I was looking through a day by day biography of the group last night, and it quickly became clear that the image that we have of the four youngsters running away from their screaming fans didn't happen overnight.
At the beginning, they were playing two or three clubs a day, dives, making a few pounds if they were lucky. Not for a month or two, but for years and years.
As they got more traction, the thing you notice is how often they showed up on the radio. They were constantly on one radio show or another, or one multi-billed concert or another. The marketing picture probably looked like this:
Outbound marketing in every possible direction. Auditions for record labels, rejections, pitches to media outlets, concerts on spec, concerts for anyone who would show up. This is classic marketing, stuff that's easy to forget when we listen to the Shea Stadium concert or see the guys on the cover of Newsweek. It's easy to imagine that suddenly, everyone knows you, wants you and makes it easy for you.
The next stage was brief but essential. That's when people started noticing them, started showing up, started screaming. At this moment, the Beatles didn't stop marketing. They didn't stop doing radio shows at the BBC or flying all night to play a concert in Denver (empty seats) or Kansas. During the transition stage, in fact, the Beatles and their management really poured it on.
One of the most misunderstood and misused phrases in marketing (okay, in business) is Malcolm Gladwell's, "the tipping point." The Beatles didn't tip. Nothing magical happened. Instead, gradually, they shifted from being the chasers into being the chased.
These were the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and the Beatles on tour and the Beatles making wigs and the Beatles making movies and pioneering music videos. It was the Beatles in a frenzy, not sure what was going to come next, but pretty sure that it could all disappear in a heartbeat.
Many organizations reach this stage and stop. They harvest. They take profits and remind themselves that they are geniuses, all powerful and immune to the laws of boredom.
Only by pushing through this stage and by using their newfound power to create the last stage of their career did the Beatles actually become the Beatles.
When we rewrite history (and we do it every day) it's easy to imagine that Starbucks and JetBlue and all the other poster children for new successes just got blessed. It's almost never the case, though. It's just that it's easier to think of them as winners.