It doesn’t matter whether you love or hate their music, the Grateful Dead might just provide one of the best case studies on fan cultivation and word of mouth marketing ever.
Although their success pre-dates widespread use of the Internet and social media, the lack of tools and focus on people, passion and evangelism should inspire anyone looking to leverage positive word of mouth online or offline with little to no reliance on traditional advertising and media.
The answer lies in an approach to the band as a business, a fan-centric business, perhaps one of the most fan-centric businesses in history.
On my flight back to Seattle from Chicago yesterday I read an article by Joshua Green in The Atlantic on the Management Secrets of the Grateful Dead. The article focuses more on the sociological aspects and the academic study around the Grateful Dead phenomenon — and for good reason. It turns out that musical bunch of hippies knew a whole lot more about free, or freemium, way before Chris Anderson wrote a book about the power of Free, or the idea had a chance to spread to the social web — and with much financial success.
What you can learn about social business from the Grateful Dead:
1. Focus on Your Customers
The Grateful Dead was fiercely fan-centric. They established a telephone hotline to alert fans of its touring schedule ahead of public announcements, reserved some of the best seats for them, and put a cap on the price of the tickets. The tickets for live shows were then distributed through the band’s own mail-order house. According to Green this meant, “If you lived in New York and wanted to see a show in Seattle, you didn’t have to travel there to get tickets—and you could get really good tickets, without even camping out.”
2. Give it Away
The Grateful Dead “famously permitted fans to tape their shows, ceding a major revenue source in potential record sales, ” said Green. Although the article goes on to say that the band was not entirely selfless and would sue for infringement on merchandise and other copyrighted material, they stood behind the logic that bootlegged recordings of live shows would boost attendance and increase spending on related merchandise. Does this remind you of some of the arguments around file sharing and content posted to YouTube in recent years? What would the Dead do?
3. Connect Fans with Each Other
Although it took the Internet for most of us to begin to grasp this concept, the Dead and loyal Deadheads already understood that community is not a place. By focusing on the culture through merchandise and live performance experiences, fans were able to connect with each other in meaningful ways that led to deep bonding and real relationships. By making it easy for fans in remote locations to get advance tickets, the Dead created a fiercely loyal network of fans committed to not only seeing the band perform, but reuniting with old friends.
4. Make the Experience Matter
Live Grateful Dead shows relied heavily on improvisation. This meant that although they would often play crowd favorites, the songs would evolve into elaborate, lengthy performances as the night stretched on that might never be duplicated ever again. The recordings were the giveaway. Being there in person was still quite special.
How Grateful is Your Business?
Do you put your customers or fans at the center of everything you do? How can you go beyond connecting with your customers and help them connect through you?
Photo Credit: scarlatti2004