Interview: David Meerman Scott, Author Of Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead (Pt. 1)
Recently, I spoke with David Meerman Scott, who is a well-known blogger, speaker, marketing thought-leader, and best-selling author of The New Rules of Marketing & PR and most recently co-author of Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead: What Every Business Can Learn from the Most Iconic Band in History.
First and foremost, like everyone else, you've watched what I've come to call "the plight of the record industry the digital age." Quite unlike the rest of us though, you've done so as an outsider, not as a subsequent casualty.
As an outsider, what's your take on all of this? So too, are their things that those in the record industry could've learned from the marketing and business principles of the Grateful Dead, before it was too late?
David Meerman Scott: What I do for a living is very similar to what a musician does. I create books – some bestsellers – put out by a major publisher (like a record label), I do about 50 speaking gigs a year (for five figure fees), and I have fans. I realize in the digital age, that it is up to me as an author and speaker to manage my own career and to pick and choose what I do and how I do it.
"Like musicians, I can choose to do live gigs…"
(or not) and to do my books with a major (which I do) or go with a small publisher or self publish (I have done both).
What my publisher, Matt Holt at Wiley (who by the way is a mega music fan) understands very well is that a good author-publisher relationship is built on a partnership of strengths. I’m good at promotion. Wiley is great at distribution. I want no part of packing and shipping books or negotiating deals in countries like Latvia (my books are out in 26 languages). Wiley is great at that. But we both realize that I need to make books walk from shelves. Wiley can only get the books onto the shelves, I need to build a fan base who will buy.
Kyle Bylin: The first correlation you make between the Grateful Dead and what companies need to do today in order to differentiate themselves is that they must have and "create a unique business model."
The Grateful Dead were able to do this in their time by creating a live show that resembled a movement more than it did a marketing platform to sell more plastic discs and climb the Billboard Charts.
Why is it so important for artists today to follow their example and create a unique business model—a proposition to their fans that separates them from the rest and connects with the desires of their tribe?
DMS: The Grateful Dead was a touring band that happened to sell records too. Most other bands of the time toured to support record sales. Artists today need a true connection to fans. That might be by doing what the Dead did and create improvisational shows that were each unique and then tour a lot to build a rabid following. Or it could be what Amanda Palmer does so well – building a following online. She has over a half million fans on Twitter and tens of thousands who follower her blog and Facebook entries.
"Fans feel that they know her"
KB: Next, you lead into a section where you talk about how one of the aspects that shaped the sound and feel of the Grateful Dead so prolifically was that all of the members came from such diverse, varied backgrounds.
The lesson: Build a Diverse Team.
If a band loses a member, in what why might they be doing themselves a disservice by searching for an easy-fit? And, don't you think, in terms of artists, that they need both to build a diverse team in their line-up and also establish one around their group to help support their career?
DMS: Well, for a jam band like the Dead, that diversity is essential to great music. As the Dead have lived on in various incarnations of founding members’ projects, the choice of other musicians has been exciting to the tribe. It’s not about copying but rather about interpreting the music. While this approach is obvious for jam bands, is it the right approach for a pop group too? I’d say yes because I am a fan of seeing music evolve. But if a Jonas Brother left, they would probably want to find someone who was very similar.
But sometimes losing a member would mean the best thing is to disband and start fresh. If Jack White lost one of his cohorts in his current project, the Dead Weather, I’d like to see him start a new band instead of looking for a sound-alike replacement.