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

Lose control of your marketing messages. A Grateful Dead concert was about having fun, meeting friends, checking out great music, escaping the everyday, belonging. Each person defined the experience a little differently, and the group defined the whole. There were interesting subgroups wandering along as part of the larger odyssey that was the Grateful Dead experience.

In building a community, 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. 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.

Let your community define you, rather than trying to dictate what’s said – and how – about your company. When you let others define and talk about you, it is more likely that a community will develop.

[wcm_restrict]Put fans in the front row. Unlike nearly every other band, the Grateful Dead controlled the ticket sales for their concerts. While other bands moved toward selling tickets through electronic systems of the day, like Ticketron, and later, Ticketmaster, the Grateful Dead established their own in-house ticketing agency in the early 1980s. The system allowed the Grateful Dead to announce tours to fans first and treated supporters to the best seats, driving passionate loyalty.

The Grateful Dead teaches us to treat customers with care and respect. Yet we see so many organizations that do precisely the opposite. Instead of putting loyal customers first, they ignore them while they try to get new ones. While we’re all for growing a business, we don’t think it should come at the expense of annoying existing customers. Always remember, your most passionate fans are also the people who tell your stories and spread your ideas.

Free your content. Unlike other bands, the Grateful Dead encouraged concertgoers to record their live shows, establishing “taper sections” behind the mixing board where fans’ recording gear could be set up for best sound quality. The Grateful Dead set their music free by allowing and encouraging these tapers. You would have thought that giving their music away would have diminished their success, but actually, it was fuel on the fire. The band removed barriers to their music by allowing fans to tape it, which in turn brought in new fans and grew sales.

The takeaway here is that when we free our content, more people hear about our company and eventually do business with us. The way to reach your marketplace is to create tons of free content like blogs, videos, white papers, and e-books. This is because each piece of content you create attracts links from other websites. When you give content or small pieces of your product away, it attracts a lot more interest and really opens up the top of your marketing funnel in a dramatic way.

Partner with those who are eager to sell your stuff. Most bands prohibit the sale of merchandise in parking lots because they want to ensure that only “official” merchandise is being sold. While the Grateful Dead also sold their own gear inside, they partnered with the vendor community, resulting in some very creative uses of the band’s “Steal Your Face” logo, such as on baby clothes.

Find the entrepreneurs who would like to make money from your brand and work with them to do so. Do you have people selling versions of your products and services that seem in competition to your direct sales efforts? Maybe the right thing to do is to partner with those entrepreneurs rather than send them a legal notice.

Better yet, proactively find and approach companies that seem to be competitors and work out a way to help one another. For example, if you’re a realtor, why not forge a partnership with a home improvement company? Manufacturers or retailers of baby and children’s products should work out a deal to sell merchandise on so-called “mommy-blogger” sites.

Give Grateful-ly. The Grateful Dead frequently threw their support behind causes and ideas they believed in, especially anything related to improving life in their home base of San Francisco. Giving back to the community became an essential element of the band’s brand image. At the band’s regular shows, they invited favorite organizations to set up tables in the hallways and educate fans on issues like organ donation and voter registration. Concertgoers knew the Dead’s commitment was authentic and that added to the perception of the band’s positive and supportive approach to making music and helping people improve their lives.

A consistent and sustained level of giving back to the community is of significant benefit to companies. When a company carefully chooses a particular charity or cause to support and makes it a part of their corporate culture, continuing the commitment over many years, the accrued benefits to both the brand and the recipient charity can be enormous.

Do what you love – even if it takes a while to get it right. Because the Grateful Dead loved what they did, they stuck with it and (obviously) eventually prospered. That passion helped them persevere through some very rough times. For example, on the first gig they booked, they were contracted to perform two nights in a row. They were so bad the first night that the owner of the joint replaced them with three elderly gentlemen in a jazz band. The band members were so embarrassed they didn’t even bother asking the owner for their one night’s pay. Rather than throw up their hands and give up, the band went back to the studio and doubled down on the practice routines. It actually took several years and a great deal of practice before they really started getting good market traction with their unique sound.

The Grateful Dead teach us to live our own dreams – not someone else’s. Not only does doing what you love increase your odds of success, but it dramatically increases your happiness. You spend more than 50 percent of your waking adult life working, so you might as well do what you love. Doing something you don’t enjoy during more than 50 percent of your waking adult life takes a toll on your psyche that goes well beyond the boundaries of the workplace. Conversely, doing what you love pays huge dividends in your personal life.

Instead of obsessing over recording, the Dead became the most popular touring band of their era, selling hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of tickets, and creating a highly profitable corporation in the process. Without hit records, the Grateful Dead achieved elite success, becoming one of the most iconic rock bands of their era and inventing a brand that democratically included their consumers and literally co-created a lifestyle for Deadheads.[/wcm_restrict][wcm_nonmember]

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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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