You Gotta Love The Dead!

Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead

Yes, that’s right you Deadheads, it’s time to not only appreciate their music but appreciate the marketing lessons that you can learn from them.

No this is not a joke, far from it, this is serious, deadly serious, these lessons come from the book Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead: What every business can learn from the most iconic band in history by David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan. 

Frankly, I did approach this book with a bit of skepticism, but it did not take long for me to realize that the insights and lessons I read as I started the book quickly had me opening my moleskine notebook and frantically stealing these ideas.

In fact, most of the lessons highlighted in the book are more perfectly suited to our times today than when it was written in 2010.

Check them out, here are those lessons:

  1. Create a unique business model:  Get away from the way everyone else does things. Find your own way and do it that way. If no one has done it before you, fine. If no one is doing it now, even better. Have the courage to break away from the norm and then do it well. This is truly the way to be outstanding. There has never been a band like The Grateful Dead, can you say that about your company?
  2. Choose a memorable brand: You want to be remembered then you have to have a name that is easy to remember. Find a unique name for your company and go with it. Put some significant thought in what your company and hence your brand will be known for. (So much for practicing what you preach, the name of my company D.B. Management Group was thought up in five minutes in the lobby of Littelfuse in Des Plaines, Illinois before the company was even started, when I had to fill out an NDA before entering the plant!)
  3. Build a diverse team: The more diverse the better. The Dead proved that with their band of merry musicians. Two drummers and a bass player who had never played bass and had to improvise which caused the band to have their own unique sound. The same applies to business. The more diverse the more different ideas you will have to work with.
  4. Be yourself: “Be authentic” is what that really means. Come as you are, say what you think and go with your honest identity. This always works as with The Dead; they knew where they stood as did their fans. 
  5. Experiment: Try different things. The band never had a set list, they just went with what they felt like playing, sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. But it also caused them to come up with new and innovative songs and music that would have never happened without experimenting and yes, screwing up once in a while.
  6. Establish a new category: While the words, “nobody has ever done it this way before” is music to my ears, it can be terribly frightening to other people who love the comfort of their comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to do something that no one has ever done before. Go where no man, or woman, has ever gone before. That is called progress!
  7. Cut out the middleman: The Grateful Dead had their own system of ticket selling that favored their real fans. They cut out the middlemen who were buying blocks of tickets for marked up resale. They wanted their real fans to come and see their concerts at reasonable prices and they made sure that happened. The best business is the kind of person to person business where the customer and the vendor talk and communicate directly.
  8. Free your content: This is my personal favorite. The band gave their content out for free. They even created a “Tapers” section at their concerts so that those who wanted to create their own recordings of the concert had a good clear visual and sound access to the stage to record and then pass along to others, often going viral. The more versions of the concerts out there the more people who knew who they were, and the larger the fan base they got supporting them. This was brilliant and one to the strongest secrets to their long term success.
  9. Give back: The band got involved in a great many charities and often found unique ways to give back to their fan base as well. This created tremendous respect and loyalty. It also created a strong sense of community as well. There is no more connected and loyal fan base than the Deadheads.
  10. Do what you love: And yes. The Grateful Dead did what they loved, 
  11. and it never felt like work. Doing what you love makes you bring passion and enthusiasm to what you do and that’s the best way to work. Life is short. Why spend time doing anything but what you love? 

It’s only common sense.