Tag Archives: differentation

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.




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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What is Good Work?

One of the most common terms (besides ideas) in agencies, which is thrown around is “good work”. Probably everyone has different meaning for it, but I have always believed that good work is just two things.

It is effective and entertaining:

1. Effective
Good work has to provide above-the-average business results for the client. Average is not enough, because average results you can achieve with crappy work pumped up with strong media push. Also to go above the average means that the strategy work is not just stating the obvious. To be truly effective, the strategy must provide either great answer to current business problem or find lucrative business opportunity. Great strategy is all about finding the relevant difference.
Advertising is not art, so if the work cannot be measured with commercial criteria it cannot be truly good either.

2. Entertaining
Although advertising is not art, it is not door-to-door-selling either. Spamming your whole client list might be effective done once, but would ruin your hard-earned reputation at the same time. In marketing communications you are maximixing the effectiveness on the long run, not getting quick wins which are cheap.
Entertaining does not mean cheap laughs either. Zero Dark Thirty is entertaining movie, although it is not funny. Great advertising finds the right emotion to suit commercial purposes. Majority of our intentional consumption decisions are done emotionally (rational car buyers?) so if you do not spark any emotion you do not have the chance to be truly effective either.
Entertaining people is harder than ever. Our marketing communications competes head-to-head with the best content in the world. So when you are doing your next brand mobile application, ask yourself is this really on the same level as other good (not marketing) applications? If not, it does not probably take off.

In advertising, we tend to define the work too often with its novelty aspect. We are obsessed of doing something, which has not been done before anywhere. Sometimes it is for good reason. No one has not build the world biggest toilet paper mummy for any toilet paper brand (at least I hope so), but that is for good reason. That is completely stupid idea. In the search of novelty, we tend too often to shift doing gimmicks. More often than creating something completely new, good work is about looking the old things from new perspective.

Good work requires strong strategy with huge creative leap. On the long run, the selection is not either effective or entertaining. If you want to be ahead of your competition, you have to be both.

Also I have only talked about good work. The great work is totally different beast. Great work changes the whole world.

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