Branding musical instruments to grow market share

By Tom Dougherty

Branding musical instruments to grow market share

Growth in any category requires two things: encouraging competitor’s customers to switch brands and developing preference among new entrants. Think about how complicated this is when you are branding musical instruments?

Unless you are strictly an entry level manufacturer, you need to appeal to both groups. Price point can be a hurdle. After all, new musicians lack the appetite for the highest end instruments. Plus, cheap offerings ruin the brand appeal to the most accomplished musicians.

Flanker and sub-brands

branding musical instrumentsMany musical manufacturers slip around this conundrum by sporting more than one brand. It works but with limitations. All brands require marketing dollars to support sales. And marketing more than one brand requires more than one budget.

But the mix is even more complicated than that. You need to navigate distribution. Many manufacturers still need the power and leverage of retailers. And retailers are a fearful bunch.

Retailers don’t know how to handle the sea change from showrooms to online. While they themselves explore online storefronts, they see your move into this space as a near fatal threat.

Scared? As well they should be.

Holding onto physical locations is an end game in losing. It is too inefficient and expensive to compete in the world of music today, especially when you consider branding musical instruments.

God forbid they see you opening a manufacturer’s direct site. To the retailer, that is a total disregard of loyalty. And you must remember that loyalty is a single lane highway in their book.

If you don’t support them with in-store specials, new offerings and loss leaders, they will quickly turn their backs on you. Music retail is a black & white movie in the age of Technicolor.

The game is over as soon as someone figures out a showroom without having to stock purchases in it. Being successful today requires a nimble touch. Understand the distributors, retailers and musicians. If you are lucky, the first two will also be the latter.

Branding musical instruments: What are you selling?

Walk around NAMM and you see much of the same. New offerings. Free bling. And claims of fine workmanship and heritage. Or a mixture of all the above. And, while there are plenty of examples of branding musical instrument, few new ones really take hold.

But are you selling a thing or an ethereal idea? And, if it is an idea, what is that BIG idea?

Sometimes you get better clarity of purpose when you step outside of your category and look at another.

Header musicIf you know anything about photography, for example, you have heart for Ansel Adams. Considered by many the preeminent large format black and white photographer of the age (and Edward Weston is right there with him). Adams invented the zone system of black and white photography. Demanding students to shoot the shadows and remember the values of middle gray. His darkroom mastery is still legendary. The age of photoshop and digital photography has revolutionized how we shoot and develop images.

But Ansel’s principles of the zone system are as important today as ever.

He was an artist in the same way your customers are artists. Adams hauled around his large format camera and heavy tripod all over Yosemite. His prints were akin to a contact print. His format allowed him to lose little resolution because he was not amplifying the negative like so many others who shot 35mm film.

An artist is an artist

But Adams pushed back at that differentiator. He claimed it was his ability to capture and frame the dramatic that made his work coveted. He claimed he could shoot a print worthy of a museum with a polaroid.

And he did.

You see, Adams was not a photographer, he did not make photographs… he was a master at capturing light. It was never the instrument. It was the ARTIST himself that made the difference.

Your customer. Who is it?

You might think that your customer plays percussion. Or guitar. Or piano. Or (insert category here). But they don’t make the instrument. They make the music.

cool black and red wallpaper hd 3 1That’s right. To borrow a phrase from James Carville during Bill Clinton’s Presidential Campaign—”It’s the music, stupid!”

It has always been and will always remain all about the music. Everything else is just noise.

Your fine craftsmanship all comes down to the skill of the musician. Your product is a means to an end.

Why is that important?

Because the musician is the hero of every tale. Many play the same instrument but no two play the exact same sound. It is the artist that imprints on the sound and your product enables them to be more of themselves.

Your craftsmanship and skill is still important. But they are supporting points, not main differentiators.

The music category is a case study in brand equity. Why? Because your customers are living proof of the truth.

Go ahead, try to explain to a hotel chain that their brand is much more than a room, lobby, location and price-point. Tell them the truth, that brands must be a clear reflection of the customer. It must occupy an emotional place in the customer that they feel is about who they are. An example of their values and self-image. Those hotel chains will stare back at you with glassy eyes.

But as a manufacturer of musical instruments— well, you get it. Having a revered brand in your hands says you are for real. That is important to remember any time you are branding musical instruments. Anything else is as personal as saying you have ugly kids.

What the hell is going on?

So we know this all to be true. Yet we still try to differentiate ourselves by highlighting all the things that are about US, the manufacturer. The real story is, of course, all about THEM. It’s all about the artist. Not the instrument.

What would we recommend?

No pat answers. Every market and instrument is different. For that reason, we ALWAYS field projectable market research as part of the strategy development. We are not talking about focus groups or self-selecting customer satisfaction studies. The afore mentioned are not projectable to the community.

Rebranding of SabianWe field double-blinded projectable market research that lays bare the needs and wants of the physical and EMOTIONAL triggers.

We build your messaging on that research. Our process has effectively repositioned instrument brands.

But it’s not our experience that you should covet. Your current advertising agency claims that.

We are experts in persuasion. Look at our work for Sabian. We ask the right questions. As a result, our small firm in Greensboro NC with a small office in NYC have clients all over the globe. Our success speaks volumes.

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