What the Grateful Dead Can Teach Us About Consumer Insights and Marketing.

by Bill Harriss on September 10, 2010

Bill Harriss

Bill Harriss

Recently, I came across a blog post by Tom Smith which referred to a recent webinar hosted by Brian Haligan, David Meerman Scott and Bill Walton. Brian and David have recently published the book, Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead. I have to admit, as a long-time music fan that has seen and followed a number of bands over the years, the  image in my mind regarding “the Dead,” is always of one of the most entertaining and unique music acts in history. The status and “fan loyalty” that band achieved during their heyday really set a benchmark for many bands (and marketers) to follow. Who doesn’t want fans (ie customers) that are willing to cross the country, even the globe, for months or even years to support a “product” which was the music and the experience of this amazing band.

The Grateful Dead created a lasting legacy. You may not like their music, or identify with the culture and period of time when the band was at its high point, but you have to appreciate and admire what they cultivated in terms of followers and passionate fans. So, what does this have to do with marketing insights, targeting and all the other great stuff we talk about in our Fifth Gear Analytics Blog? Well, the book provides some interesting takeaways for those of us interested in consumer insights and using marketing analytics to improve our products and services. Here are just five of the lessons highlighted from Tom’s blog:

  1. Grateful Dead Business MarketingHave a unique business model. For the Grateful Dead, contrary to other bands at the time, the concert was the main driver of revenue and profit.  Their concerts were long and improvisational; they put on 100 concerts per year.  There was an incentive for their fans to follow them to multiple shows since every show was different.  The Grateful Dead allowed taping — essentially giving away content before the advent of the Internet and rich content.  The tapes produced by the tapers actually generated new fans and more concert attendees.  While the Grateful Dead watched the competition, they didn’t follow them, they broke the mold.
  2. Build a following. The Grateful Dead collected snail mail addresses at each concert and built a mailing list of 10,000 people in the first month and 500,000 over 20 years.  This gave them great marketing leverage with which to promote concerts on a regional basis.
  3. Bring people on an odyssey. Build an experience.  Let your audience build a community.  Let your audience define the experience.  Remove the barriers that prevent people from talking.  Several brands are successfully facilitating communities today.
  4. Encourage eccentricity. The Grateful Dead’s product was definitely eccentric.  Ultimately, we all are, as are all of our customers and prospects.  Create segments based on eccentricity.  The Grateful Dead had tapers, spinners, those who enjoyed the show from the parking lot.  They developed products and services for each of those segments.
  5. Do what you love. Live your own dreams, not someone else’s.  Be industrious, be enthusiastic, chase your passion with loyalty.  You have to believe in what you are doing to sell it and we’re all in sales — even if we’re simply selling our own skills.

The lessons are obviously developed by reflecting on the history of the band.  The Grateful Dead were not marketing geniuses; however, they did what they were passionate about and took care of their customers.  The authors of the book do a great job of taking their passion for a band and integrating it with their passion for marketing. All of us in this business have interests and causes we are passionate about.

How are you creating a “Grateful Dead” experience with your customers?




Photo Credits:  http://www.photog.com/gdead/lsd/gdlsd7.htm (Jim Anderson)

About the Author:

Bill Harris is a Practice Leader in the Healthcare and Consumer Markets for SIGMA Marketing Group, a marketing analytics agency.  Connect with Bill on , or follow him on .

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

David Meerman Scott September 10, 2010 at 9:38 pm

Hey Bill. Thanks for writing about our book.

Wow – I love the photo. Any idea when & where it was shot?

Bill Harriss September 13, 2010 at 1:34 pm

Hi David,

No problem, was really a fun take on how a very unique and successful band can teach us something about marketing.

The photo was taken by Jim Anderson in Boston, Fall of 1994 (There is a link to his website at the bottom of the post.)

Thank you for the inspiration for this blog post!!


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: