Book Review: Marketing Lessons of the Grateful Dead by David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan
By Tim Chamberlain
This book’s subtitle is “What every business can learn from the most iconic band in history,” and anyone from a marketing executive to a starting entrepreneur will find something to help change the way they think about marketing their business.
Scott and Halligan note in the introduction that “the Grateful Dead is one huge case study in contrarian marketing.” Contrary is a good way to describe the strategies of the Grateful Dead, as nearly everything they did went against standard operating procedure, both in terms of the music industry and in terms of established business practice in general.
For those unfamiliar with the band, the Grateful Dead formed in 1965 in San Francisco, and continues to play in various lineups today. Their musical style was complimented by their long, improvisational concerts, which were a long way from the rehearsed sets that most bands still use today. The band also has a long history of connecting directly with their fans, and the fans responded with fervent dedication to the band and its music. The most fervent of these fans followed the band from town to town across the country and became known as “Deadheads.” This book takes a look at the savvy, but authentic ways the band connected with their fans, and how these strategies can work today.
The Grateful Dead were pioneering social media before such a term was invented. The band reached out to its core audience (Deadheads, in this case) and truly made them part of the experience, which only increased their following. Even without the technologies we have today, the band was able to connect with their fans (and the fans with each other), and build a huge brand in the process. They did things that no other band did, such as concentrating on touring instead of album sales, encouraging fans to record shows and trade tapes, and partnering with parking lot entrepreneurs instead of running them off. Though it may seem unlikely at first glance, Scott and Halligan demonstrate how the strategies of the world’s most successful jam band can differentiate anyone’s product from its competition.
The authors make their aim clear when they write that “Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead will show you how to think and market like the band, which is to think and market differently from your competition.” Each of the chapters examines an aspect of exactly how they marketed differently, and how these strategies can work in today’s businesses. Scott and Halligan acknowledge the chapters as free-standing units to be read in any order, a nod to the band’s freewheeling style. Each has a focus on a particular element of the Grateful Dead’s marketing strategy and how these translate to the modern business world. Included at the end of each chapter is a helpful “Rock On” section that gives tips and ideas on how to put these lessons into action.
Scott and Halligan, both already established in the marketing world, hit it off right away when they discovered a shared love for the Grateful Dead during their first meeting. Halligan is the CEO and co-founder (with Dharmesh Shah) of HubSpot, a marketing company focused on inbound marketing tools, such as targeting search engine results pages and measuring the effectiveness of those tools. Scott is an online marketing strategist and professional speaker that has written five marketing books to date, most notably The New Rules of Marketing and PR which he has also turned into a one-day seminar.