Book Review: Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead

Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead: What Every Business Can Learn from the Most Iconic Band in History

by David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan

ISBN-10: 0470900520

ISBN-13: 978-0470900529


  • A great sense of humor.
  • Serious analysis of the success of the grateful dead.
  • "Bite-sized" lessons with examples and analysis.


  • You may not get into it if you're not at least passingly familiar with The Dead.

Summary: A smart and deep book on how the Grateful Dead did everything right in marketing.  Great for progeeks because it is a geek phenomena analyzed in-depth.

I felt kind of obligated to read this book, because A) people were always mentioning it, B) I know people who have gotten seriously into The Dead, C) The Dead are incredibly successful.

The final decision maker was that The Dead are also an authentic Geekish phenomena.  Smart, savvy, technical, different, creative – they're us.  So I figured why not see if the authors had figured out their magic.

Well to spoil – they did.  But read on.

Anyway, unless you've probably heard of The Grateful Dead.  They're successful, historical, famous, etc.  The Dead are kind of a cultural fixture in that we're used to them.  We don't really think about them, we just kind of know they're there.

Of course if you're at all aware of The Dead, you know they've had dedicated, passionate fans for decades.  Fans would go from concert to concert.  Fans would have newsletters and tape swaps.  The Dead were a lifestyle.

So how did they do it?  They had the kind of branding that companies dream of – and to boot The Dead were the Real Thing.  They somehow succeeded without compromising themselves, but succeeded by being themselves.

This book is about that success.

The book takes a look at the history of The Dead, their activities, and the things they did that were good marketing.  This helps set the context for the book – you know how they did something, why it worked, and how it compares to today.  The book's two authors are fans, so needless to say, they're on solid ground.

Each specific thing The Dead did right is examined, discussed, an example of the modern day is often given, and the advice summarized.  This bite-sized but in-depth examinations makes it both easy to read, and lets you zero in on good lessons.  It also lets you pace yourself reading and applying the advice.

The level of depth of each section is also very effective as it let you relate what The Dead did with what other companies and individuals do – and then gives you advice to apply them.  You leave each section with something to do, which is important.

As for the advice in the book?  That's a bit odd.

There's really nothing here we haven't seen before.  You can locate each and every lesson in other books or online or at some business presentation.  The basic ideas are all what we've seen before.

What makes it work is that these lessons are show as relevant, shown as part of an effective marketing campaign, and related to success.  There's backing and detail and a visceral sense of what matters for good marketing.

There's also a sense of the big picture – because The Dead are a success.  These individual lessons cohere together to show the ideas here WORK.  Each marketing lesson is part of a larger success, and awareness of that is just as powerful as the individual tips.

So did I learn anything?  Yes.  Do I recommend the book?  Yes, and that's really all I can say.  It really is an examination of a massively successful band and what you can do that they did.

For we progeeks?  This book is perfect.  It examines a popular, intelligent, communication-driven cultural and media phenomena, and does it well.  If you're in need of improved marketing skills, go here.

Just expect to be shaken up.  THen again, The Dead would appreciate that . . .

Steven Savage