Marketing Lesson From The Grateful Dead: Create New Categories In Your Industry

Last year, Brian Halligan and David Meerman Scott collaborated on a book entitled, Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead: What Every Business Can Learn from the Most Iconic Band in History. Chapter 7 of the book illustrates that part of the Grateful Dead’s success was directly attributable to the band’s ability to cross a variety of musical boundaries. The authors suggest that companies looking to broaden their reach should move beyond traditional boundaries in the industry:

“In every industry, there is a barely distinguishable herd of competitors that move in unison. Don’t fall into the trap of moving in lockstep with that herd. Rather than try to outperform your competition in your existing industry, follow the Grateful Dead’s recipe and create a new industry by reconstructing your market’s boundaries.”

One of the examples that Halligan and Scott provide is how Netflix utterly destroyed the decades-long movie-rental industry through innovation and crossing conventional boundaries. People, especially marketing types, love to use the term, “outside the box.” Instead, imagine there is no box to begin with.

How can you and your firm take the skills and assets that you use in your current industry and apply them to other industries? One easy example to demonstrate this is Apple. The original iPod did not, as many people assume, create a new product category. The original iPod was an MP3 player that faced stiff competition from many other devices, some of which were well established. Over the years, the iPod and iTunes have evolved to create an entire ecosystem of hardware, software and content distribution. The iPad, however, did create a completely new category within the tech industry. It isn’t just a music and video player, it isn’t just a gaming platform, it isn’t a computer (although it performs a lot of functions that many consumers use computers for) – it crossed so many boundaries, that it has created an entirely new category.

Look beyond the hard lines that define your current niche in the industry. Look deep within at yourself and, if you have a staff, at your colleagues. What skills and assets are at your disposal that could be used to cross the existing boundaries and create entirely new categories?

“Once in a while you get shown the light
In the strangest of places when you look at it right”

Scarlet Begonias, by Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia