Marketing Best Practices, Grateful Dead Style

OK, I admit it. For a short time in my youth, I could have been considered a “dead head.” Granted, I only attended about 10 “shows,” but I did have a Grateful Dead bumper sticker on my car and wore quite a bit of tie-dye.

OK, I admit it. For a short time in my youth, I could have been considered a “dead head.” Granted, I only attended about 10 “shows,” but I did have a Grateful Dead bumper sticker on my car and wore quite a bit of tie-dye.

That’s why the press release promoting the new book, “Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead,” by David Meerman Scott, a marketing strategist, keynote speaker, seminar leader and author; and Brian Halligan, co-founder and CEO of HubSpot, caught my attention this week.

The release read: “Long before the terms ‘inbound marketing’ and ‘social media’ were coined, the Grateful Dead were using these strategies to become one of the most successful bands of all time.”

So true. The Grateful Dead never did much marketing or advertising, but everyone knew them and their music.

It continued: “They made a series of difficult and often unpopular decisions in order to differentiate themselves from their competition by providing the highest quality service to their fans, not just a product.”

I’m sure they pissed off quite a few music publishers by allowing fans to tape their own shows, but they knew that the music was what the fans wanted — and they delivered.

“The Grateful Dead can be considered one giant case study in doing social media marketing right,” said Halligan in the release. “Not only did they pioneer the freemium business model by allowing concert attendees to tape the show, but also encouraged their fans to build a community, and kept them informed via their newsletters.”

“Each chapter presents and analyzes a marketing concept practiced by the Dead and a real-world example of that concept in action today,” according to the release. Specific topics include:

  • Rethink traditional industry assumptions. Rather than focus on record albums as a primary revenue source (with touring to support album sales), the Dead created a business model focused on touring.
  • Turn your customers into evangelists. Unlike nearly every other band, the Grateful Dead not only encouraged concertgoers to record their live shows, they actually established “taper sections” where fans’ equipment could be set up for the best sound quality. The broad exposure led to millions of new fans and sold tickets to the live shows.
  • Bypass accepted channels and go direct. The Grateful Dead created a mailing list in the early 1970s where they announced tours to fans first. Later, they established their own ticketing office, providing the most loyal fans with the best seats in the house.
  • Build a huge, loyal following. The Grateful Dead let their audience define the Grateful Dead experience. Concerts were a happening, a destination where all 20,000 or more audience members were actually part of the experience.

I never thought about the Grateful Dead as a social media case study before, but it makes sense. Can’t wait to read the book! Now if I can only find my old T-shirt …