Marketing Lessons from Missoula, Montana

Pearl Jam Ten Guy found alive and well at U of Montana Campus

I have a confession to make: I’m not as big a Pearl Jam fan as my wife, or at least I wasn’t until I went to Missoula, Montana. I liked their music before, and I thought they were talented, but I wasn’t a dedicated fan. I didn’t go looking on iTunes for their music.

But excellent marketing changed all that. I’m a lousy marketer, but here’s what I learned in Missoula:

Lesson One: Love what you do. Pearl Jam loves to play music, especially when in the presence their fans. I know that sounds obvious, but friends still speak bitterly of an R.E.M. concert they attended during which the band made it plain that being up on stage was a nuisance that had to be gotten through as quickly as possible, like painting a bedroom or mowing a lawn. Perhaps they were just too exhausted from all the touring. I bet they lost fans at that concert.

Pearl Jam’s performance in Missoula was the opposite. They were having a blast, as if they had just made it to the big time, as if touring was a new adventure. They played their music excellently, better live than even their studio recorded songs. By the end I had changed from a lukewarm fan to a dedicated fan. I want to go to another concert to hear songs they didn’t play in Missoula. I want to buy more of their music.

Lesson Two: Be dedicated to your fans. Pearl Jam runs a fan club, the Ten Club, and those fans pay to be members and get perks, not freebies, but perks, like early access to ticket sales and discounted merch. In Susan’s case, they had a lottery for good seats in Missoula, and she was one of the lucky winners. We still had to pay for the seats, which weren’t expensive, and we had a great view of the stage. We felt special.

Lesson Three: Market to your fansPearl Jam marketed the Missoula concert first to their Ten Club members, and they sold the tickets in pairs. We needed I.D. to pick up these tickets at the Will Call, so the scalpers were totally knee-capped. I met people from all over America and Canada, and many were like Susan and I, one rabid fan, and one lukewarm–soon to be rabid–fan. Not only did this increase their fan base, but at the concert they were surrounded by an exceptionally receptive audience. The local newspaper, the Missoulian, described it as a 6000-voice-strong sing along. Dedicated fans know all the words.

But the band was also fair and reserved a block of seats that had to be purchased in person, so that people from Missoula could also attend the biggest event in town that weekend. Once in the Adams Center, which is on the University of Montana campus, they were very likely converted from curious onlookers to music purchasing fans, which explains why a band that just celebrated its twentieth anniversary has fans that weren’t born when Pearl Jam performed their first concert.

Lesson Four: Reward Your Fans: The lights came up and the band played on, rewarding us with several more songs. Eddie tossed tambourines into the crowd, but not randomly. He chose each recipient with care. One man in a wheelchair couldn’t possibly compete for one, so Eddie talked to a closer fan, tossed him the coveted tambourine, which he in turn tossed high up the seats to the man in the wheelchair. But Eddie wasn’t done. He called to the go-between fan and followed up with one for him, a reward for being cool and giving up the tambourine as requested even though he had briefly held it. I loved it. The crowd loved it.

How will I apply all these lessons to marketing my novels? I’m still working on that, and I’m open to suggestions, but the biggest lesson I take from that concert is to be genuine. None of this felt contrived or engineered. It just was. That’s what makes it great.

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