Are The Grateful Dead The Greatest American Brand?

It’s not easy to build a brand — but when you do it, and you do it well, it truly stands the test of time.   In that vein, I have to salute the members of The Grateful Dead, as they have created a brand unlike any other in the history of our country — not just in the history of music.

To build a brand, you need to do two things very well.  First, you need to make sure the promise of your brand matches the experience of the brand.  When you say what you do and do what you say, expectations are aligned in the eyes of the consumer and you can deliver a perception of value.   

Second, you have to tap into the emotions of your fans and connect on a level that goes beyond trust to a deeper belief layer, indicating a journey that delivers something intangible to your fans.  It can border on “love” of your brand.

The Grateful Dead have achieved all of the above since the 1960s.  They are a musical establishment with a deep connection to the culture of America.  You may not like the music of the Dead, but you understand the band as an icon of American music.  



The way they established their brand was to perform live, create a deep connection with their audience and present something that was missing at the time.  They represented the counterculture of the ‘60s and have progressed through each decade, finding new fans and influencing thousands of other artists to explore musical landscapes that few others saw fit to look into.  

They are a brand (and a band) that foresaw the future in a way no one could have anticipated, a future where live music would be the sole tentpole for the music business, where sharing would be the path toward audience development.  They created iconic imagery to represent their music, and encouraged its use through much of their fanbase (maybe not all the time, but for the most part).  

We are now entering into a summer where Dead and Co. will be on tour once again, featuring the majority of the Grateful Dead line-up plus newer members.  They have openly stated that Dead and Co. could become something that lives on in perpetuity, outlasting even the lives of the original Grateful Dead members who are involved.  

Artists like John Mayer, whom nobody could have anticipated in this role just five years ago, have taken up the mantle of promoting this music and ethos to a new generation of fans.  

The Grateful Dead have created a media empire in a digital-first world, and they are now starting to acknowledge that the brand itself may live on far beyond their years.

I find it interesting that the messages of the Grateful Dead resonate with millennials and younger audiences, even if the music does not yet. Those messages are sustainability and a desire to do what aligns with your soul on a deeper level rather than simply making a buck or two — although I admit I am radically oversimplifying to make a point.  

For me, growing of age in the ‘80s and ‘90s, The Grateful Dead were a summer staple.  Part of me is quite happy to see them back and doing their thing every summer — and I’m glad that people are excited about good music.

Here’s to another great summer!

5 comments about "Are The Grateful Dead The Greatest American Brand?".
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  1. David Vawter from Doe-Anderson, April 3, 2019 at 1 p.m.

    As long as you're not their keyboard player.

  2. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, April 3, 2019 at 1:19 p.m.

    I would submit that Motown is a greater music brand. With all that it was, and all that has spawned. 

  3. George Wright from Self, April 3, 2019 at 2:01 p.m.

    Thanks for this, Cory.  I think one word missing here is "Legacy".  The final LP of the original group was "Built to Last".  But the continuity requires great effort in the background at Rhino and Warner Music Group.  I think this article is incomplete without recognizes their involvement out of Burbank.  Their "brand management" here really should be required study for all of us as we aspire to lives with "legacy" in an economy and society that feature so much obsolescence, ephemera and disposability.

  4. Matthew Reid from Nielsen, April 3, 2019 at 5:11 p.m.

    Cory - your teenage self must be shaking his head at this article.  Why shoehorn the Dead into shallow late-capitalist mediaspeak?   Jerry never promised anything -so assertion 1 doesn't really check out.  Those 90s shows were hit and miss - sometimes they downright sucked.  But collecting tapes, debating disco vs acoustic, the Donna problem, and hitting that occasional flash of live brilliance - assertion 2 rings loud and true. 

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited replied, April 4, 2019 at 9:09 p.m.


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