Listening to Lennon and McCartney singing “Day Tripper” the other day got me thinking: exactly how – or more interestingly why, did the Beatles become the biggest band in history? It occurred to me that even though it was decades ago, the phenomenon of the band’s success can in large part be attributed to a deliberate and purposeful marketing plan in tandem with a focused sales strategy. Stick with me here. Obviously technology wasn’t a significant factor – Al Gore was still a teenager and had not yet got around to inventing the internet. In fact long before Jobs and Wozniak had even dreamed about Apple Computer, the four British musicians and their intrepid manager had already formed the original Apple. Apple Records was created to expand the Beatles brand and while it never really became the marketing enterprise the group had hoped for (Lennon envisioned it a “psychedelic Woolworth”), the Beatles themselves have to be held as a shining example of a near perfect collusion of marketing and sales execution.
Of course the lads from Liverpool were tremendously talented. The band broke up over 40 years ago and their impact still reverberates across the entire music industry. But in the early days, before the singles, the concerts, and the Ringo lunchboxes, they were a bar band; exciting but rough around the edges. In other words, the core product was there but it lacked definition, direction, and any sort of unifying message. On any given night you were likely to see John, Paul and George smoking like chimneys and chugging back all manner of beverages while performing a raucous cover of “Long Tall Sally”. Ringo usually had to wait until between songs when both hands were free. Usually.
The Marketing Program
Enter Brian Epstein, a local record store owner (record stores were quaint retail shops where people could purchase etched vinyl discs that contained music devoid of any copyright encryption) who had taken a direct interest in the excitement rumored to be happening at the Cavern Club. Epstein immediately saw the talent but he also saw something else: a marketing opportunity that had the potential to make the “product” both appealing, and utterly consistent. Once the group agreed to take him on as manager, Epstein had them start wearing suits and ties. No more drinking or smoking on stage and the boys had to behave themselves, at least in public. Not without some vocal objections, the group agreed and quickly started seeing the results of the new image and messaging.
The plan was in place, now it was time for sales (i.e. the band) to execute. Make no mistake; the newly loveable mop tops liked money, as much as they could get. Any notion of the uncompromising artist didn’t exist until well after the group had made truckloads of cash. McCartney is actually quoted as saying to Lennon “Come on then, let’s write a swimming pool!” From the beginning the group saw the brilliance of Epstein’s marketing strategy and executed perfectly on the message he wanted the product to convey: wholesome, clean-cut lads who seemed at once fun loving but polite enough to have tea with Aunt Betty.
The Beatles were not the first band to have been “packaged”. Nor were they the only band deep in talent. But their rise demonstrates the stratospheric levels of success that are possible when the right marketing message presents the right product at the right time. Oh, and it never hurts to have two of the best song writers in history on your sales force either.