Interview: David Meerman Scott On Marketing Lessons From the Grateful Dead

As you likely already know, David Meerman Scott and I have a lot in common. We both  started our careers in the bond market  and spent considerable time organizing and marketing financial market data to various audiences. Who knew we also shared a passion for music? David Meerman Scott actually maintains a database of the 308 different bands that he has seen live.

In association with Brian Halligan, David now releases Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead (Wiley 2010). The book gives a refreshing look at concepts you’ve seen in his previous books, explaining how David believes using the techniques of the Grateful Dead companies can learn to market, engage and build passionate fan bases. The book interlaces ideas from the offline world and show how to use them online today. Yet this vast opportunity remains hidden to most. They talk about the book in this video:

How did you conceive of the Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead’s concept and map the chapters to effortlessly flow to the reader?

David Meerman Scott: The book’s concept was really conceived out of our love for the Grateful Dead and their music. We were fans and at the same time were eager to write about the Grateful Dead because we identified many lessons in what the band has been doing over more than 40 years that are applicable today. These lessons are an important tool for helping to understand the new marketing environments in a language and with examples that are familiar to all.

You showed several examples of how the Grateful Dead treated their customers with care and respect (page 82). It seems like a simple concept. Why is treating customers with care and respect so hard to do in most companies?

David Meerman Scott: I think doing it involves more work and some companies mistakenly think there is an advantage to new customer churn instead of building a loyal fan base. Companies need to understand there really isn’t any difference between a B2B or B2C company, at the end of the day you are still selling to people.  The more people feel valued by companies and personally connected to them, the more the company’s fan base will grow and the bottom line will prosper as well.

Read more: http://socialmediab2b.com/2010/03/b2b-roi-david-meerman-scott-sxsw/#ixzz0wTALaTed

You discuss bootleg recordings and the freemium model extensively in the book. What are your views on how this is emerging in the corporate world and the potential future paths?

David Meerman Scott:   The idea of giving away something for free to anybody who wants it and then providing a paid upgrade to a premium version is becoming increasingly common with products and services that have no distribution costs. The challenge in the upgrade model is to give away something that is considered valuable and something that people will use regularly and become familiar with.

This strategy won’t work when you provides something for free that only has limited value. So for example a free software application with a feature set that is so crippled as to be of limited use will not sell more software.

Back when I had a music site, it was amazing to see that the artists that were heavily involved in defining the direction of the promotion of the band almost always outperformed the ones done by handlers promoting exclusively by the old rules and channels. How can companies best adapt and capture the opportunities this presents?

David Meerman Scott: If we look at this in terms of promotion the best things companies can do is make it easy to spread their content. And let the marketplace spread your content for you. The goal is to spread the word about your product or service in the marketplace. If you have a remarkable idea, you will attract bloggers and social media users in your marketplace that will help you propel your idea without spending lots of money on PR and advertising. The Grateful Dead lesson is that making it easy for our audience to spread our content makes our product “known” in the marketplace.

When you met the senior bond trader at Madison Square Garden in the 1980’s, the book states (page 76) “It’s sort of like a secret society, a shared interest in something that others in the office don’t know about.” Why didn’t everyone in that office become Deadheads? What can be done to make sure search marketing, social media and the new rules of marketing don’t get limited to “secret society” status?

David Meerman Scott: The Grateful Dead was never mainstream. They only had one top ten song in 45 years. As in every niche market, I wouldn’t expect everyone to be a fan.

However, search marketing, social media, new rules of marketing have no way of being limited to a “secret society” status, because every major media outlet, online blogs and sites all use these tools ubiquitously. The real question companies need to be asking is “Are we using these tools to benefit our customers, grow fans and engage in real dialogue,” if the answer is no, the company or its product is the one that will stay secret.

Really enjoyed your discussion of the strategy shift at Dropbox(page 40). Your discussion of how some tactics that work in an existing market can utterly fail in new markets is a highly misunderstood area for both entrepreneurs and existing companies alike. Why is this concept so challenging to understand?

David Meerman Scott: I think it’s not all that challenging to understand, the challenge lies in companies being willing to experiment and step outside of the channels that have been too long traversed and no longer work. Too often companies get comfortable with how they have always done something. So even when it’s no longer working, it’s hard to stop doing it. The key to changing this is to be open-minded about how to market your products and be willing to experiment in your market.  You’ll never know what might succeed if you’re not willing to try new things.

What techniques do you like use to convert raving fans of new marketing tactics that often conflict with previous belief systems?

David Meerman Scott: My job is to write these books and speak about all the successes that companies have when they put these new marketing tactics to use. I’m a journalist as well as a marketing strategist and I spend a lot of time blogging about all the right things and some not so great things that companies are doing with these tools. The best way to convert people to using them is to reveal to them how the can successfully apply them and what benefit will come from that application.

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  2. What businesses can learn from the Grateful Dead | Sweat Equity - September 27, 2010

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