Tag Archives: Marketing Lessons from The Grateful Dead

Top three PR books from 2010*

I read a lot of books about public relations and marketing last year, and here’s a quick shout out to three of my very favorites. Just a little prediction: most of the the books on the 2011 list will be about social media (I already have three lined up!).

Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out On How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans (November 2010)
by Wendell Potter

This was an over-the-holidays read, and I’m almost finished (look for a review soon) but I had to include it on this list. Potter is the former head of public relations (or self-proclaimed “spin-meister”) for health insurance company CIGNA. His congressional testimony after he stepped down from his position blew the whistle on the PR practices of the insurance industry in combating everything from their own bad publicity to the watering down of President Obama’s healthcare plan to the annihilation of President and Hillary Clinton’s efforts two decades ago. Potter takes us back into history to examine how some public relations tactics within the health insurance industry has negatively influenced the passage of a universal healthcare option for years to the benefit of the insurance industry. Potter points out that his chronicle isn’t indicative of the PR field as a whole, but I worry not everyone will be so forgiving of the entire industry.

Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead (August 2010)
by David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan

The Grateful Dead empire and the story of its evolution contains tons of progressive marketing ideas, and this books captures them all. I blogged twice in 2010 about this great little book (lesson one and lesson two). Also, after you read it, get on iTunes and search for podcasts with Scott and Halligan; one of my favorites is an August 13, 2010 interview from Blog Talk Radio’s The A-List with Jennifer Lindsay. (The A-List is an interview podcast with social media and marketing movers and shakers.)

How We Decide (January 2010)
by Jonah Lehrer

In order to be effective and successful PR and marketing specialists, we need to understand the psychology behind why people buy, what’s important to them at each life stage, and how they come to conclusions in general. Lehrer explains the use of our rational and emotional sides of the brain, and how each factors into how we decide. The single-most important factor in building better decision-making skills, he says, is making mistakes: the best decision makers are “students of error.” That is, making mistakes is a good, necessary thing: it allows us to reconfigure our brains so that the next time, we get closer to making the right decision.

*Addition to original post! Social media focused books lined up for 2011 include: The Whuffie Factor: Using the Power of Social Networks to Build Your Business by Tara Hunt; Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business by Erik Qualman; and Twitterville: How Businesses Can Thrive in the New Global Neighborhoods by Shel Israel.

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Lesson two from “Marketing Lessons From The Grateful Dead”: set your content free!

Set some content free for your audience members, and it’ll lead to high levels of loyalty from customers/fans/followers/donors/etc. David Meerman Scott, author of Marketing Lessons From The Grateful Dead, is a big advocate of good, free content to establish credibility and trustworthiness. It’s also one way The Grateful Dead built its fan base and reputation: they let audience members openly record performances. In fact, they encouraged it by providing recording areas for these fans to set up camp. The band, as Scott says, “removed barriers to their music by allowing fans to tape it, which in turn brought in new fans and grew sales.” Rather than fighting it, they embraced it, showing the ultimate respect and appreciation for their followers.

And it’ll work for anyone. Lately, a few counter examples got me thinking about this idea. After attending last month’s Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington, D.C., I searched for video clips from the event. Unfortunately, I found many to have been removed by Comedy Central’s parent company. And this week, a friend Tweeted a video of Jimmy Fallon’s performance as Neil Young (with Bruce Springsteen) singing Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair” on Jimmy Kimmel’s Late Night. After watching that video of the performance, I went back a few days later to watch it again, and the video had been removed for “copyright purposes.” [Here’s a link to the NBC-sanctioned video, for any Neil and Bruce fans.]

Let’s follow in The Grateful Dead’s footsteps and loosen up: less policing, more providing. I recently listened to an interview with Andy Bailey, president of NationLink Wireless, courtesy of a podcast from Atkinson Public Relations in Nashville. Andy has helped NationLink become an authority in its field by giving away information, including tips, tools, and even software.

“In order to be the expert, you have to share that knowledge with other people and give them access to the information,” Andy says. “And selfishly, they would market for us.”

