“Dead”-On Business Rules: Ten Tie-Dyed and True Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead, part 1 of 2

Viral marketing and social networking have arrived on the scene after a long, strange trip indeed. The Grateful Dead were much more than a bunch of rock-and-roll geniuses; they were pioneers of the digital age marketing landscape.

When you think marketing visionaries, what companies come to mind? Apple? Google? Maybe even Microsoft? It’s true that each of these companies in one way or another has come to define marketing in the digital age. But the practices they’ve been pushing – viral marketing, social networking, giving away products or services, asking for and acting on input from customers – have somewhat, well, groovier roots than you might imagine.

These marketing ploys were born on the road with one of the most iconic bands of all time – The Grateful Dead.

Everyone knows the Grateful Dead as rock legends and amazing musicians. But not as many realize they were marketing pioneers. In the 1960s the Grateful Dead pioneered many social media and inbound marketing concepts that businesses across all industries use today. Every business can learn from what the Grateful Dead has done over a 45-year career.

The Grateful Dead is one huge case study in contrarian marketing. Most of the band’s many marketing innovations were based on doing the exact opposite of what other bands (and record labels) were doing at the time. The Dead pioneered a “freemium” business model, allowing concert attendees to record and trade concert tapes, building a powerful word-of-mouth fan network powered by free music. It’s a model that has influenced many of today’s very best marketers. For example:


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About the Authors

Since his first Grateful Dead show when he was a teenager in 1979, David Meerman Scott has seen the band perform over 40 times. David is a marketing strategist and a professional speaker. He is the author of the BusinessWeek bestselling book The New Rules of Marketing & PR and several other books. He speaks at conferences and corporate events around the world. He loves to surf (but isn’t very good at it), collects artifacts from the Apollo moon program, and maintains a database, with 308 entries at this writing, of every band he has seen in concert. He is a graduate of Kenyon College, where he listened to a heck of a lot of Grateful Dead in his dorm room.

Brian Halligan has seen the Grateful Dead perform more than 100 times. He is CEO & founder of HubSpot, a marketing software company that helps businesses transform the way they market products by “getting found” on the Internet. Brian is also coauthor of Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs and is an Entrepreneur-In-Residence at MIT. In his spare time, he sits on a few boards of directors, follows his beloved Red Sox, goes to the gym, and is learning to play guitar.

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