5 Awesome Marketing Lessons From The Grateful Dead

Once in awhile you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.

5 Awesome Marketing Lessons From the Grateful Dead

There were definitely a few hardcore Grateful Dead fans at this year’s SXSW conference and they proudly stood to be recognized by speaker David Meerman Scott (FreshSpot Marketing) as he spoke to the enthusiast crowd about his book, “Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead: What Every Business Can Learn from the Most Iconic Band in History“.

Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead at SXSW
David Meerman Scott: “Once in awhile you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”

One Deadhead in the audience won the prize for following the Dead to over 250 of their concerts. This proved Meerman Scott’s point that “the Dead” were extremely successful in creating a great brand (and band).

NERD NOTE: The Grateful Dead constantly toured throughout their career, playing more than 2,300 concerts around the world.

The Grateful Dead’s Contrarian Marketing Strategy

Ahead of their time, The Grateful Dead make for a great case study in contrarian marketing. They achieved success by doing what most other bands weren’t doing… or by doing the opposite of what others were doing. The Dead were true marketing innovators of their time.

5 Marketing Lessons From The Grateful Dead

Here are a few marketing lessons we can learn from this cultural icon and American jam band:


  1. Create a Unique Business Model.  The Grateful Dead made money from touring… not necessarily from the sale of their albums.
  2. Free Your Content. The Grateful Dead freed up their content and let people record their shows. They often gave the “tapers” the best seats in the house to record.  Why not? Deadheads were sharing the music with their friends and ultimately growing the band’s fan base.
  3. Bring People on an Odyssey. The band let their audience define the “Grateful Dead experience” and fans felt like they could escape and just be themselves.  They made friends and built a community.
  4. Encourage Eccentricity. The Grateful Dead let people express themselves.  Deadheads weren’t the average concert-goers and they had many personalities and styles.  They were “tapers”, “spinners” (getting their name from their twirling dance style), “wharf rats” (deadheads who helped each other stay substance-free) and “wookies” (Chewbacca-resembling Deadheads)… and the Dead recognized all of their fans.
  5. Do What You Love! Garcia loved music and touring.  He loved it so much that he lived in his van and ate ketchup soup (yeah, you guessed it… the recipe for ketchup soup consists of ketchup packets from your favorite fastfood dive mixed with a little water straight from the tap).

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Finding Inspiration In Strange Places

Do you build or develop brands or communities? Put on your favorite Skull and Roses song or stream a free Grateful Dead  “taper” recording and create something that no one has yet to experience.

As David Meerman Scott (@dmscott) closed the “Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead” SXSW discussion, he reminded us that: “Once in awhile you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”

NERD NOTE: The name “Grateful Dead” was chosen from a dictionary. According to Phil Lesh, in his biography (pp. 62), “…[Jerry Garcia] picked up an old Britannica World Language Dictionary…[and]…In that silvery elf-voice he said to me, ‘Hey, man, how about the Grateful Dead?'” The definition there was “the soul of a dead person, or his angel, showing gratitude to someone who, as an act of charity, arranged their burial.”