Book Review: Marketing Lessons of the Grateful Dead – What Every Business Can Learn From the Most Iconic Band in History, by David Meerman Scott, and Brain Halligan

Book Review by Dawoud Kringle

When one thinks of the Grateful Dead, the inescapable image of hippies dressed in colorful clothes, living a gypsy lifestyle, mixing healthy foods with exotic drugs, clouds of patchouli incense and marijuana smoke wafting through the breeze, and immersing themselves in a hero-worship of the band (especially their leader Jerry Garcia) is inescapable. And the band’s music is completely outside the realm of any marketing demographic that the orthodox music business finds acceptable, or even comprehensible. 

Yet looking at (or through) this psychedelic Bohemian mindset often obscures one important fact. The Grateful Dead were one of the most successful bands in history. In the 1990s, the Grateful Dead earned a total of $285 million in revenue from their concert tours during the 1990s (second only to the Rolling Stones). After Garcia’s death in 1995, the various projects that grew out of the Grateful Dead, such as Dead and Co., continue to generate astonishing revenues: their concerts earned $52 Million, and set the record for the biggest music PPV event in history.

How the hell did that happen?

Brian Halligan (co-founder and CEO of HubSpot, former Venture Partner at Longworth Ventures and VP of Sales at Groove Networks) and David Meerman Scott (online marketing strategist, former vice president of NewsEdge Corporation, former electronic information division of Knight Ridder, and author of several books on marketing) set out to analyze the answer.

The book details how the Grateful Dead broke all the rules of the music industry, and how they wrote their own rule book of their own game, and won.

The first thing we see is how the Dead created a unique business model. In doing so, they taught that business innovation is just as important as product innovation. The authors challenged the reader to ask themselves some questions:  What are you three times better at than your competition? What are you three times worse at than your competition? What new technology is emerging that will enable you to upset the apple cart? Are there societal changes that you could take advantage of?

Another topic is choosing a memorable brand. Love them or hate them, NOBODY can forget the Grateful Dead. The name and the iconic imagery imprint itself on your memory. 

Other topics include building a diverse team; embracing technology, establish your own category (rather than trying to find acceptance in an already established category), cutting out the middlemen, freeing your content, offering unique products and services, and cultivating eccentricities. 

The Grateful Dead allowed their audience to define the Grateful Dead experience. The audience was made an equal partner. This, among other things was what made them successful.

Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead is a book that was written to be all inclusive to any possible business in any industry. But its value to professional musicians is beyond question.  It’s well written, well put together, and a quick read that dispenses a great deal of practical and inspirational information. And it’s a lot of fun to read as well.