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Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead

August 10, 2010

Just finished the HubSpot webinar “How to Market Your Business Like the Most Iconic Band in History” presented by Grateful Dead fan Bill Walton, and co-authors Brian Halligan and David Meerman Scott.

Who would have thought that what they did was so ahead of their time in marketing? The Grateful Dead reversed the typical business model of bands at the time and made the CONCERT the revenue source instead of the ALBUM sales. In doing this they opened up the doors for innovation and creativity in their marketing strategy.

Marketing an album can be limiting, BUT marketing the shows limitless. Since the performance was the focus, they played unique set lists full of improvisation for each show. Because of this, each show was different and gave a strong incentive for fans to follow night after night, show after show. It was never boring or repetitive.

They also allowed taping of the shows. Video and audio tapes were copied and passed on virally expanding the reach of the band’s music. Other bands frowned on taping and “bootleg” copies were few and  illegal. Guess those bands missed the marketing memo.

In 1971, on their album “Skull and Roses”, the Dead put out a call to action for their fans. DEAD FREAKS UNITE asked for you to send in your contact info. They even had a guy, Mr. Brown, who sat at the back of the concerts and took contact info of the fans for their mailing list.

They created a community in their following. They were on an Odyssey and brought their fans along. They were a bit eccentric, but so were their fans and they encouraged and supported their followers in their uniqueness. When some began to separate into less sparce areas for their “spinning” and dancing, the Dead set up speakers so that they could better hear the music in the seperate areas. When the parking lot followers couldn’t get in but still came in droves for the shows, the band broadcast over low range radio so these fans could still hear the show they were outside of.

Most of all, what made it all work was doing what they loved. Even if it meant living off of diluted ketchup soup, they lived for what they did.

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