Who knew that The Grateful Dead were experiential marketers! Great musicians, yes. Relentless road-show tourists, definitely. Unapologetic drug fiends, oh yeah. Pied-pipers of the hippie ethic of community and freedom of expression, you bet. But experiential marketers? Hell yeah!
Here’s what Seth Godin wrote a while back on the subject:
More than Campbell’s Soup or American Airlines or CAA or Cisco or McKinsey, the Grateful Dead is the template for how organizations are going to grow and succeed moving forward.
No, not every element of who they were and what they did, but the idea of conversations and open source, the idea of souvenirs and emotion and live events and of remarkability. The Dead sells through permission marketing, spread their music through an ideavirus and yes, as long as we’re slinging buzzwords, profits from the long tail.
The most important takeaway is this: They repeatedly did things that felt like huge risks, that challenged the status quo and that seemed, on their face, to give too much power to their audience. And in those moments, the Grateful Dead were at their most successful.
The Dead brought the show to the people, and let the people do whatever they wanted with it. The Grateful Dead experience was a collaborative effort, and because of this, it was inspiring. The Dead were innovative (one of the first bands to use lights and special effects in rock music) and permissive (anyone could sell anything — from veggie burritos to sheets of acid) with their shows.
Most significant to Deadheads (and marketers alike) is the fact that they allowed their concerts to be recorded. In other words, bootlegged. This had a profound affect not only on how their fans responded to them, but how their music spread throughout the world to convert legions of music lovers into hard-core Dead-heads.
According to an article in the New York Times, “if you look at where the music business has been forced to go by technology, now it’s not about selling records. It’s about live shows and inspiring a fan base to be absolutely loyal. Hello? Who did that first? The Grateful Dead.”