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Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead

Posted by: Today's Tip Contributor on November 25, 2010

In the 1960s, the Grateful Dead made a series of difficult, often-unpopular decisions in order to differentiate the group from competitors by providing the highest-quality service to fans. In so doing, the band pioneered many social media and inbound-marketing concepts that businesses across all industries can use today.

1. Rethink traditional industry assumptions. Rather than focus on record albums as a primary revenue source (and touring to support album sales), the Dead created a business model that focused on touring. Entirely new opportunities are now emerging for those willing to challenge established business models. The Grateful Dead teaches us that business model innovation is frequently more important than product innovation.

2. Turn your customers into evangelists. Unlike nearly every other band, the Grateful Dead not only encouraged concertgoers to record live shows, but established "taper sections" where fans’ equipment could be set up for the best sound quality. Today, while many companies experiment with offering valuable content on the Web, the Grateful Dead teaches us that when we free our content, more people hear about our company—and eventually do business with us.

3. Bypass accepted channels and go direct. In the early 1970s, the Grateful Dead was one of the first bands to create a mailing list through fans heard first about upcoming tours. Later the group established its own ticketing office, providing the most loyal fans with the best seats in the house. The Grateful Dead teaches us that building a community and treating customers with care and respect drives loyalty.

4. Build a huge, loyal following. The Grateful Dead let its audience define the Grateful Dead experience. Concerts were happenings, destinations that made 20,000 or more audience members part of the experience. By having made the fans equal partners in a mutual journey, the Grateful Dead teaches us that our community defines who we are.

These lessons are important tools for helping us to understand today’s marketing environment in a way that is familiar to us all. What the Grateful Dead has been doing for more than 40 years can be applied to your small business today.

David Meerman Scott
Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead

Reader Comments

Steve Schanen

November 25, 2010 1:17 PM

For over forty years, people have been speculating about the reasons for the Dead's success and enduring popularity. First it was the Dead as a counterculture social phenomenon. Now its all about their marketing strategy. For those of us who went to the shows for 30 years, the 'secret' is the same one that is behind EVERY successful business; quality of the product and quality control. Big time bands make their money on records and, for the most part, don't care what the music sounds like. It's hard to play at over 100 decibels in a basketball arena and sound very good. The Dead made their living off of a live musical experience and they were the only ones who knew how to do it! We kept coming back for 30 years because there was NOTHING like a Grateful Dead show.

Serge Kuznetsov, Lecturer

November 26, 2010 6:09 AM

I fully agree with all the marketing lessons, mentioned here. But I would like to turn them into my favorite marketing intangible assets, which a modern customer centric company should build and enlarge. They include strategic marketing knowledge, brand equity, customer loyalty and value, long-term logistical partnerships. Managing them properly, this company can raise its cash flows and value substantially.


November 30, 2010 11:04 AM

I have to agree in thinking out of the normal box for marketing. I own an Automotive Repair Shop now I am also a pet groomer. I have combined these two businesses and with customers referrals I do no advertising right now. Business is good for the winter slow down. I am sure summer will be even better.

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