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Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead: What Every Business Can Learn from the Most Iconic Band in History

ISBN: 978-0-470-90052-9
192 pages
August 2010
Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead: What Every Business Can Learn from the Most Iconic Band in History (0470900520) cover image


The Grateful Dead-rock legends, marketing pioneers

The Grateful Dead broke almost every rule in the music industry book. They encouraged their fans to record shows and trade tapes; they built a mailing list and sold concert tickets directly to fans; and they built their business model on live concerts, not album sales. By cultivating a dedicated, active community, collaborating with their audience to co-create the Deadhead lifestyle, and giving away "freemium" content, the Dead pioneered many social media and inbound marketing concepts successfully used by businesses across all industries today.

Written by marketing gurus and lifelong Deadheads David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan, Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead gives you key innovations from the Dead's approach you can apply to your business. Find out how to make your fans equal partners in your journey, "lose control" to win, create passionate loyalty, and experience the kind of marketing gains that will not fade away!

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Table of Contents




Chapter 1 Create a Unique Business Model.

Chapter 2 Choose Memorable Brand (and Band) Names.

Chapter 3 Build a Diverse Team.

Chapter 4 Be Yourself.

Chapter 5 Experiment, Experiment, Experiment.

Chapter 6 Embrace Technology.

Chapter 7 Establish a New Category.


Chapter 8 Encourage Eccentricity.

Chapter 9 Bring People on an Odyssey.

Chapter 10 Put Fans in the Front Row.

Chapter 11 Build a Following.


Chapter 12 Cut Out the Middleman.

Chapter 13 Free Your Content.

Chapter 14 Be Spreadable.

Chapter 15 Upgrade to Premium.

Chapter 16 Loosen Up Your Brand.

Chapter 17 Partner with Entrepreneurs.

Chapter 18 Give Back.

Chapter 19 Do What You Love.


"Furthur" Reading.

About the Photographs.

About the Illustrations.

About the Authors.

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Author Information

Brian Halligan has seen the Grateful Dead perform more than 100 times. He is CEO & confounder of HubSpot, a marketing software company that helps businesses transform the way theymarket thier products by "getting found" on the Internet. Brian is also coauthor of Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs and is an Entrepreneur-In-Residence at MIT. In his spare time, he sits on a few boards of directors, follows his beloved Red Sox, goes to the gym, and is learning to play guitar.
Learn more at www.hubspot.com.
Follow Brian at twitter.com/bhalligan.

Since his first Grateful Dead show when he was a teenager in 1979, David Meerman Scott has seen the band perform over 40 times. David is a marketing strategist and a professional speaker. He is the author of the Business Week bestselling book The New Rules of Marketing & PR and several other books. He speaks at conferences and corporate events around the world. He loves to surf (but isn't very good at it), collects artifacts from the Apollo moon program, and maintains a database, with 308 entries at this writing, of every band he has seen in concert.
He is a graduate of Kenyon College where he listened to a heck of a lot of Grateful Dead in his dorm room.
Learn more at www.webinknow.com.
Follow David at twitter.com/dmscott.

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"Like all the best teachers, this book inspires you to do your own thinking.... I found it enlightening and liberating." (Financial Times, August 2010)

"...a short but inspiring book which will give every business person pause for thought and some good ideas." (TheBookBag.co.uk, August 2010)

"...fits four decades' worth of guitar solos and weed smoking into the context of recent American marketing." (The Guardian.co.uk, September 2010)

"...there's certainly much to be taken away from this book." (Business Life, October 2010)

"...a well-written and sprightly little book...they may just be on to something." (Management Today, Octobe 2010)

"...offers advice to marketing executives across a broader range of industries." (Director, October 2010)

Sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll and ground-breaking marketing communications, what more could you ask?’  (Marketing.ie, April 2011).

The origins of the book are not in the field of cultural economics. However, it raises


some very interesting issues about the area and also of the general relationships


between the disciplines of marketing and economics, even perhaps about the nature


of American culture.

"The origins of the book are not in the field of cultural economics. However, it raises some very interesting issues about the area and also of the general relationships between the disciplines of marketing and economics, even perhaps about the nature of American culture." (Journal of cultural economics 2015)

"For years, business theorists and corporate strategists have pointed to the Dead's example for insights into perennial issues and emerging challenges. Scott and Halligan focus on one key factor in the band's extraordinary artistic and business success—their iconic and enduring identity, not just as a band but as a brand. The authors' real appreciation for the Dead phenomenon, and their compelling and creative analyses of the Dead's marketing acumen, make this thought-provoking survey mandatory reading."
Nicholas Meriwether, Grateful Dead Archivist, UC Santa Cruz, and author, All Graceful Instruments: The Contexts of the Grateful Dead Phenomenon and Dead Letters: Essays on the Grateful Dead.

