Marketing lessons from The Beatles - What the world's greatest band can teach your brand!
Updated: Nov 8, 2020
Let me give you a glimpse of the desk where I'm typing this from - There are 3 Beatles LP records right in front of me, a handful of small posters inside my desk below, a large Beatles poster right by the side wall, a Beatle tee-shirt that I'm wearing currently, and 2 of their biographies to my left in the book shelf. I hope with that, I was able to paint a decent enough picture of my obsession with The Beatles. I revere them deeply and study their music passionately.
While I had heard and known of them since much longer (like half of the world does?), I must mention that it was only about 12 years back that one of my best friends Aashish introduced their music to me in a richer, more meaningful way. He said that my voice would suit one of their songs "The Michelle" very nicely. And I actually did end up singing that song once, at an undergrad college fest! But over the past few years, as I got closer to their music, I discovered that their legacy extends much beyond music. Their existence can teach us about various things from marketing to life in general. But we're going to talk about the former today.
And before we delve into why you should believe me, here are some stats. Even if you don't share my love for their music, you can at least have a reason to read this piece:
Number of singles sold in the US: 1.6 Billion
Number of albums sold worldwide: 600 Million. In comparison, MJ sold about 350 million, and the Pink Floyd did a total of about 250 million.
Number of artists who have covered Yesterday: 3000+ officially (so have I) - most for any song ever
Number of #1 albums on Billboard Top 100: 25 (most by any band till date)
Number of #1 singles on Billboard Top 100: 21 (most by any band till date)
Marketing and Social Media Lessons from The Beatles
Your brand should have a very consistent voice and tone, and it should help towards building your brand identity. Besides their distinct music itself, the Beatles were known for their brand of cheeky humor which came up a lot in their conversations with the press. It showed their nonchalance and the fact that they were simply enjoying their music so much that they didn't think about the other "unimportant" things in life as much. In fact, there was only one life as they knew it and it was music.
Here's an excerpt from one of their press interviews -
Press (to all): What kind of girls do you like?
John: My wife.
Press: How about you?
George: I like John’s wife.
The Beatles knew that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. That's why when they got a chance to appear on their first major TV spot, i.e. The Ed Sullivan show, they put on quite an act. Wearing their dapper suits and sporting the bowl haircuts, they took the western world by a storm! At that point of time, rockstars or pop-stars were known to be slightly edgy and different. No one expected pop-stars to look like a bunch of neatly dressed high school boys. But this very appearance set the tone for what the world should expect from this group of boys from Liverpool.
The Beatles' first American TV appearance - at the Ed Sullivan Show
Differentiation is the Key
It's no secret that The Beatles were very different from any music group the world had seen until then, or has seen ever since! That's what contributed, in a large part, to their success. They made music the likes of which people had never heard before.
It's said that between the 4 of them, they could play about 180 odd instruments. But that wasn't all; they knew how to blend and contrast their musical knowledge in a way that created a fresh kind of musicality. For example, the use of violins to create a percussive rhythm riff in Eleanor Rigby, the incredible usage of harmony across most of their songs, using an Indian instrument Sitar in an easygoing folk-pop Norwegian Woods, and so on. The list is endless, really!
Strategic Partnerships and Influencer Tie-ups
The Fab Four often benefitted from the presence of a '5th man'. Their manager Brian Epstein especially, and even their producers George Martin and Geoff Emerick were two people who heavily influenced the trajectory that The Beatles defined for themselves. Brain was an astute manager and producers George Martin and Geoff Emerick were their sounding boards on which they'd bounce off their compositions and get real time feedback.
George Martin (L), Brain Epstein (C) and George Harrison (R)
When the time came, they even tied up with other famous musicians to play on their albums, such as the iconic Eric Clapton for While My Guitar Gently Weeps, and keyboardist Billy Preston for Get Back. All these associations helped boost their band both musically and otherwise.
George Harrison and Eric Clapton
Humans love stories. Just think of the uncles having long discussions outside the paan shops late night (paan is an Indian mouth freshener usually had after dinner), to you catching up with your friends - these meetings seem so much fun only because of the stories exchanged.
"For the story – from Rumpelstiltskin to War and Peace – is one of the basic tools invented by the mind of man, for the purpose of gaining understanding. There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.” - Ursula K. Le Guin
The Beatles knew that stories are important, and they conveyed a lot of them through their music. If you even scratch the surface, you will realize that there are some highly engaging stories behind some of their songs. For example, "Hey Jude" was actually written by Paul McCartney to console his bandmate John Lennon's son Julian (originally the song was called Hey Jules) when John was separating from his first wife Cynthia. Hence, the lines "take a sad song, and make it better".
Hand written lyrics of Hey Jude recently fetched $910,000 at an auction
The song was also notable for a few more things - it was unusually long at over 7 minutes with the last 3 minutes being just "na na na na", and it went on to become #1 in over 12 countries.
I could write about them for days at a stretch, but for the sake of brevity I will leave this here to be more consumable!