Grateful Dead

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All In The Family: Brian Halligan

Longtime Grateful Dead fan and author of the book "Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead: What Every Business Can Learn From The Most Iconic Band In History" placed the winning bid for Jerry's Wolf guitar earlier this summer. Learn more about his decision to attend the auction which benefited The Southern Poverty Law Center, how he maintains his Dead Head status, and pick up a marketing tip or two in this edition of All In The Family.

What was the impetus for your book Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead: What Every Business Can Learn From The Most Iconic Band In History?

I spent a lot of time over the years following the Grateful Dead around. While touring around, it occurred to me that their marketing strategy was absolutely brilliant, so I decided to write a book explaining how mere mortal businesses could apply it to their business practices. ...It turns out that you do see the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right!

The Grateful Dead broke almost every rule in the music industry book. Here are a few of the many business innovations they had…

They encouraged their fans to record shows and trade tapes. It was these free tapes that pulled me into my first show and got me into the game of pulling all my friends in. I (and probably you) became their best marketer by allowing me (us) to easily share their product with others.

They played a unique show every night, so there was an incentive for folks like myself to go night after night after night after night. And I did. It was these unique shows combined with the taping culture that enabled them to make a living on concerts and not on album sales.

They cut two levels of “middlemen” out by selling concert tickets directly to fans. The first middleman was the ticket brokers (i.e. Ticketmaster) who sold tickets to the second middleman, the scalpers. By selling directly to fans and limiting supply per purchase, they cut out the middlemen and put their best fans in the front row.

Any tips you can share with us here?

The Grateful Dead's playbook is highly applicable to almost every business. If you give a little piece of your service or product away for free, it can be a magnet to pull customers in through Google and the social media-sphere. You see this happening in all industries from consulting companies sharing pearls of wisdom through sharable blog articles that spread across social media and pull new customers in all the way to Warby Parker sending you five pairs of glasses to try on before you buy.


I call the type this type of marketing "Inbound Marketing," but other words for it are content marketing, social marketing, and freemium business models. The Grateful Dead pioneered all these modern methods for attracting customers and they did it before Google or Facebook existed. Amazing.


I owe a lot to the Grateful Dead as I not only wrote a book about them, but I built a software company called HubSpot that helps companies pull their method of marketing off.

Tell us a little bit about your decision to bid on Jerry's "Wolf" guitar at the Brooklyn Bowl.

The decision to bid on "Wolf" was a step-by-step journey for me.

Step 1: I heard about Wolf going up for sale and was intrigued because I not only am a big fan of the music, but the book I wrote a book and started a company that just went public based on the things I borrowed from the Grateful Dead's business model. The Grateful Dead had a large and an outsized positive impact on my life.

Step 2: A friend of mine told me that I should think about the purchase as an "asset,” not unlike a stock or a bond. In addition to it being a lot of fun, it "might" be a smart investment diversification strategy for me.

Step 3: I heard that all the money would go to the Southern Poverty Law Center and that there was an anonymous matching donor. Wow!

Step 4: I went to the Brooklyn Bowl, had a number in my head, avoided getting wasted prior to the auction, bid, and magic happened!

What are the pillars of the Southern Poverty Law Centre?

I would describe the Southern Poverty Law Center as a bunch of bad-a_s lawyers who take on social justice issues, fight against Nazi's, etc.

They describe themselves as follows: The Southern Poverty Law Center is dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society. Using litigation, education, and other forms of advocacy, the SPLC works toward the day when the ideals of equal justice and equal opportunity will be a reality.

In a post-Jerry world, how do you maintain your Dead Head status?

I go to "shows" all the time, including DSO, JRAD, Dead & Co, and local Dead cover bands around Boston. I listen to the Grateful Dead and still turn lots of folks on to them.  In fact, I pulled HubSpot's Treasurer and CFO into the fold for their first show a couple of weeks ago at Fenway for Dead & Co.

Even thought Jerry is gone, his legacy is here to stay. The music he created continues to be played at a high level. The music he created is widely available on the internet. Jerry’s spirit lives on.


First exposure to the Dead/first show:

My first bootleg was from Englishtown, NJ in '77 with an exquisite "Eyes Of The World."

I hitchhiked from Cape Cod to Saratoga for my first show in June of 1985.

Favorite Dead Song/Songs:

Mellow:  "Ripple"

Ripper:  "China Cat - I Know You Rider"


Favorite Dead Era/Years:

I'm partial to 1977.


