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Marketing lessons from the Grateful Dead

While I was away on vacation, David Meermen Scott sent me his latest book, Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead, which I finally had a chance to read now that I am back and you should read it, too. As familiar as I was with the Grateful Dead, I never thought about the fact that the way they sold themselves became a blueprint for so much of how businesses succeed online today. Obviously, if you’re my age and you know the story of the band, this book is a delight, but I think it has lessons to teach anyone in Internet marketing.


Younger Internet marketers might not know that the Grateful Dead did not make most of their money from records, which was highly unusual in that era. All of the angst that has gripped the music business in the downloadable (and piratable) iTunes era could have been avoided if bands did as the Dead did, emphasizing what works for fans rather than what works for the record label. Deadheads openly recorded concerts and passed around copies with the band’s approval. The Dead made most of its money on its tours, playing a tiring 100 dates annually for many years.
So, when we think about Internet companies (Google, Facebook, and others) starting businesses based on pleasing the user and expecting that a business model for making money will emerge, it seemed breathtakingly new, but it is clear that the Dead did it first.

The Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack

Image via Wikipedia

When fans started selling T-shirts and other merchandise, most bands would shut that down, but the Dead decided to license the sellers and take a cut of their profits, which isn’t much different from how most Internet businesses work today. They take a cut of advertising, but they let others do all the work of creating the ads and targeting them.
In addition, those Internet businesses do not sell ads through advertising agencies, the way old media does. They go direct. The authors point out that the Grateful Dead sold concert tickets the same way, using database marketing to sell tickets for shows directly to fans, who got access to the good seats before Ticketmaster or other ticket agencies saw any of the tickets.
Lest you think the whole book is about the Grateful Dead, fear not. Authors Scott and Brian Halligan spend a lot of time showing how these Dead principles have been translated into action by many successful companies having nothing to do with the band. But the clever idea that illustrates these concepts makes this marketing book a page turner and the ideas might just stick with you a bit better than if they didn’t have this kind of memorable theme.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in internet marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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Discussion

  1. Avatar David Meerman Scott

    Hey Mike – As I was researching in preparation to write the book, I was amazed at how many of the things that the Dead did in the days before Search Engine Marketing are applicable to what we all do today!
    Glad you liked the book and thanks for writing about it.

  2. Avatar Mike Moran

    No sweat, David. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Avatar Jeff Ogden

    I’ve not yet had a chance to read this book by David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan, so I enjoyed your write-up a great deal. I’m also fascinated by lessons learned from seemingly unrelated sources, like the Grateful Dead.
    Congratulations on being named a top B2B marketing blog. That’s quite an honor. I’m pleased to share the news that Fearless Competitor was also named to that great list. It’s nice to meet you.
    Jeff Ogden, the Fearless Competitor
    Find New Customers
    http://www.findnewcustomers.com

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