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Content Marketing Strategy According to Phish
Phish Concert
Phish Concert in Madison Square Garden

A Content Marketing Strategy Lesson From The Band Phish

By Staff Writer
In January 15, 2013

Two summers ago, I witnessed a great content marketing strategy in a very unlikely environment: My first Phish concert. My fiancé has been a “phan” for quite some time, and would play me countless live recordings of their music in a persistent attempt to turn me into one too.

“You HAVE to listen to this version of Down With Disease from their 1998 summer tour! It will blow your mind!” he’d say to me.

I would halfheartedly listen, and no. They did not blow my mind at first. To me, they sounded like a lukewarm attempt to recreate the sounds of The Grateful Dead. It wasn’t until that fateful June evening at Blossom Music Center in 2011 that I experienced my first live Phish show that I finally “got it.”

I’ve been to quite a few rock concerts in my day and have had the pleasure of seeing some of the greatest musicians in rock ‘n’ roll history perform live. What struck me was that I’ve never in my life witnessed a more diverse and devoted following than Phish’s fan base. Before the show, I met many groups of people, from free-spirited hippies and college potheads to university professors and CEOs from all over the country — many who saved up their vacation time and tax returns to follow the band across the United States on their sold out summer tour. Now THAT’S some serious fan dedication, in my opinion.

Once they found out I was experiencing my first Phish show, they high fived me, attempted to hug me, and warmly welcomed me to the “phamily.” They talked my ear off about epic past performances and rattled off tour dates from the ‘90s like they were reciting a memorized phone number. They were so excited about a complete stranger they just met experiencing her first show and they were adamant to turn me into diehard fan before the night was over. This is brand evangelism in its most basic form, if you ask me.

The days following the show, the marketing geek in me became very intrigued. I kept asking myself, “How do they do it? How does a band consistently rank as one of the top grossing live tours of all time and have such a dedicated following despite never having a hit song on the radio?”

Once I dove in, I discovered that Phish might have created and executed one of the greatest content marketing strategies in rock ‘n’ roll band history.

I started by observing my own daily profession as a community manager. My primary role is to cultivate, nurture, and grow online communities surrounding brands, creating quality content with the goal that they will share it with their own social communities. At the same time, I engage with fans and followers on behalf of the brand with the hopes of converting them into loyal and returning customers and brand evangelists. It’s not easy. As a team, every idea we come up with and every move we make on behalf of our clients must be backed up with a specific strategy that will result in lead generation and increased sales. I’m always looking for examples on how to perfect this by reading the latest marketing publications, attending seminars and getting my hands on any marketing book that hits the shelves. This time, I applied four basic marketing strategies to Phish, and how they’ve pretty much nailed it on the head:

Content creation:

This is the foundation of a successful marketing strategy. If you don’t produce content that’s of interest to your audience, you’re wasting valuable time and budget money. The content that Phish creates for their fans is original. Unlike many musical acts who play the same exact sequence of songs with the same dance moves on the same set over and over during their tour, Phish has never repeated the same show twice. Each show is a unique experience that often involves improvisation, props, covers from other famous bands, and audience participation. By doing this, they create a symbiotic relationship with their devoted fan base.

Keep content fresh and engage with your audience:

Once you’ve captured your audience with good content, you must keep things fresh and interesting to keep them coming back for more. Phish has been doing this for nearly 30 years, constantly keeping fans guessing and hungry for the next show. They often incorporate hidden messages into their unique set lists by playing a series of songs whose first letters will spell out a word or phrase. This keeps serious Phish enthusiasts on their toes, leading to an abundance of buzz created around certain theories. Bloggers, media and fans go crazy trying to decode underlying meanings to the specific song choices of each show. Phish’s official Twitter account helps seed this buzz by live tweeting the name of every song they play in the order they play it. Fans love this. Not to mention, Phish’s original song catalog is immense. Good luck counting if you’re up for the challenge. With a list that extensive, there’s no denying that they’ve spent a great deal of time producing new content to record and perform.

Keep your customers happy and reward the loyal ones:

The next and possibly most important area to concentrate on is ensuring happy customers. The one thing I don’t see enough is brands rewarding their loyal customers. They’re the gasoline on a marketing strategy’s bonfire. They help ignite and amplify a brand’s message by sharing their love of the content on their social channels and to friends and family. Without them, you’re going to have a challenging time starting that fire. Phish knows this. That’s why they reward fans that paid for a concert ticket by giving them a free download of the performance they attended. The cost of allowing fans to download the show is small compared to the benefits of rewarding their loyal fans and keeping them happy. And what are those fans going to do with those downloads? They’re going to copy them and share them with other people. Phish’s plan is that when people listen to live recordings from their friends, they’ll be inclined to go to the Phish website and purchase other downloads. All official soundboard recordings can be purchased through their website due to their sound crew, who sets up recording devices at every show they play.

Ever heard of a couch tour? Neither did I until I experienced it for the first time. Phish tours have been known to sell out fast. A lot of bands who know they’re going to sell out raise their ticket prices to increase revenue. Phish, on the other hand, caters to the fans who can’t afford to buy a ticket, travel to a live performance, or who missed an opportunity to see a sold-out show. They created a streaming live webcast available for purchase so that any fan can watch any live performance in the comfort of their own home.

Believe in your product:

The product itself is what you’re creating your content around. You have to believe in what you’re marketing, whether it is for a Fortune 500 client or a local community fundraiser. Phish is a lot like black licorice. People either love it or they hate it. Nevertheless, black licorice sells to a smaller consumer base than, say chocolate bars, but it still sells. I believe you have to see Phish live to truly appreciate the professional level and intricacy at which they play. Their vast and collective musical talent combined with their showmanship and audience involvement puts this band at the top of my list. They’re very well aware that they have a smaller niche audience and that their songs don’t get much radio love. But I’d bet money on the fact that they wouldn’t have it any other way. They know what they’re doing, and they believe in their product. Since 2009, the band has grossed nearly $100 million in total sales. That number alone should tell you they’re doing something right, whether you like them or not.

Marketing strategies aside, there’s certainly a stigma attached to being a Phish fan. Their concerts have a reputation for heavy psychedelic drug use among their audience. That’s why when I approached my boss to use some vacation days at the end of December to attend Phish’s four-day New Year’s Eve tour at Madison Square Garden, I dreaded the inevitable follow-up inquiry of where I was headed. The last thing I wanted was for him or my coworkers to picture me as some geeked-out druggie tripping on LSD at Phish shows when I’m out of the office.

However, I’m just a fan who greatly admires and appreciates the name they’ve built for themselves through a combination of their musical talent and one stellar content marketing strategy.

Staff Writer

So who is this mysterious staff writer? Could be anyone really, as long as they meet our very strict criteria. 1) Worked with us in one capacity or another. 2) Have something pretty interesting to say. 3) Want to use our blog to say it. See? Told ya they were strict!