Marketing Like the Greatful Dead


Sometime ago, a great little book arrived for us in the mail. And it’s very much both of those things: It’s compact and it’s exceptional. It was a copy of David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan’s Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead: What Every Business Can Learn From the Most Iconic Band In History. Sure to those who aren’t Deadheads, “Most Iconic Band in History” might sound slightly superlative, but for all of us, the lessons are invaluable.

Scott and Halligan’s joint effort is broken down into three sections–appropriately dubbed The Band, The Fans, and The Business–which are further broken down into lessons. The structure is neat. They anecdotally outline a common facet about the Grateful Dead and then punctuate that with a lesson. For marketers–first-timers or industry veterans looking to become more well-rounded alike–it provides punchy lessons written in layman’s terms, about the types of strategies employed by one rock band that turned them into unintentional marketing superstars.

In the first chapter–The Band–Scott and Halligan write, “The Grateful Dead teaches us that a memorable name can bring success.” And most of us would be hard-pressed to name another band from the same era whose had even a fraction of the lasting power; indeed, the band’s namesake was namesake.

Another thing the Dead did so well according to the duo? Disrupt the marketplace. In this age of social and tech,market disruption is everywhere. But in their heyday, the Dead was disrupting in a variety of ways, including allowing fans to setup their own recording equipment by the mixing boards to bootleg their shows. This same hallmark is later referenced in The Business, under a lesson about how freeing up content can prove to be a marketing machine of its own. Scott and Halligan write:

Unlike other bands, the Dead encouraged concert-goers to record their live shows, establishing “taper sections” behind the mixing board where fans’ recording gear could be set up for best sound quality.

How did this disrupt the marketplace? Rather than banning fan recordings and pitching ads in the form of traditionally music videos–produced at the band’s expense–the Dead simply allowed their followers to become their marketing muscle in exchange for hassle-free bootlegs.

This ties in with another lesson Scott and Halligan outline about marketers easing their grip on the message they’re trying to affect. “By loosening up your brand, you allow your company to show its personality–and, by extension, its ability to roll with the punches.”

On the whole, all these lessons seem to underscore the importance of the book’s second chapter: The Followers. By being flexible and looking for new ways to disrupt the market, this band affected the type of marketing legacy rivaled only by titanic consumer-facing brands like McDonald’s: They created generations of followers–and not the type who might go onto iTunes to buy a song for $1 and then forget about them, but the type who follow them from one concert date to the next. Regardless of industry, that’s exactly the type of customer loyalty that many of us are frequently after.

From the BluePhoenix Blog

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