The Grateful Dead had a remarkable product. They fused rock and roll with bluegrass and mixed in jazz-style improvisation to create a psychedelic sound. Not only did they have a remarkable sound, they had a remarkable strategy that nicely illustrates both methods.
Rather than compete for mass audiences with the Rolling Stones, Beatles, and other “popular” bands of its time, the Dead had a remarkable sound that resonated very deeply with a niche audience. They went narrower and deeper with their target market, rather than going broad and shallow against the myriad of other bands.
Most rock and roll bands treated concert tours as a necessary evil required to drive sales of their latest album. The Grateful Dead flipped this assumption on its head and made the concert tours the main revenue driver, and album revenues as upside to it (in fact, they let their concert goers tape their concerts and pass copies to friends for free). Because they flipped this assumption and focused on the concerts, they had superior sound and light equipment, as well as other concert enhancements, and created a unique experience for their audience that went beyond the typical expectation of what a concert would be like. Most rock band fans buy albums and attend a local concert. The Dead’s fans crisscrossed the country, following the band year-round. The Dead crossed boundaries from a rock band to a way of life.
From an early inbound marketing perspective, the Grateful Dead did everything right: they had a remarkable product (sound); they marketed that product to a rabid, niche market; and they ignored conventional wisdom about how to compete for dollars in the music business by making the concert, not album sales, their main revenue source. They ended up creating a movement that transcended the music itself- a strategy that enabled them to be one of the highest grossing bands of all time.
The strategies employed by the Grateful Dead are more relevant today than ever because the Internet enables information to spread much more easily, which in turn makes traditional markets much more competitive.
Regardless of your musical tastes, you should apply the marketing principles The Grateful Dead used to the products and services you are trying to sell. Begin by asking questions. What are the sacred-cow rules in your industry that should be rethought? Rather than just focus on competitors, what alternatives can you compete with that cross market boundaries? Rather than try to expand your market, are you better off shrinking it and increasing profits from a more enthusiastic set of customers?
This article is an excerpt from the book “Inbound Marketing” by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah.