Fandom Events; Create Exclusive Experiences

I write about strategies to turn fans into customers and customers into fans. I also share ways to use real-time strategies to spread ideas, influence minds, and build business.

Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead  |  Research and Analysis  |  Best Practices  |  Fanocracy

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Creating Fandom through Community

Few things feel better than belonging to a special group of like-minded people. Whether it’s attending a conference on your professional passion with your friends, rooting for your hometown team with fellow fans, or jamming to your favorite artist with other music lovers, it feels great to be a part of a community.

This is what fandom is really about: building a sense of community within your customer base.

While digital marketing and customer loyalty campaigns can deliver excellent experiences to your customers, few things can build community quite like exclusive events for fans.

Creating a space for fans to enjoy special experiences while being able to meet other people like them will forge memories in their heads long after they forget about your marketing campaigns or sales presentations. 

In this post, I’ll talk about how the Grateful Dead uses exclusive events to create amazing experiences for their fans and how you can use exclusive events to deliver memorable experiences for your customers.

Importance of Amazing Fan Experiences


On January 17, 1979 I saw my first Grateful Dead show. I was a 17-year-old high school kid borrowing my mother’s massive Ford LTD Country Squire Station Wagon, traveling with a group of my then closest friends to New Haven, CT. Exactly forty years later on January 17, 2019 a group of my now closest friends were in Mexico for three nights of Dead & Company, the latest iteration of the Grateful Dead featuring three of the four core living Grateful Dead members.

The Grateful Dead and their modern offshoots since the death of Jerry Garcia in 1995 (like Dead & Company, featuring John Mayer) have done a great job at building products and experiences for their most passionate fans for more than 50 years.

The “Playing in the Sand” event here in Mexico is just that - some 6,000 people in a bunch of resort hotels all coming together each night on the beach for music by our favorite band. We’re together with thousands of like-minded people in a beautiful and safe setting.

A destination event like this is a way to create something amazing for the most passionate fans who are eager to spend thousands of dollars, generating significant revenue for the band. Other offerings for fans include live streaming packages for those who can’t be here in Mexico and merchandise sales onsite. Indeed, the Grateful Dead offers hundreds of shows  for official download or via CDs, MP3s, and other media.

Photo of The Grateful Dead on January 17, 1979 in New Haven, CT courtesy of Jim Anderson

Create Fandom with Special Events

Photo of Dead and Company on January 17, 2019 in Riviera Maya, Mexico by David Meerman Scott 

Curating offerings for the people who love your work makes great business sense. For many businesses, a few hundred or a few thousand fans are enough to make for much success.

That might mean a chefs table at your restaurant, a lunch with the CEO for your best software clients, a client conference for your insurance company.

Even within these examples, you can offer VIP access your most loyal customers that may not be available to the rest of the public, such as the Power Pass at HubSpot’s annual INBOUND Conference

Digital alternatives could include Q&A with key executives over livestream and Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions on Reddit. Even without the physical presence, well-run digital events give your customers special experiences that allow them to feel closer to your business.

Recently I reviewed fellow Deadhead Seth Godin’s new book This is Marketing.  The book has a wonderful chapter titled “What would Jerry do?”  We created a video to talk about fandom, the Grateful Dead, and great marketing. In his book and our video Seth discusses the concept of “minimum viable audience” as a way of marketing. Rather than try to sell to the masses, why not figure out who the people who love your work are and focus on them instead.

So, are you interested in marketing to gain customers as loyal as the Dead Heads? I have a book that covers the marketing strategies of the Grateful Dead that I co-wrote with HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan. 

I’ve also been writing on how businesses can cultivate fandom to increase customer loyalty and drive business growth. Companies like Wendy’s and Trader Joe’s are winning over fans to drive success amid stiff competition. You can learn more about the most powerful marketing force in the world in my new book, Fanocracy: Turning Fans into Customers and Customers into fans.

Download an exclusive preview of Fanocracy