Fender Guitar

Fender’s Struggle to Get Guitars Under the Tree (And How To Make Your Brand Relevant Again)

As Black Friday looms near and the holiday shopping season kicks off in earnest, it seems Fender Guitar may be struggling for a spot under the tree for a shiny new guitar. According to a recent article from The Salt Lake Tribune, Fender’s marketing is battling flat sales due to that old foe, competition for mind share.

While people have been saying the guitar is dead for quite a while now, Fender’s fight for relevancy in a modern world full XBoxes and iPhones, a crumbling infrastructure for the arts and music, and a general lack of use and excitement around the guitar in modern music is one that, in my opinion, can still be won. But it’s going to take a lot more work to get there than just standard marketing can do.

I’ve argued for a while now that in order to build a strong brand, you need to encourage behavioral change. Yes, it’s possible to ride along on the waves made by others and sell popular ancillary products, but when you’re in a position like Fender is, where frankly there’s nothing out there in the greater zeitgeist that’s increasing the demand for guitars, you’re fighting an uphill battle.

As I like to say: If you can’t get anyone to do it for you, you might as well do it yourself.

And that’s what Fender and other companies are going to have to realize. It’s part of my Inspire, Aspire, Perspire theory of marketing.

Inspire, Aspire, Perspire

In order to get people to become real customers of your brand, you need to obviously do the regular part of marketing we all think of – have ads and a identity. But there’s much more to it now. Now you have to get people to be excited about your product – in particular in a way that inspires them. In Fender’s case, when rock bands are kind of passe, your quest then should be to do to leverage any instances where using a guitar is cool, and build your brand around that. (Taylor Swift was a good example of getting girls to be inspired to pick up guitar … until she went so pop.)

But it’s one thing to see others out there doing amazing things. It’s a whole other thing to get across the idea that you can do it it too. That’s where the aspiration part of this approach comes in to play. While it’s great for people to see idols out there playing guitar (or whatever your product helps people do), you need to allow people to feel like it’s something they can do too. A perfect example of how to go about this is through highlighting YouTube guitarists. In particular people who are playing out of their homes. It’s in showing success by people who are just like your potential customer that you can take inspiration to aspiration.

Unfortunately, all this selling through inspiration and aspiration only works to get people through the door. The issue that many companies run into, Fender included, is that even if you close the sale, you don’t really have a customer. In my opinion a customer is someone is actually found value in your brand and is likely to come back for future interactions with you. That could be another sale or it could be as simple as word of mouth. But what’s for certain is that a customer who doesn’t succeed in what their initial goal was isn’t a customer. They’re just someone who bought something from you.

This is where the Perspire part of the approach comes into play. Now, it may sound a little daunting, especially to a customer, to put hard work as part of your selling strategy – which is why I recommend framing it differently in your actual communications. But the truth is, in order to feel like you got good value out of a product or service, it needs to actually work.

For a product like a guitar, it’s neat to have a pretty guitar hanging on your wall – but most people don’t spend that kind of money on a piece of decoration (plus they feel squeamish about how to respond if someone would actually ask them to play it). What people want with a guitar is to be able to play guitar. They want to be a guitarist.

To keep that person as a customer, and to make sure they tell everyone else about how awesome the lifestyle and product is (getting more potential sales from them, and more word of mouth marketing to others, thereby influencing the zeitgeist) the question for the marketer is “how do we do that?”

This is where a content marketing strategy can become the most important – and it doesn’t mean you need to create massive amounts of content (although you can). When your goal is to get people to succeed, having your brand around the content you use to ensure this happens is only a secondary notion. Massive amounts of content are produced out there every day, a lot of which is by experts in the field. Work on relationships with them if you want, but at the very least be a strong content curator.

Do your part to help your customer succeed (even if that means linking to other brands or offsite destinations).

Look to see who else is out there working with the same people you are. For Fender, it could be something as simple as reaching out to Songsterr to put together a “how to succeed at guitar” interactive lesson pack, leveraging the Songsterr’s technology, then promoting that “pathway to success” as part of your pitch.

Remember, people don’t buy products. People don’t buy guitars. People buy the idea of being a guitarist. (Or being a better guitarist. Or having a new sound.)

What do you inspire your customers to do? Who do they aspire to be? How can you make sure that when they perspire, the end result is success?


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