Oh, Say Can You Sing? Business Lessons of the National Anthem

As an "early-to-bed, early-to-rise" kind of person, the odds of me staying up late enough to see the end of the Super Bowl were about as good as Tom Brady and Eli Manning going to Disney World together after the big game.

Luckily, it's not really the game I'm interested in. And, no, it's not the commercials, either. As a person who thinks a lot about small business, it's the national anthem that strikes me as the part of the game with the most salient business lessons to offer.

Why? Because the national anthem provides the perfect analogy for doing business. The song is a constant. The tune and words have remained the same since 1814, when "The Star-Spangled Banner" was written by Francis Scott Key. Yet, every performance is different. Every variation is marked by an intentional effort by the performer to brand the song as his or her own.

It's probably a lot like your business (or the one you hope to start). No matter what your company does, you most likely have plenty of competition. But, as the myriad variations of the national anthem prove, there's a lot your company can do to make your business stand out from the crowd – for better or worse.

Here are a few memorable national anthem performances and the lessons we might all learn about the importance of knowing your audience and staying true to your brand.

Jose Feliciano – When Jose Feliciano sang his version of the national anthem at the fifth game of the World Series in 1968, the reaction was less than enthusiastic. Though his version was tame, and actually, quite beautiful, Americans hadn't yet heard a stylized version of their staid standard. Feliciano later said he was shocked by the disapproval, which resulted in radio stations ceasing to play his music and strong backlash. The business lesson here: If you're going to be the first in your field, you may have to wait for your customers to catch up with your startup. Be sure you've got the cash and the patience to ride out the rough patches.

Jimi Hendrix – When Jimi Hendrix played the national anthem at Woodstock in 1969, he set the gold standard for personalizing the song. Love it or hate it, it offers this business lesson: If you're going to try to revolutionize your field, then you'd better go big or go home. Hendrix took the song and turned it upside down, backward and inside out. Yet, it became exactly what it was – only amplified (in more ways than one). Hendrix's version was an anthem for a new generation undergoing a cultural revolution. If your company wants to be truly different, you can't just deviate slightly from the mainstream. You'd better be bringing something totally new to the table and be ready to redefine your niche.

Whitney Houston – If you haven't seen the YouTube video of Whitney Houston singing the national anthem at the 1991 Super Bowl, do yourself a favor and watch it – like ten times. Whatever personal troubles Houston has had over the years, there's no denying that it's an amazing rendition. It's big, it's bold and it's powerful, but it's not about her. It's all about the song. It's exactly what every patriotic American wants their national anthem to be. Houston's lesson for business owners: If you're the best, you don't need to be the most original. If you can excel by offering the best products or the best customer service you'll gain respect just for being the best in your business.

Rosanne Barr – Rosanne Barr must have known what she was in for when she decided to "sing" the national anthem at a San Diego Padres game in 1990. Still, if irony or kitsch was what she was going for, she missed the mark by a mile. The lesson here is this: Stick to what you're good at and don't try to stray too far from your core strengths. Nobody wants to hear a comedienne sing the national anthem any more than they want an accountant who doubles as an exterminator. Stick to what you know and don't be tempted to deviate to far from your business plan.

Steven Tyler – Steven Tyler got a lot of flak for his recent national anthem performance and it's not hard to understand why. Though, his version was exactly what you'd expect from a guy who's never been known for having a velvet voice, it still made people angry. Maybe it's because it felt like a mockery. People take the national anthem seriously and when they discover that the person singing it isn't taking it seriously, they feel taken for a ride. The takeaway for you? Don't promise something you can't deliver. Customers would rather know that you're booked up for the next two weeks rather than have you schedule an appointment only to cancel at the last minute. Be sure you're customers know what to expect and they won't be disappointed.

Kelly Clarkson – If there's one thing you can say for Kelly Clarkson; she didn't take any chances. Her Super Bowl national anthem last night (Feb. 5) was short, sweet and well done. And she threw in a fresh-faced kids' choir for good measure. The lesson? If you know you've got a big job ahead of you and you want to avoid the possibility of making any mistakes: be prepared and call in backup, if necessary.

As for Madonna's Super Bowl performance…that's a whole other column.

Jeanette Mulvey has been the managing editor of BusinessNewsDaily since its debut in 2010. She has written about small business for more than 20 years and formerly owned her own e-commerce business. Her column, Mind Your Business, appears on Mondays only on BusinessNewsDaily. You can follow her on Twitter at @jeanettebnd or contact her via e-mail at jmulvey@techmedianetwork.com.

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