Since I started Gonzo Strategies, several people have given me copies of a book called “Gonzo Marketing.” The book itself isn’t great, but it has a theme I can totally get behind. It talks about “giving it away and having it all come back to you”. To the traditional marketing agency or consulting firm this idea is bad business. Who’s going to buy anything if we give it away? But I’ve never been a very traditional person and the concept appeals to my hippie sensibilities so I started making it a part of how I do business.
Does it really work? For the answer to that question I refer you to the original Gonzo Marketers – the Grateful Dead. If you’re familiar with the Dead or ever attended one of their concerts you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you aren’t – throw on some tie-dye and let me fill you in.
During their 30 year run (1965-1995) they marketed their brand in ways that made industry professionals cringe. One of the biggest was allowing “tapers”. Typically, when you attend a concert you see signs saying, “No unauthorized recording allowed.” They don’t want you to get a free recording when they are trying to sell them. The Dead not only allowed people to tape their shows, but they encouraged it. When you attended a Dead concert there was a giant area sectioned off for people to set up recording equipment. Sometimes they were even allowed to plug directly into the concert soundboard which gave maximum recording quality. In addition to giving away recordings the Dead played more free concerts than any band.
Did giving it away work? In the commercial sense, no it didn’t. Their best-selling single only hit #9 on the charts. But in the non-hyped up, money in the bank world, it worked brilliantly.
In their 30 year career (ended only by the death of their leader, Jerry Garcia) the band toured almost constantly and played an estimated 2,137 concerts and consistently sold out stadiums. I’m proud to say I attended a few of those. The last full year they toured (1993) their concert revenue was $145, 600, 000. So how did they make all that money giving it away?
Simple – they changed the way people viewed attending concerts. The Dead were known as the band that never played a song the same way twice. You could attend 2 shows back to back & they would be completely different. Loyal fans (Deadheads) would spend months, even years, following the band and attending as many shows as possible. When you went to a Dead show it wasn’t a concert, it was a complete experience – something you couldn’t get buying a CD (no downloads or streaming back then) or watching a video.
Tapers were crucial to increasing the band’s fan base. They added to the mystique of the concerts and spread the word as they traded recordings freely. They told the world that if you wanted to hear the Dead a studio recording wasn’t good enough. You needed to hear them live. The tapers even policed each other, and if one tried to sell a recording he was shunned because the band wouldn’t like it.
Try Giving a Little Bit Away
I know pretty much every time I’ve given away a free quick consultation or a service others might charge for, the recipient either came back to make a purchase or referred me to someone who did. So if your business is holding on to everything with a grip that could turn coal to diamonds so you can squeeze out every dollar possible, try giving a little something away. You might be surprised by just how much comes back.