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).

{ 10 comments }

Andersson April 18, 2011 at 4:29 am

Cool strategy. I don’t know any bands or artists today that do that but if there are, they sure have the happiest and concert-happy fans.

David Meerman Scott April 18, 2011 at 4:31 am

Hey Mack – thanks for writing about the idea of giving fans the best experience. You discovered the power of this with the SXSW gig. But I contrast that with the innane way that some companies, such as telecoms providers, give the best deals to non-customers. “Don’t use us? Great. You get a special deal and a free mobile phone. But if you’re already a customer, you don’t qualify for the deal.”

Mack Collier April 18, 2011 at 8:03 am

David that’s another great point you referenced in the book, the idea of how a lot of companies spend more effort on attracting new customers, rather than appreciating their existing ones. The existing satisfied customers you have are far more valuable, why not delight them and let them continue to promote you to other customers?

Great read, nice to meet you at SXSW.

Torrey April 18, 2011 at 6:51 pm

Especially since it’s cheaper to satisfy existing customers then getting new ones

Lisa Petrilli April 18, 2011 at 6:43 am

Mack,
This post reminded me of Disney – a brand that is all about customer experience just as the Grateful Dead, and many smart musicians, are about the customer experience.

Let’s just say I have first-hand knowledge of what you must know and do if you want to eat with Cinderella, Belle, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White at Cinderella’s castle – and it involves jumping through hoops and praying that your goddess powers are working. There is also an art to discovering where princesses will appear at the Magic Kingdom, and raving Disney princess fans will learn the art and strategically schedule their day. ;)

I believe that it’s companies for whom the value proposition is ‘customer experience’ that will rival bands like Grateful Dead and performers like GaGa – but very few companies do this as well as musicians.

Lisa Petrilli

Mack Collier April 18, 2011 at 8:05 am

Sounds like there’s an interesting backstory there, Ms Petrilli ;) But I think this is a great point, the customers that are the most passionate about you will go the extra mile to connect with you and get the best experience. And I think in many cases they want to walk the extra mile, so to speak, to get that better experience. They should be rewarded when they do.

Troy Janisch April 18, 2011 at 8:40 am

It’s not just ok to treat your biggest fans differently than the rest — it’s expected. Give them the best experience possible as a reward for their loyalty. The way you handled SXSW #blogchat is great.

I think the aspect of asking your biggest fans to contribute is key. You’re not just rewarding them for being fan — it’s also for the evangelism and contributions they make to the fanbase overall. This is the one area where i think politics may be able to provide some of the best examples.

Thanks for a great blog post!

Mack Collier April 18, 2011 at 8:47 am

Troy that is a fabulous point, your biggest fans are the hand-raisers that WANT to contribute and help and take more ownership in helping you get where you are going. But most companies don’t understand this simply because they don’t understand their customers and especially don’t understand who their biggest advocates are, and what is inspiring that advocacy.

There are SO many missed opportunities here.

Tobey Deys April 18, 2011 at 1:34 pm

I’m probably coming in on a bit of a lateral angle here but the first thing that popped into my head when I read your post, Mack, was the genius behind The Flaming Lips ‘Two Blobs F***’ (I can’t quote the song title; not my style :-))
By releasing 12 separate tracks to be played simultaneously on twelve different devices, I think they really pushed the ‘social media’ & WOM envelope. So, say I have two friends who love The Flaming Lips. But I need nine more to play the song. The band found a way to introduce their music to nine people who may never had heard of them (with me and my first two buddies as advocates). It also engages and involves all 12 of us, at some level, in the creative process – making us ‘part of the band’. Kinda cool stuff.
Once again – your smartitude appreciated ;-) Thank you!

Torrey April 18, 2011 at 6:54 pm

All of David’s books are on my list to get to. I really enjoy his blog and interviews across the blogosphere. Thanks for extracting this point from the book, Mack.

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