From a marketing perspective, the Beatles are fascinating. Name another brand that’s simultaneously so populist (everyone loves ‘em) and so elitist (strict controls over channels, premium pricing). Or one that rests on both ubiquity (they influenced everyone) and uniqueness (they can never be sampled or appear on compilations).From a market research angle, they’re…. well, let’s say the 60s music biz wasn’t known for its use of consumer research. A good thing too, or so the “research strangles creativity” brigade would assert. But I’m keener to stress the positives about research, so on the day their Rock Band game and remastered catalogue becomes available, here’s a look at 5 ways market research could have changed the Beatles story.
1. “Groups with guitars are out.”: Dick Rowe at Decca rejected the Beatles on these grounds. As Dominic Sandbrook points out in Never Had It So Good, his excellent history of 60s Britain, the country was swarming with guitar groups, mostly formed in the wake of the Shadows, who were the biggest band in Britain at the time. A bit of consumer research would have told Decca this, and the most notorious mistake in rock’n’roll history might have been averted.
2. Epstein’s merchandising mishap: Merchandise was a minor concern for most 60s groups, so Brian Epstein signing away most of the Beatles’ merchandising royalties probably didn’t strike him (or the band) as a disaster. Perhaps a spot of sales volume estimation would have put him right.
3. A passage to India: OK, maybe a focus group or two wouldn’t have helped the Beatles uncover the meaning of the universe, but it would have done at least as good a job as spending a month with the Maharishi. And the only diarrhoea to worry about would have been verbal.
4. Apple’s Business Model: The tech giant Apple famously “doesn’t use market research”, and indeed nor did the Beatles’ company, as shown by the fact that they handed out money to every scamster in 60s Swinging London, like a hippie Dragon’s Den. Full-scale concept testing might have trod on the band’s utopian toes a bit so maybe just some crowdsourcing would have sufficed to source the wheat from the chaff. They could even have called it a “crowd-in”.
5. “Free As A Bird”: Curiously absent from this set of remasters, this was the band’s 1995 ‘reunion’ single with Jeff Lynne. No real fancy techniques needed for this one, a surveymonkey poll would have let the remaining Beatles know that no, layering orchestration on a forgotten Lennon demo didn’t really count.