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Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead

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We're seeing an incredible revival of the 60s movement in modern day marketing. It's no longer enough as a marketer to just come up with a good tag line, spend money on advertising, and hope the consumer minions bite. Shiny new toys don't always win the day, instead consumers are looking for real connection.

While Brian Halligan and I were researching and writing our new book Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead: What Every Business Can Learn From the Most Iconic Band in History, we found the masses online are eager to feel a part of a bigger community and want to be fans of companies they do business with.

But how can marketers not only reach out to their particular fan base, but also inspire them to become like the Deadheads are to the Dead?

As marketers, your goal is to spread the word about your product or service in the marketplace. Twenty years ago, the friction in the marketplace was high. To overcome this friction, you spent money on PR firms and on expensive advertising campaigns.

Today the friction in the marketplace against getting your product known is much, much less. If you have a remarkable idea, you will attract bloggers and social media enthusiasts in your marketplace that will propel your idea without spending lots of money on PR and advertising. Like the Grateful Dead, you can set your content free and watch your fans and followers spread it far and wide.

Learn from the music industry mistakes.

Share freely and early and don't place barriers that will keep your fans on the outside. The 60s saw a powerful wave of music and recently we've seen the downturn as the music industry focused solely on the bottom line instead of building a powerful fan base. The fans revolted and found ways to express their distaste for the industry through their pocketbooks.

The music industry put strict barriers around artists' content, and that battle continues. In contrast, the Grateful Dead shared their music freely with their fans (by allowing people to record concerts). Even to this day in the surviving members' side projects such as Furthur (Bob Weir and Phil Lesh) and the Rhythm Devils (Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart) encourage fans to record shows and by sharing and the base continues to grow and impact new generations of fans. Setting their music free only fueled their success as Deadheads spread their music far and wide. The more concerts the Grateful Dead performed, the more tapes were in the marketplace. The more copies were made of tapes, the more advertisements were in the marketplace pulling in new customers.

It's not just the Grateful Dead and it's not just the music industry that can use these techniques. For example, MySQL, an open source, database management system used by companies all over the globe, was built at a time when the big competitors dominated the industry with paid, closed source software. Rather than try and compete with the likes of Microsoft and Oracle, MySQL gave away their product and made their money in other ways.

The Grateful Dead teaches us that making it easy for our audience to spread our content makes our product known in the marketplace.

Every market is competitive, especially online. Winners are those who make it as easy as possible for people to spread ideas through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, StumbleUpon, Digg, and other social networking sites.

The demand for remarkable raises the bar for marketers and PR agencies who have to unlearn what they've learned and to not just "market to" a potential customer base, but rather "market with" fans.

The 60s were all about the freedom of expression and to build and create a long-term fan base amidst all the marketing messaging out there, you're going to have think more like the Grateful Dead (and do more dancing)!