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What Brands and Social Media Players Can Learn from The Grateful Dead

Yeah – I know, many of you are thinking Social Steve puts the name Grateful Dead in the headline and expects many hits … it is like putting the “sex” in anything and stirring interest.

“They love each other … Lord, you can see that it is true” words – Robert Hunter

But hey, give me a chance here … arguably, no band has ever had a connection, a relationship with their audience like The Grateful Dead. Isn’t this what we want to accomplish with our brand (whether it is a person, product, or service)?

“Steal your face right off your head” words – Robert Hunter

So while I like The Dead, I would not consider myself a Dead Head or big fan. So I had to get some coaching here from my friend, “Disia.” I asked him, “When The Dead got in their pinnacle jamming, were they playing off each other or playing off the audience?” His answer: “Both … because the audience is considered part of the band, the nth member. When an audience was present, at best it allowed for a closed circular loop to be formed between band and audience with the mutually gratifying energy constantly flowing around and throughout.”

“got some things to talk about here beside the rising tide” words – Robert Hunter

Think about this for a second … if you are so in tune to your audience and sensitive to their vibe and perception, enough to truly think of them as one of you, can you imagine how strong the relationship of your brand and its audience will be? The Grateful Dead were a brand that stood out in the music universe like no other band. They redefined the relationship of musicians as a selling model. I know this will disenchant many Dead Heads to call them a brand, but it can not be denied. Granted, they are so much more than a brand. They created a music culture that did not previously exist. To put this in marketer’s terms, consider the iPod – so much more than a brand – it redefines how people use their product to the extent that it has produced a cultural change. (And then the iPhone; and then iPad; and then …)

“If I had my way, I would tear this old building down” traditional – arranged by Bob Weir

Why? Simple. Being so in tune to your audience. If you know The Dead, one can often see a difference between their east coast and west coast performances. The west coast audience was a mellower crowd. Thus the energy exchange between band and fans and the music itself took on that tone and palette. When The Dead played Madison Square Garden in NYC, the east coast heads seemed to be a more discerning bunch, not willing to “just go with the flow.” Their expectations were high and the energy exchanged between band and fans reflected this. The entire Garden came alive, bouncing with excitement WHEN the music was right.

“The music plays the band” words – John Barlow

In a piece I wrote called, “Simplifying Social Media,” I emphasize the LCR (Listen-Conversations-Relationships) Mentality. I insisted that a strong social media program requires …

Know your target audience and find the existing places and communities where they are talking, tweeting, blogging, commenting, etc. Spend some time there and just LISTEN to what they value and need. Understand the way they talk and their vernacular. If you want to be a valued member of the club, you got to talk their talk, not yours.
Once you have gained a solid understanding of your target audience and how they socialize in the various forums and communities, start to engage in the conversation. Remember, don’t sell. This should be more of a friendly conversation or networking nature.
Continue conversations and work on building trusted relationships. Trust is established by having good rapport and delivering value. You deliver value to a target audience group, but you establish relationships one-on-one. That said, put out valuable information to your target audience and follow up with one-on-one conversations.

Forget about marketing terms for a second. Isn’t this exactly what The Dead did?

While you may have read about my LCR Mentality before, I am bringing it up again in the context of The Grateful Dead. One must approach a social media endeavor this way to be successful. The Grateful Dead broke all of the rules, but the most important thing that they always did was to have a commitment to their audience.

Another note here on The Dead. Trying to understand how intense a paramount Grateful Dead show can get, “Disia” made a great quote. He said, “I don’t listen to what they are playing, I listen to what they are listening to.” Wow – I think this further drives the importance and power of listening and how powerful and intense the result can be.

Bottom line – you want a strong relationship with your audience, know them, listen to them, engage with them, PERFORM FOR THEM.

“strangers stopping strangers, just to shake their hand .everybody’s playing in the Heart of Gold Band” words – Robert Hunter


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