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Five Marketing Innovation Tips From the Grateful Dead

Mark Goldman By Mark Goldman

The Grateful Dead was an awesome innovation machine—a brilliant blend of brand, customer experience, and engagement strategies. I’m not a “Dead Head” (I’ve seen them in concert only twice), but I love the Grateful Dead. Their business model was the polar opposite of the rest of the industry—and it worked.

They were consummate businessmen. Even the legendary touring troupe, the Rolling Stones, consulted the Grateful Dead on how to create successful concert tours, as well as how to stage a free one.

The point being: Innovation doesn’t necessarily mean a new product, service or app. It can also be an improvement on product or service delivery, a better process for doing something, or even an enhancement to a brand or company’s value chain. In the end, creating a higher level of economic value defines innovation.

So, here are 5 marketing lessons we can all learn from Jerry and the band:

• Don’t chase trends; focus on your strengths. In an era when album sales were king, The Dead focused on concert sales.

• Eliminate gates between your audience and your content. By actually encouraging fans to pirate their live performances, The Dead built their following. They enabled their evangelists to go and create more brand advocates and enthusiasts.

• Eliminate middlemen between your brand and your consumers. The Dead created a direct-to-consumer sales model that didn’t rely on labels, distributors or retailers. In the end, they always owned the relationship with their user base.

• Empower your fans. Anyone could sell Grateful Dead merchandise. This allowed fans to become merchants and merchants to become business partners.

• Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Long before email and social media, The Dead mailed their fan base to let them know about tours and new albums. Their form of consumer engagement, however archaic by today’s methodologies, worked exceedingly well. With so many opportunities to engage customers, it is critical for brands to stay in touch.

And, Keep on Truckin’…