"Demand everything. Expect nothing."
Bill Kreutzmann, co-founder and drummer, The Grateful Dead

"David and Brian share my deep passion for music and its inspiration in our everyday lives. In Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead, they combine their marketing expertise with a zeal for one of the most successful and iconic bands of all time. They mold two subjects that are seemingly poles apart into one breakthrough book that is as entertaining as it is enlightening."
Del Breckenfeld, Director, Entertainment Marketing, Fender Musical Instruments Corp. & author of The Cool Factor: Building Your Brand’s Image Through Partnership Marketing

"Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead explores the phenomenon created by the Grateful Dead showcasing the extraordinary power of music and the innovations the Dead developed to connect and bond with their audience."
Michael Lang, co-creator & Producer of the 1969 Woodstock Music & Art Festival and author The Road to Woodstock

"Halligan and Scott have written one of the most inspired, practical, and unconventional books on the business bookshelf. Want to develop a cult-like following, establish a new category, and do what you love? Scott and Halligan—calling upon their innate marketing savvy and inspired by their passion for the Grateful Dead—show you how."
Marc Benioff; Chairman & CEO, salesforce.com

"Jerry Garcia and his band were brilliant marketers. They understood that you grow your fan base one fan at a time and they constantly came up with things to energize their base while continuing to build it. As committed fans and talented marketing pros, Brian and David have created a book that is both entertaining and informative."
Jim Irsay, Owner and CEO, Indianapolis Colts and owner of Jerry Garcia's guitar, Tiger

"Being a 20-year member of the Grateful Dead's extended family, it's safe to say that we never felt like we were being marketed to in any way. The Dead treated us right by reaching out to us and keeping us in the know. Brian Halligan and David Meerman Scott's book Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead is an eye opener with keen observations. Who would have thought so many years ago that there was any plan in place at all?"
Ken Hays, Big Boss Man, Gathering of the Vibes

"...a well-written and sprightly little book. If you learn these lessons, you will have a better company and you will have a better life..."
Geoff Travis, Management Today

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Do you think you've discovered an error in this book? Please check the list of errata below to see if we've already addressed the error. If not, please submit the error via our Errata Form. We will attempt to verify your error; if you're right, we will post a correction below.

ChapterPageDetailsDatePrint Run
91 Errata in Text
change "50,000" to 500,000
100 Errata in Text
change "commiserate" should be replaced with "commensurate."
115 Errata in Text
change "zero" to one and change "a pandemic" to an endemic
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Press Release

August 13, 2010
Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead

“Demand everything. Expect nothing.”

Bill Kreutzmann, co-founder and drummer, the Grateful Dead

San Francisco, CA (where else?) – Long before the terms ‘inbound marketing’ and ‘social media’ were coined, the Grateful Dead were using these strategies to become one of the most successful bands of all time. They made a series of difficult and often unpopular decisions in order to differentiate themselves from their competition by providing the highest quality service to their fans, not just a product.

Deadheads and marketing strategists David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan explain how smart businesses can learn from one of the most successful rock bands of all time in MARKETING LESSONS FROM THE GRATEFUL DEAD (Wiley; $21.95; August 2010). The Grateful Dead broke almost every rule in the music industry book and profited as a result. The lessons—and the effect the band had on the music industry and their fans—apply to businesses of all kinds. 

The book includes a foreword by basketball legend—and the ‘world’s biggest Deadhead’—Bill Walton, who is 6’11” and has seen the band 750 times. Jay Blakesberg, who has been photographing the band for 30 years, has agreed to provide photos to illustrate each chapter. 

“Brian and I had both been talking about the Grateful Dead as social media pioneers in the days before the Web,” explains Scott, whose best-selling book The New Rules of Marketing and PR is a modern day business classic. “We collaborated on a HubSpot webinar, and the tremendous feedback showed us that this concept really resonates with people.” 

Scott and Halligan collaborated to create a book that reflects the attitudes of the time. “The Grateful Dead can be considered one giant case study in doing social media marketing right,” says Halligan, HubSpot CEO and co-author of Inbound Marketing. “Not only did they pioneer the freemium business model by allowing concert attendees to tape the show, but also encouraged their fans to build a community, and kept them informed via their newsletters.” 

Each chapter presents and analyzes a marketing concept practiced by the Dead and a real-world example of that concept in action today. Specific topics include: 

  • Rethink traditional industry assumptions – Rather than focus on record albums as a primary revenue source (with touring to support album sales), the Dead created a business model focused on touring. Halligan and Scott apply that idea to today’s Internet – where the cost of distribution of electronic information is zero. Now, entire new opportunities emerge for those willing to challenge established business models. The Grateful Dead teaches us that business model innovation is frequently more important than product innovation. 
  • Turn your customers into evangelists – Unlike nearly every other band, the Grateful Dead not only encouraged concertgoers to record their live shows, they actually established "taper sections" where fans' equipment could be set up for the best sound quality. When nearly every other band said "no" the Grateful Dead created a huge network of people who traded tapes in pre-Internet days. The broad exposure led to millions of new fans and sold tickets to the live shows. Today, as many companies experiment with offering valuable content on the Web, the Grateful Dead teaches us that when we free our content, more people hear about our company and eventually do business with us. 
  • Bypass accepted channels and go direct – The Grateful Dead created a mailing list in the early 1970s where they announced tours to fans first. Later, they established their own ticketing office, providing the most loyal fans with the best seats in the house. The Grateful Dead teaches us that building a community and treating customers with care and respect drives passionate loyalty.  
  • Build a huge, loyal following – The Grateful Dead let their audience define the Grateful Dead experience. Concerts were a happening, a destination where all 20,000 or more audience members were actually part of the experience. Making fans an equal partner in a mutual journey, the Grateful Dead teaches us that our community defines who we are. In an era of instant communications on Twitter, blogs and the like, we learn that companies cannot force a mindset on their customers. 

Fans of the band will see their icons in a new light, but this book should be considered by every business owner who wants to learn how to out-market the competition.


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