In the spring of 2021, co-author Chris West and myself were given the task by The Business School (formerly Cass) to deliver 11 two-hour lectures in Marketing Strategy to over 130 second-year undergraduate business studies students.
Chris developed some original material around academic marketing models, and I made sure that each week there was a special guest entrepreneur or expert from a large corporation to illustrate these models with their real-life examples. We also covered the great marketing battles of history, such as Coca-Cola vs Pepsi.
The students knew that I was also going to squeeze in some material about The Beatles. They are my favourite band; I know more about them than most people on Earth and had already used their extraordinary success story to illustrate our entrepreneurship lectures in the autumn.
When putting The Beatles into a marketing context, I started with their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. Twenty million people usually tuned into the show, but on this occasion, it was 72 million, the largest ever television audience at the time.
56 years later, I regularly speak to people my age who can remember precisely where they were at that instant in time, watching the black and white broadcast in their living room, while their parents quietly tutted disapprovingly on the sofa.
To use a phrase now commonplace, The Beatles ‘went viral’ long before the internet and smartphones and are still one of the most popular brands of all time, despite not having played together for over 50 years.
Nobody really knows why, although every one of the 150+ Beatle books I own makes an effort to explain. Perhaps it was the music, the zeitgeist (feeling of the time), the emergence of ‘the teenager as consumer’, or just the haircuts. It doesn’t really matter, but perhaps one of the clues is the cover of the last album they recorded (though not the last one they released).
If you go to Abbey Road in St John’s Wood, London at on any given day, there will be dozens of people of all ages risking their lives to get a shot of themselves on that pedestrian crossing.
This is quite possibly the best-known picture in the world, an iconic album cover. What is interesting from a marketing perspective is that it does not feature the words ’The Beatles’ or ‘Abbey Road’ anywhere in the front cover artwork. Their record company, Parlophone (part of EMI) were very concerned about this. “Don’t worry” John Lennon told them. “They’ll know it’s us”. And he was right.
To pursue my own Beatles obsession, I became Entrepreneur in Residence for the City of Liverpool some years ago. Most of my day job was to support local entrepreneurs and help organise major promotional events, such as securing and then interviewing Sir Richard Branson at the BT Echo Arena in front of 3,000 people for the inaugural Liverpool Festival of Business.
A survey by the two Liverpool universities in 2014 put the value of The Beatles brand to the city at £89 million p.a. and 2,335 jobs. If you arrive by plane, it’s at John Lennon Airport whose motto is “above us only sky” a lyric from his song Imagine. If you arrive by train to Lime Street, you’re only greeted by statues of other local heroes, Ken Dodd and Bessie Braddock.
I used to wonder why there was no ‘Welcome to Liverpool, Home of The Beatles’ banners at the station, but it was explained to me that there was no need to do so. You’re a ten-minute walk from Mathew Street, where a visit to the (rebuilt) Cavern Club is essential for all Beatles fans. It’s very likely that the people on stage will be playing Beatles tunes and every major name has played there in recent times, just for the pure thrill of doing so.
The National Trust owns John Lennon and Sir Paul McCartney’s childhood homes, which for Beatles fans are a combination of Jerusalem and The Sistine Chapel. Top Liverpool visitor attraction on Trip Advisor is The Casbah Coffee Club, not far away in West Derby, where The Beatles first played in Liverpool, and whose decorations were painted by The Boys themselves, under the careful supervision of original Beatle Pete Best’s mother, the inimitable Mona Best.
Most recently, Pete and his brother Roag have opened ‘The Liverpool Beatles Museum, Mathew Street’, opposite the Cavern. This four-storey contains fascinating never-before seen memorabilia covering the Beatle years from 1959 to 1969, with items not only from Pete, but also from Roag’s own collection and that of his father, the true ‘Fifth Beatle’, Neil Aspinall.
Neil was one of The Beatles’ Road Manager in the sixties. Later, he headed up The Beatles’ own company, Apple Corporation (not to be confused with Steve Jobs’ Apple Computer), who today look after the Fab Four’s business affairs.
Neil said that, unlike their peers The Rolling Stones and The Who, The Beatles had stopped working together in 1969, so he had to find clever ways to carefully perpetuate their earning potential and preserve their legacy. In 1995 Apple released The Beatles Anthology: a TV series, DVDs and CDs featuring The Beatles’ private archive material and out-takes.
Since then, new Beatle releases, solo albums and live tours are carefully scheduled by Apple Corporation for maximum brand awareness. Fans are counting the days until 21st August 2021, the release date of Get Back, the film story of the final days of the Beatles, directed by Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame.
I confidently predict that The Beatles will then, once again, be right at the top of the charts. Hopefully, Paul and Ringo will be touring again at that time, as well as the several hundred Beatles tribute bands and theatre shows all over the world.
Old-timers like myself will be pre-ordering Get Back on Amazon (in its most expensive deluxe extended edition with extra unseen material, of course) and taking days off work to fully digest the new material. But the real impact will be on social media, by people of all ages. The Beatles will be trending Here, There and Everywhere.
Once again, The Beatles will be The Coolest Brand in The World.
Mike Southon, Serial entrepreneur and co-author of ‘The Beermat Entrepreneur’, is a serially successful entrepreneur, a best-selling business author and one of the world’s top keynote speakers on entrepreneurship. He sold his own company in the 80s and worked with 17 different start-ups in the 90s. Two of these companies later went public, while three went broke! He has spoken at over 1,000 live events all over the world and has provided face-to-face mentoring to over 1,000 entrepreneurs.
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