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The Grateful Dead's marketing lessons

The Grateful Dead performing in 1978.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: And now a note on successful marketing. For the millions of fans of the Grateful Dead who witnessed their music live, it was more than just a concert. It was a world unto itself. All kinds of things, from the illusional to the illegal were being sold, bartered and branded at those shows. In a new book, one author looks at the band as business model. Brian Halligan co-authored "Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead" and he's with us now. Brian, welcome to Marketplace.

BRIAN HALLIGAN: How are you?

CHIOTAKIS: Doing well. So when I think of the Grateful Dead, I think of counter-culture and I think of drugs and I think of reckless abandonment, I don't however think of marketing and this big business model. What did you see?

HALLIGAN: Well, I went to over 100 concerts and I was struck by, boy, there's just hundreds of thousands of rabid fans and they follow them across the country. The Grateful Dead are just brilliant marketers and they do things in a very counter-intuitive way from a marketing perspective.

CHIOTAKIS: Now you weren't going to show after show and saying to yourself, "Wow, what brilliant marketers." You obviously had a draw to them, you were listening to the music, you were sort of enveloped into the scene. I mean, when did this dawn on you that they were such great marketers?

HALLIGAN: Yeah I'm a big Grateful Dead fan and I'm a big kind of marketing transformation fan. What I noticed about the Dead is they're kind of what I call the world's first inbound marketers. And what inbound marketing essentially is, is when you create lots and lots of content -- whether it's blog content or e-books or videos -- and each little piece of content you create becomes like a magnet for potential customers. It pulls them in by Google blogs and social media. The Grateful Dead were kind of the world's first inbound marketers because they allowed people like to me to come to their shows and they encouraged us to record the concerts. And when we recorded the concerts, we made copies of those tapes, spread them to our friends and those copies pulled in new fans and each copy of the show was like a mini-magnet that pulled in new customers, essentially, for them to their concerts.

CHIOTAKIS: What kind of lessons have businesses of today learned from what the Grateful Dead did so many years ago?

HALLIGAN: They really broke down the barrier between themselves and the fans. The fans were almost part of the concert. And I think that's what modern business owners should do is with the Internet, you should break down the barriers between your company and your fans or your customers and be much more interactive. Gen-X, Gen-Y'ers don't want this high barrier between the companies and themselves. They really want a collaborative, interactive relationship and they want to be part of the creation of the product and the business.

CHIOTAKIS: Brian Halligan, author of the book "Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead," thanks for joining us today.

HALLIGAN: Thanks for having me.

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I think we should view arts audiences as potential “fan networks” -- reminding me of the old days described in this book when the Dead Heads enjoyed following the Grateful Dead as much for hanging out with each other and feeling like a special tribe as for listening to the band. Now the internet has enabled fan groups of amateurs to connect across geography and time and create something personal and sharable just because they want to and love to -- reminding us that the term amateur itself comes from the Latin amare – to love.

Even if we’re afraid of this outpouring of amateur attention, there’s no stopping it. As Clay Shirky says, (in his new book Cognitive Surplus) “The flow of amateur production and organization, far from stabilizing, continues to increase, because social media rewards our {audiences’} intrinsic desire for membership and sharing.”
Mary Trudel
Trudel | MacPherson

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