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"Dead"-on tips: Four tie-dyed and true marketing lessons from the Grateful Dead

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Authors and marketers David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan say today’s popular and effective marketing ploys were born on the road with one of the most iconic bands of all time–The Grateful Dead.”Not many realize they were marketing pioneers. [They] pioneered many social media and inbound marketing concepts that industries use today. Every business can learn from what the Grateful Dead has done over a 45-year career.” Here’s some groovy advice from their book, Marketing Lessons From The Grateful Dead, on how the Dead’s marketing brilliance can be used in today’s business world.

1.) Carve out your own landscape. The Grateful Dead created a business model that was the exact opposite of every other band’s at the time. Rather than focusing on selling albums, they focused on generating revenue from live concerts, and in doing so created a fan “experience.” “Products that are highly differentiated can still succeed today, but it’s much harder to win if your business model is the same as your competitors’,” says Halligan. “Your job is to do research about your industry and create a cascade of unique benefits for your customers.”

2.) Choose memorable brand names. Whatever you may think of it, “The Grateful Dead” is a name that you remember. When you select an uncommon name–one appropriate to your company image and target market–it’s unlikely that consumers will confuse your product with something similar,” notes Scott. “They will remember you. And in today’s world of online communications and of search engines, unique names for your company, products, and services allow you to own the search engine results for your brands.”

3.) Experiment! (Not with what you’re thinking.) The Grateful Dead played more than 2,300 concerts and each was unique due to their improvisational style. They experimented with musical forms and genres to create unique musical experiences. “Like the Grateful Dead, marketers today need to experiment in their craft in order to make big breakthroughs,” says Halligan. “CEOs and management teams need to free their marketers to experiment, quickly learn from failure, and experiment again. In terms of marketing, this could mean starting a blog, freeing your employees to Tweet or write posts for your blog, or leaving comments on others’ blogs.”

4.) Lose control of your marketing messages. A Grateful Dead concert was about having fun, meeting friends, checking out great music, escaping the everyday and belonging. “The Grateful Dead were willing to give up a large degree of control over how they were defined and instead hand it to their fans,” explains Halligan. “While this approach is highly unusual, it is also often very successful. When organizations insist on operating in a command-and-control environment with mission statements, boilerplate descriptions, messaging processes, and PR campaigns, their strategies can both hamper growth and backfire in execution.

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