Desert Island Dead:

I'm spending a lot of time enjoying the new release of the Cornell '77 show.


Being A Dead Head Means…

Being part of a fantastic tribe that lives on…you know our love will not fade away!


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Grayteful's picture
Joined: Oct 25 2017
My Own Thoughts on SPLC (Beneficiary of the Wolf Auction)

This is my first post on (if a tie-dyed lynch mob comes suddenly flying in my direction, it may also be my last). I felt similarly to kevjones (06Sep17) when I first saw this article, but would’ve expressed it differently:

Congratulations to Mr. Halligan on his winning bid for “Wolf”. May he enjoy it (and play it!) in good health over a long life. Were I in similar shoes to his, association of this sale with SPLC would have been a show-stopper, because whatever SPLC was originally, its present use of the label “hate” is too broad and partisan for me - I'd not want to help bankroll someone who did that.

I don’t see “disagreement” come up under the listing for “hate”, nor vice versa in either my dictionary or thesaurus, so I don't feel out of line to conclude they're not interchangeable. But the way the latter is frequently substituted for the former in recent years in the public arena (to stifle or marginalize a dissenting viewpoint), a person might conclude they are the same thing.

Making SPLC a beneficiary of the sale is perfectly within the rights of the previous owners. That Halligan was enthused partly because SPLC was tied together with it is also fine. Free country, private opinion, private property – nothing more to say.

However, the “bada_s lawyers” Halligan describes as comprising SPLC surely know they need to couch their language of public statements very carefully to avoid legal action (for defamation of innocents), because they sometimes seem to walk very close to that line.

Personal discomfort aside, I hope, for the amount of money Mr. Halligan plunked down for this thing, he can play it well enough to appreciate what he bought, and won't just frame it or put it under glass. Good musical instruments need to be played.

(sorry, can't think of a good lyric line to end this on ...)

hornsby's picture
Joined: Nov 2 2010
get a clue

the splc is to social justice as the dead are to music. by your post it sounds like you don't get any of it. did you wander off from a breitbart blog somewhere?

kevjones's picture
Joined: Apr 28 2009

Grateful Dead and politricks never mix, but it irks me to no end that the powers that be would align themselves with, and support the SPLC. In all honesty, they should be designated a "hate group". Disgusting.

jasia52's picture
Joined: Jul 9 2008
Brian Halligan

Glad to hear a Deadhead purchased the Wolf guitar...1977 is one of my favorite years for the band as well.

Joined: May 28 2012
The plural of Nazi...

Nice article, and it was kind of Brian to share some of this thoughts (and, yes, plug his book). There's an error from transcribing his spoken words into written ones, as the plural of Nazi is Nazis. (Or maybe he was "interviewed" by electronic means, and he needs a bit of editing.) Great that Wolf changing hands has benefited SPLC and the work they do.

Joined: May 28 2009
Congrats on your new investment

Very cool I would have bid against you if I had the doh, glad it went to a Deadhead I do hope you play it and not put it in a glass case. Since Jerry died I saw Wolf twice played by Warren Haynes with the Boston Pops, and that is what this guitar needs, it needs to be played not stared at. Have fun playing, it must have a neck like butter, and the electronics to die for
Grateful Dead fan since I first saw them at the Eagles Auditorium on 01/22/1968, 250 shows later I still love them. I miss you Jerry

Joined: Sep 1 2017
And, oh yeah, Hubspot

Love how the focus is on Brian's book of Dead business wisdom - never mind the industry-standard, inbound marketing juggernaut company he built, Hubspot.
Also glad to see Wolf in a Deadhead's hands!

Drifter's Escape's picture
Joined: May 25 2013

Congrats on your new investment. I'm truly happy Wolf went to a deadhead and not some guy or consortium just looking to make some money. Enjoy.
Also, if you come over to my house maybe we could jam.

Joined: Nov 1 2010
Money well spent

"Saw a deadhead sticker on a Cadillac" yes we deadheads have grown up and now have some money to enjoy life and help others. I don't know Brian but enjoyed the article and am proud of fellow deadheads keeping our social values and helping others. Continued success Brian! Now let's go to a few more shows :)

ChakraDocMyles's picture
Joined: Jun 13 2007
Brian Halligan

I have known Brian since 2005 and he is the real deal! So proud of his "investment" and hope it yields great returns for he and the cause!

We are everywhere!


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