The Grateful Dead carried the love of improvisation they put into their music into many aspects of their business as well—including their branding. Album covers, backstage passes, newsletters, and posters were adorned with rich graphics dripping with color, detail, and imagery.

As with their concerts, you never knew what you were going to get when you bought an album, happened upon a concert photo, or received a newsletter. While the band reused certain images consistently—roses, skeletons, skulls, dancing bears, and the "Steal Your Face" logo—how these images were used varied wildly. The font and color of the band's name changed from album cover to concert poster to newsletter. Sometimes you get a very cool album cover unlike anything you'd seen before... and sometimes you'd get something that left you shrugging your shoulders and thinking, "huh?"

The Grateful Dead carried their love of improvisation into their branding.

The Grateful Dead's branding, which was constantly changing and evolving, was in direct contrast to what other bands did. When bands like the Rolling Stones went on tour, they usually had a theme that coincided with the album they were promoting at the time. Branding was tightly controlled and carried through to all elements of their marketing: posters, T-shirts, stage sets, etc.

The Grateful Dead, on the other hand, never really adhered to a promotional theme when touring. Poster art sometimes changed from show to show—even for concerts held just days apart.

From a design perspective, the Grateful Dead incorporated a carefree approach in their graphics that you didn't see with other, more carefully managed bands. The Grateful Dead's improvisational branding also showed that they knew their audience well—one that embraced nonconformity and freeform thinking in its art and music.

Marketing Lesson From the Grateful Dead: Loosen Up Your Brand

Too often companies hold tight to their branding. Marketing communications departments dictate how a company is to use a logo and corporate colors—with one person in a department billing himself or herself as the "logo police"—and woe be unto anyone who steps out of line.

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image of David Meerman Scott

David Meerman Scott is a marketing strategist, entrepreneur, and partner in the sonic branding studio Signature Tones. He is the author of 10 books, including The New Rules of Marketing and PR, now in its 6th edition, with 350,000+ copies sold in English and available in 29 languages.

Twitter: @dmscott

LinkedIn: David Meerman Scott

Brian Halligan is co-founder and CEO of HubSpot Inc. ( and author of the book Inbound Marketing. He is an Entrepreneur-In-Residence at MIT, where he teaches classes on marketing and strategy. Contact Brian via Twitter: @bhalligan.