July 30, 2010

Marketing and the Business of the Dead

For a band whose Haight-Ashbury origins celebrated an aversion to capitalism, the Grateful Dead have emerged as a powerful example to a variety of business theorists, scholars, and academics. David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan are the latest to delve into the band’s remarkable commercial success, condensing the thirty-year history of the Grateful Dead into a series of pithy lessons to guide managers through the rapidly shifting terrain of marketing today. Their book, Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead, provided them with a unique opportunity to truly combine their passions: as marketing professionals, business writers—and Deadheads.

Published by Wiley and just released, the book is getting good press, helped by the authors’ promotional tour—one that also allows them to catch a few summer shows by Furthur and the Rhythm Devils.

Scott and Halligan join a distinguished roster of scholars who have studied the band’s business model. Dr. Barry Barnes, a professor at Nova Southeastern University, is the most prolific and well known academic business scholar who has focused on the band, but a number of business scholars and analysts have long recognized the significance of how the band’s freewheeling marketing acumen and fanatically loyal customer base helped make the Dead one of the most unlikely economic powerhouses in an industry known for its fickle nature.

The lessons of that approach have not been lost on other Dead scholars, most of whom have had to address the stigma of the band’s countercultural origins and trappings. Unique among the welter of scholarly approaches to the Dead phenomenon, business theorists tend to ignore that stigma—the band’s success, and their maverick approach to courting that success, are sufficient to warrant the attention. To historians, that approach is refreshing because it foregrounds the band’s commercial success, making the point that the Dead’s artistic and commercial success are inextricably entwined; a professional band is, after all, an enterprise that is predicated—and depends—on both.

Their success also allowed the Dead to be generous, and their altruism was another lesson Scott and Halligan took to heart, donating a portion of their advance and earnings to support the Grateful Dead Archive at UC Santa Cruz. It is a wonderful acknowledgment of the old-fashioned ideals that informed the Dead phenomenon, and that now have taken root in its study. Scholars from a wide variety of disciplines will find Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead a thought-provoking and informative read.

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