In the music industry, few names are as iconic as Paul McCartney. As one of the founding members of The Beatles, McCartney achieved unparalleled success and fame during the 1960s. However, by 1971, McCartney was at a crossroads in his career.
After finding some success as a soloist and with his then-wife Linda, things began to turn, and not in his favor. His decision to form a new band, Wings, and his subsequent refusal to play Beatles songs both turned out to be remarkable marketing masterstrokes, though they may not have appeared as such in the beginning.
This bold move not only set him apart from his legendary past but also allowed him to establish a new musical identity. McCartney’s journey with Wings offers several valuable lessons for marketers on the power of differentiation in creating a unique brand presence, and also on refusing to rely on past successes, no matter how massive they were.
In 1971, McCartney faced a daunting challenge—how to step out of the shadow of The Beatles, one of the most influential and successful bands in the history of music. His solution was to form Wings, a new band that would allow him to try new things. While some fans were surely hoping he’d continue creating work that was very similar to the hits they loved from The Beatles, the singer-songwriter had other creative ideas in mind, and in order to convey them properly, he needed to do something to mix up his presentation.
McCartney’s transition from The Beatles to Wings was a brave and daring move, and it demonstrated the importance of embracing change as a creative voice. Just as McCartney embraced a new beginning in his career, businesses must be open to change, willing to pivot and to evolve their brand to stay relevant…or at least be willing to try something new and different.
The first crucial decision McCartney made in getting Wings off the ground was to avoid playing any Beatles material during the initial stages of the band. This was a risky differentiation strategy, and one that many other artists would not have even attempted. The Beatles’ catalog was a treasure trove of timeless classics, and many stars in McCartney’s position might have chosen to rely on the familiarity and popularity of these songs to launch a new project. Thankfully, McCartney understood the power of differentiation in carving out a unique identity for Wings.
Wings embarked on an early tour across McCartney’s native Britain, performing at smaller universities and venues at first. What set this tour apart was McCartney’s unwavering commitment to playing almost exclusively new material. Audiences, many of whom were Beatles fans, were met with unfamiliar tunes as they bought tickets.
McCartney’s decision to take this risk and showcase fresh, untested material was a testament to his belief in the creative potential of Wings. It was a prime example of believing in your product. Just as McCartney had faith in the creative strength of Wings, marketers should have confidence in their products or services and be willing to take calculated risks to showcase their uniqueness.
While it may have been a challenging endeavor at the outset, sticking to his guns ultimately proved to be a smart decision. In 1973, Wings charted an important No. 1 hit with the song “My Love.” This success was a clear indication that McCartney’s strategy of differentiation was paying off. The audience was embracing the new sound and identity of Wings, separate from The Beatles.
As Wings continued to evolve, McCartney made another critical move. In 1973, the band released the album Band on the Run , which featured the eponymous title track. That title went No. 1 in both the U.S. and U.K.—the first from the band to do so. This was a turning point for McCartney and Wings, both creatively and in a business sense.
Band on the Run was a massive success and further solidified Wings as a formidable force in the music industry. It hadn’t taken too long for the group to become winners on their own, and McCartney had shown that while he was certainly parlaying his own fame into new success, he hadn’t fully relied on the Fab Four’s catalog for future charts supremacy.
After Band on the Run rose to No. 1, McCartney gradually began playing Beatles classics during Wings concerts. By that point, he had nothing left to prove, and he clearly felt more comfortable in digging into his back catalog. Fans were surely thrilled, as they were getting the best of both worlds. When he returned to the music that made him a star, it was a celebration of his brand’s evolution rather than a fallback plan.
McCartney isn’t just one of the most talented musicians and songwriters of all time, he’s also a brilliant marketer. Early on, he knew he needed to make his own music and differentiate himself from The Beatles, which must have been hard to accept. But he took a leap, stuck with it and made it work…and now he can play whatever he wants for the masses who come to see him.