Lessons From the Bookshelf: Marketing Lessons From the Grateful Dead

by Mack Collier

One of the things I’ve tried to make an effort to do in 2011 is read more books.  I am lucky enough to constantly be offered review copies of books that friends and colleagues have written, but rarely have time to get to reading them.

But at the same time, I didn’t want to do a simple book review like everyone else.  So I decided instead to give you ONE key takeaway from each book.  And the first book in this series is Marketing Lessons From the Grateful Dead, by David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan.  Anyone that’s read my writing for any amount of time should know what a fan I am of how rockstars connect with their fans, and what companies can learn from them.

This book has a ton of great marketing and fan-empowerment examples, but the one I wanted to focus on was give your biggest fans the best experience.  Scott and Halligan detail how The Grateful Dead controlled access to their tickets at live shows (fairly unusual for a major band), so they created a way for their biggest fans to get the best seats to shows.  What they did was they held aside blocks of tickets (usually the best seats closest to the stage), and they sold these tickets to fans that reached out to them directly about ordering tickets.  Die-hard fans discovered that they could contact the band directly, send in a money order with a request for tickets, and if any from the block were still available, they would get seats.

And how was the availability of these tickets made aware to fans?  By good old-fashioned word of mouth.  Fans that had the best seats told other fans about how they got them, and word spread that way.  This also brings up another interesting point, the Dead gave their biggest fans the best seats, but they also made them work for them.  The fans that just wanted to attend the event could jump online and order tickets, or in the pre-internet days, call Ticketmaster or a similar service.  But the diehards that wanted to be near the stage had to jump through a few extra hoops to try to get there.  And this works out perfectly because the diehard fans are the ones that would WANT to make that extra effort for the better seats.

This example really resonated with me because I tried to do something similar with the tickets for the first Live #Blogchat at SXSW.  Due to the size of the location, there would only be 100ish spots available for attendees.  I wanted to make sure that as many regular #Blogchat participants as possible could attend the event, so a couple of days before tickets were available, I started asking #Blogchat regulars that would be at SXSW to DM me for info on the event.  Then when they DMed me, I let them know that tickets would be going on sale in a day or two, and asked them if they wanted me to notify them when they were available.

About 25 people (mostly #Blogchat regulars) told me they wanted to know first about the tickets being available, so when the EventBrite page went live, before tweeting out the link, I let the people that had reached out to me know about it first.  So the #Blogchat regulars that were going to be at SXSW and that made the effort to reach out to me about attending, got the first tickets.

What about your company?  Are you making any special efforts to connect with your biggest evangelists and advocates?  Are you giving them a better experience or more access to you and your products?  This was one of the many lessons I learned from reading Marketing Lessons From the Grateful Dead by David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan.  I think you’ll enjoy it as well.

PS: If your company has done something similar to reach out to your biggest fans/advocates and give them a better experience, please do email me about it as I am always looking for great case studies to profile here (hint hint).

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