This year, HIMSS was remarkable for many reasons. For me, it re-introduced the city of New Orleans and (after multiple negative experiences) the allure the city can have. It also represented a personal success in winning an iPad Mini from Cigna – thanks to 42,000 steps in a 24-hour Fitbit competition. But, more importantly, sitting with clients in jazz clubs and restaurants, listening to the music, I realized how similar good jazz is to a good marketing strategy.

Now, I do not profess to be an expert in jazz, or even very versed in the various luminaries who created this original and recognizable form of American music. But sitting there, listening, and enjoying the music over some chicory coffee, I was struck by how infective the sounds were. It seemed that each of the band’s members took different approaches on the same musical theme. Instead of an unbearable cacophony, the result was energetic and engaging, touching on the emotional. The techniques employed involved improvisation, syncopation, and (my favorite) polyrhythmic. By immersing myself in the sounds of jazz, it became apparent that a great marketing approach is very much analogous to great jazz music.

Often, traditional marketing follows a prescribed approach to the traditional marketing mix – the four Ps of product, placement, pricing, and promotion – and the more modern mix – the four Cs of consumer, cost, communication, and convenience. These are the cornerstone of marketing and important to consider, but it is their arrangement, rhythm, and tone that could take a lesson from jazz. Instead of creating a harmony of efforts that work in direct concert with one another (think barbershop quartet), an innovative approach to marketing should be dynamic, using conflicting techniques, and shifting toward the areas of traction. In jazz music, the use of improvisation means each performance is different, often affected by the audience listening. A good marketing strategy needs to do the same. By using different themes and avenues, a company can reach a broader customer base with the ability to shift its campaign based on response.