.

Published on: Mar 16, 2018