What My Disdain for Grateful Dead Can Teach About Branding

Music has played crucial part of my life. It started with hiphop and heavy metal and has throughout the years expanded to almost every possible genre. One cult band that I have however never truly understood has been Grateful Dead. The hippy band is know for their marathon gigs like this:

I am not the biggest fan on The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Frank Zappa or Bruce Springsteen, but I still can get why people love them so much. I noticed that Grateful Dead was doing their farewell gig (to celebrate their 50th anniversary) on this July and that prompted me to again test some of their material on Spotify.

Nothing.

Nada.

Zip.

I totally fail to realize what makes people to devote a cult following to band so bland. Maybe it is because I don´t do drugs or have not been part of the hippy movement. On the other hand I don´t gangbang, but I still truly enjoy and find resonance in N.W.A.´s music. Grateful dead remains as a big enigma for me and to many others as well.

Grateful Dead

Some old hippies

“We’re like licorice. Not everybody likes licorice, but the people who like licorice really like licorice.”
Jerry Garcia

But why would I care about Grateful Dead? Or why would Grateful Dead care about me? I am not their core audience. If you are selling licorice, you don´t need to care about people who don´t like or licorice. This is the fault that many marketers have. They mistakenly believe that their target audience is everyone, which is hardly ever the case. If your target audience is everyone the individual purchase is small. When you have focused audience, you can ask for premium price.

Brands get super touchy-feely when blogger outside their target audience says something negative. It does not matter at all. Focus on your cult following. If you want to create a cult around your brand, you have to also alienate the non-brand followers. For deadhead, there are only “we” and “they”. If your product is only meant for alpha-male blokes, why should you worry about offending women ot vice versa?

“In the 1960s, Grateful Dead pioneered many social media and inbound marketing concepts that businesses across all industries use today.
Brian Halligan and David Meerman Scott (Marketing Lessons From Grateful Dead)

Although listening to Grateful Dead is equivalent of water torture, I have to applaud their business acumen. They were never high on the charts, but were able to focus on small devoted and lucrative audience. They kept the loyal customers happy and did not waste their efforts on trying to get new and fickle customers. Funnily enough, there are at least two books dedicated to business lessons from Grateful Dead.

Brands spend much of effort on parity. They want to make their brand easy to compare with other brands. That is the main fault. If you create your own category, the customer has only two choices: either buy or not. Love it or hate it. Ambivalence is not an option.

“They’re not the best at what they do, they’re the only ones that do what they do.”
-Bill Graham

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