One would have to be living under a rock to not know that what is arguably the most significant rock album of all time just celebrated its 50th anniversary of the date it was released--June 1, 1967 in the U.K. and Europe and June 2, 1967 in the U.S.
This is an example of how a company like Apple Corps., the Beatles' production, management and marketing company since 1967, can exist and grow with a specific set of products and maintain its connection to a loyal consumer base for more than five decades. Its success hinged on its exceptional ability to understand all the short, medium, and long-term needs of its consumers.
Thirty years ago, on the 20th anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper, I happened to be doing business in London, England. On that day, June 1, 1987, HMV record shop, the world's No. 1 record retail chain at the time, released a special box set of all the Beatles' music on CD. Although the CD had been around for seven years, the Beatles had the legal right to stop the release of their catalog in the new format until their egregious record deal could be renegotiated.
As it happened, the new deal was in place just in time to commemorate the 20th anniversary. There was a very big marketing campaign running the gamut over TV, radio, magazines, and subway posters. There were even TV specials. It was huge. I remember thinking that since the Beatles were not only the world's biggest-ever recorded selling artists, but, in the U.K. they were considered a national treasure. I thought, If they play their cards right, they can repackage, rename, and reinvent all their albums and movies for years and years. Maybe even create a 50th anniversary release of Sgt. Pepper, which would be sociologically massive.
Over the course of the following decades, the special anniversary deluxe reissues of their first Ed Sullivan appearances and the acclaimed movies A Hard Day's Night, Help, Magical Mystery Tour, in addition to the anniversaries of such notable albums like Rubber Soul and Revolver where the worldwide music press covered them with numerous reviews and essays about the individual significance of each release, were all just appetizers before the main course. They were also the ancillary business for many others as dozens of best-selling books were written about the Beatles phenomenon--by authors like Bruce Spizer, Mark Lewisohn, and Bob Spitz (to name a few) contributing to the machine that kept the Beatles business in the public eye.
And, now, finally, on June 1 and 2, 2017, the main event had arrived in the form of the 50th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band with a series of incredible packaging choices. In the U.K. especially, there have been no less than three TV specials, with the U.S. having at least one, with video of the actual sessions. Then there were all the interviews with the band, crew, and fans, both famous and not, with the topper being that the entire original album was remixed for the 50th anniversary package by Giles Martin, the son of the Beatles' original producer, George Martin. The sonic effects of the remix are no less impressive than the effect of the restoration of the Sistine Chapel (no, that is not hyperbolic, if in fact, one perceives the Beatles as a once-in-a-century phenomenon).
Finally, instruments that were previously recorded and either not really heard or mixed so low that you didn't know they were even there, are now in full-audio bloom along with vocals that were meticulously restored. This is because the new digital technology has given producers the tools to recapture sounds that were long ago buried in the grooves because of the limitations of the actual record pressing at the time. (P.S. it's awesome.)
A variety of separate packages were newly created and are now available for different levels of Beatles fans. You can buy a remixed CD or a double-vinyl set, or a deluxe box with six CDs and alternate versions of the songs at various stages of the songs' development. This kind of forensic excavation is unheard of.
Neil Aspinall, a former original Beatles roadie who started in 1959, became the CEO of Apple Corps. in the 80s. He once famously said, "I'm not in the music business, I'm in the Beatles business."
The Beatles have been and remain a very vital business model because they understand what the buying public wants, and although they have not recorded a new song since 1970, with the exception of the completion of Lennon's Free as a Bird, the business model is a marvel of product development and timing.
All businesses not only need to know this, but also need someone at the helm of their company with the ability to see how the product can and/or will play out over time. Keith Richards once referenced Mick Jagger's philosophy with this funny but true analogy that the difference between them are that Jagger wakes up every morning and thinks about what he's going to do that day, 10 days from now, 10 months from now, 10 years from now. Whereas Keith wakes up and says, "I got up this morning!"
The Beatles always seem to have a new (re-packaged) product ready to commemorate an important historical milestone in Beatles history. They not only have a seemingly never-ending amount of material that perfectly coincides with the event, they know how to make it special by slowly releasing with just enough fanfare to keep their base happy without overdoing it.
This is how a legacy product is marketed over time--understanding why the product was successful to begin with, and then carefully deciding what the marketplace wants over time by paying attention to how their consumers are responding. That's not to say that the Beatles didn't make any mistakes along the way. They did, and they were huge. One was when John Lennon inferred in an interview in 1966 that they were more popular among young people than Jesus. He quickly apologized, but not before thousands of Beatles records were burned by Christian groups in the Deep South, along with their music being banned by some radio stations. Then again a year later when, just 6 months after the release of Sgt. Pepper, they released the Magical Mystery Tour movie which was a critical disaster (the first critical disaster in their history at a time when what the press said really mattered). In both cases, they pivoted quickly with more new products because they had such a huge base of loyal fans that they overcame what could have been to a lesser company, commercial suicide.
Another example of overcoming brand damage is Coca-Cola, considered the biggest name in worldwide branding. They really blew it with the highly touted marketing of New Coke. Their error was trying to fix something that wasn't broken (from the marketing viewpoint). Real Coke lovers didn't want to see "New Coke," which is an example of how packaging affects customers' responses to products. In reality, consumers actually liked the taste of new Coke, they just didn't want to see the new name on the can. It was such a disaster that any new "fail" in marketing is now considered "a new-Coke disaster." But just as with the Beatles, Coca-Cola survived the misstep.
Most products are not that lucky and in the case of the Beatles and Coke, they had enough other options available at the time and quickly responded to their consumers.
So, remember: When it comes to keeping your customers satisfied, know exactly what they want in product choices and understand the value of branding.
No matter how big you are, the customer is always right!