That’s not selfish at all. That’s good brand-awareness strategy. Another great example comes from where I work: our digital recruitment specialist in the admission office has created a white paper called The Definitive Guide to Social Media (for college-seeking students).” It’s an awesome, free tool for teenagers who want to make sense of all the online options for exploring colleges.

And while it has our brand on it, the content appeals to the audience on a general, non-selling level. It’s a tool for teenagers (and their parents) to use no matter what college they’re looking for. Meanwhile, we’re establishing our expertise and our reputation as a thought leader in student recruitment.* And this can only do good things for cultivating lasting customer relationships for any organization.

*Of course, we can’t forget to measure these efforts, as we would any endeavor. Your free content isn’t automatically going to result in more of what you want (sales, customers, applications, whatever). It has to be the right kind of free content to make it worth the effort.

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For PR pros, professional and personal curiosities are often the same

Relatively speaking, I’m a young PR professional, but I’ve been in the business long enough to understand that you’re never going to learn everything you need to know to make perfect decisions all the time. Also, if you love the public relations profession enough to devote your life to it, then this advice will come easy: never stop absorbing information about it.

A friend was at my apartment a few weeks ago and saw a copy of Marketing Lessons From The Grateful Dead lying on my dining room table. She laughed and remarked that even my pleasure reading has to do with my professional life. It’s true, and I bet it is for a lot of PR pros who really love what they do.

After finishing Marketing Lessons From The Grateful Dead a month ago (and blogging about it), I read the same author’s World Wide Rave, and this morning, over coffee and CBS Sunday Morning’s segment on corduroy, I finished a 2008 book by publicist David Carriere called 7 Steps to Publicize Just About Anything.

Then while walking five miles today at the gym, I loaded up my iPod with free podcasts and got to listen to a 21-minute interview with an Australian PR firm owner and a fabulous 36-minute segment about managing employee social media celebrities.

And here I am writing and thinking about it. Why? Because I love my chosen career path, and I want to be the best at it. I’m a free webinar, podcast, whitepaper, latest-book-on-marketing junkie. All PR professionals should be.

Brian Tracy, in his book Be A Sales Superstar, says, “You become what you think about most of the time.” Your outer world, he says, eventually corresponds with your inner world.

Sure, I’ll never be able to pass a billboard without criticizing it or watching a press conference without wishing I was a part of it, and I know other PR pros who’ll agree. But our self-education will make us better professionals, which always leads to more personal happiness.

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My first lesson from “Marketing Lessons from The Grateful Dead”: branding with philanthropy

I just finished studying the fabulous Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead, by David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan (Wiley, 2010). David Meerman Scott is my favorite industry writer, and I’ve mentioned his books here before. This is the first of several blog entries I’ll do to talk about concepts in the book, in addition to picking the brains of some Deadheads to discuss it more in depth!

One marketing lesson the authors discuss is to “give back” in the same manner that the Grateful Dead played charity shows, donated money, etc. For each lesson and each chapter, the authors include a present-day example of how an organization is currently marketing like the Grateful Dead did, and the “give back” chapter cites the Ronald McDonald House Charities as their example. Specifically, the authors say that the Ronald McDonald house is “a fascinating example of Grateful Dead-style corporate giving.”

Rock on!

The Ronald McDonald House holds a special place in my heart. My sister had surgery as a teenager for scoliosis at a hospital about 120 miles from our home. We stayed at the Ronald McDonald House near the hospital, and it’s an experience I’ve never forgotten. My birthday fell during the week my sister was in the hospital, and the lovely women who worked at the Ronald McDonald House went to the trouble of buying me a cake and gathering all the other residents to sing happy birthday. I wasn’t even the patient!

How often do we dig around to discover what philanthropy our favorite organizations and brands are involved in? Better yet: should we have to dig around, or should this be something that’s built into brand promotion?

Another marketing lesson here: if you’re an organization that has branches, offices or stores spread far and wide, the individual parts are often greater than the whole. Ronald McDonald House has a presence currently in 52 countries across the globe. A few individuals in one chapter of a large organization made me a lifetime supporter and advocate.

There’s power in one: and when it comes to branding and reputation building, as marketers we can’t forget two important things: one person can make a big difference, and often times it’s the small, grassroots actions that make the biggest impact.

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