GUITAR BRANDING MARKET STUDY
Guitar branding. A market study.
“The essence of guitar branding— Sell the place where the guitar lives in the guitarist’s life”
Guitar branding is huge, unique and also filled with the potential to steal market share.
In this article Stealing Share is going to look at the science of guitar branding. You can also check out our story on the rebranding of Sabian, one of the world’s largest cymbal manufacturers.
But the study is about another instrument. Guitars. The market for buying a guitar — whether an electric or an acoustic — is incomprehensibly vast. Right now, the popularity of the guitar is undeniable.
We’ll look at the components that establish strong guitar branding like the manufacturer’s history, celebrity endorsement, and craftsmanship.
More than that, we will also expose just how few brands have touched upon the most important aspect of branding a guitar: the musician’s adoration for their instrument.
The influences behind the selection
On one end of the spectrum are guitars intended for the novice player. These instruments allow buyers to dip their toes into the musical waters.
They can properly hold the depth of expression that comes from a whammy bar.
While playable, they are not worthy of passing down the family tree. Such guitars include acoustics like the Yamaha acoustic line and the Gibson Epiphone. It also includes electrics like the Fender Squier and Peavey line.
The opposite end of the spectrum consists of intricate, handmade models, rendered from the finest woods from around the world.
These guitars are priceless and sound exquisite. They are statement pieces often placed on display or for the professional touring and recording musician. In the middle rests a tier of moderately expensive guitar branding.
These guitars are very worthy of maintaining for a lifetime; acoustics, like Martin, Guild, or Taylor, and electrics like Rickenbacker and Gibson Les Paul fall into this category.
We’ll elaborate on the table stake components that establish guitar branding (the manufacturer’s history, celebrity endorsement, and craftsmanship).
Certain guitar branding practices have a better connotation than others.
This isn’t a lie. There’s an elite group of guitar brands widely accepted to be the best of the best within the market.
Why are these guitars considered best? One reason is that the guitar manufacturer has a history of making instruments with great tonality.
They are conditioned to withstand a lifetime of bumps, bruises, and scrapes – and most importantly, playing. (read a blog on the iRig pedals here)
History of the guitar manufacturer
The history of the guitar branding manufacturer is important.
Nobody wants a guitar if they know its truss rod is going to bend to the point of collapse or if its bridge comes flying off due to faulty gluing. What a buyer wants is a beautiful instrument that they can make beautiful music wit
Thus, the legacy of the manufacturer is important.
All you need do is glance at the homepage of the manufacturer’s website to see the value it places on nostalgia, and how paying homage to that helps to provide a story for the instruments it makes.
This apparent nod to the past isn’t observable with Martin & Co. alone.
Take, for instance, this advertisement for the Gibson Les Paul, which honors the 1959 model: Within the music industry, it is a common view that the past is better than the present.
The lure of analog
Some mic their instruments from a vintage tube amp rather than plugging in directly for preprogrammed vintage sounds.
Musical purists wish to hear the Beatles catalog in mono, rather than stereo.
It’s why Billy Bob Thornton posed the question, “Which artists, post-1980, will be remembered 100 years from now?” to Bill Maher.
It’s also why lifelong hobbyists and professionals want their guitars to have a vintage look, sound, and feel. Older, in the music industry, is better.
Celebrity endorsements of the guitar
There is value in celebrity endorsements too. Typically, celebrity endorsements get a bad rap. The danger is if they are the sole reason to buy a product, then that product is tied to that celebrity.
But there are positive examples, including Michael Jordan and the Air Jordan’s that defined Nike as being about winning.
It’s why Target sells First Act, an Adam Levine-endorsed line of acoustic and electric guitars.
Yet there is an even deeper connection between the company producing the guitar, the celebrities endorsing them, and the consumer: the heritage of the company.
Consider the following grab from the Guild guitar website.
It also chronicles who played the Guild guitar and when.
For example, we can see that in the 1960s, blues legends Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters became synonymous with their playing of the Starfire IV and Thunderbird (both electric models produced by Guild).
Later that decade, we see a picture of the late folk hero, Richie Havens, playing his acoustic Guild guitar while on stage at Woodstock.
Blending heritage with celebrity
In this instance, Guild guitar branding has used its heritage to seep into the heart of the musically conscious consumer.
It is banking on the fact that you will want to buy a guitar that has history on its side — one that the legends have had by their side, too.
Similarly, the middle to upper tiered guitar, Alvarez, highlights the celebrities it has sponsored as well as the professional musicians who have made it their guitar of choice.
Just look at the list of musical legends who have used it: Johnny Cash, Paul McCartney, Carlos Santana, and CS&N.
Gretsch, widely known for its line of beautifully constructed, hollow-bodied electric guitars, also boasts a long list of professional musicians that use its electric and acoustic guitars.
The names on this list aren’t quite the level of, say, Guild or Martin but worthy of mentioning nonetheless.
For instance, the following is a shot of the punk rock guitarist and singer Tim Armstrong of the band, Rancid. Next to him are two of those gorgeous electric hollow bodies.
This is another component of guitar branding.
With the construction of any instrument, there is great artistry at hand.
With guitars, craftsmen search the world over for ideal and sustainable wood.
They look for wood to mold in such a precise and caring way that it resonates profoundly with musicians.
The Taylor guitar is often considered to be one of the most dignified brands on the market today.
One reason that makes this true is that Taylor sells its guitar manufacturing process.
In fact, when in the market for a Taylor guitar, you can mold your guitar search according to different facets of the construction process.
You can find a guitar sculpted in a particular way, or one made from a specific kind of wood.
Take a look at the categories provided for on Taylor’s site:
It’s not surprising that in the “About Us” section on the Taylor guitar website, you can find a sentence that reads: “Outstanding playability, flawless craftsmanship, and stunning aesthetics are just a few of the reasons that many of today’s leading musicians make Taylor their guitar of choice.”
Take a look at all of the images on the right-hand side of the company’s homepage.
All of these pictures show craftsmen honing in on the minutest of details, all of which lead to the production of a stunning guitar.
The Takamine line of guitars is a reliable middle-tired acoustic guitar (but one that also has a more expensive, Pro-Series line).
It advertises itself as the guitar that is built by “artisans.” Take a look at the following image that was pulled from the Takamine website:
It’s very clear that Takamine recognizes the value of guitar branding in its handiwork, isn’t it?
Most guitar branding only uses these three components in advertising. Why?
From what we’ve seen in the marketplace, the advertising for guitars isn’t very good.
Most advertisements leave viewers with a lackadaisical feel as they rarely connect with the heartstrings of the potential buyer.
The reason for this is most ads sell one or two table stake components. Worst of all, they are missing what a musician is really seeking: to fall in love with their instrument.
Gretsch as an example
Take, for example, the following advertising for the Brian Setzer line of Gretsch guitars:
Sure, the copy of this advertisement hits on the story of these models, and we have a celebrity, Brian Setzer.
But in what way does this impact the buyer? It’s more of a glamour shot for Setzer.
Taylor’s ads are about Taylor
Sure, we know that Taylor builds guitars, but the copy reads like it is angry at the world for not knowing that.
This seems like an advertisement that imbibes Taylor with itself, rather than eliciting any emotion with a potential buyer.
Reverend is also about Reverend
While we get a slight sense of the manufacturing element of the Reverend guitar, we still don’t know the type of guitarist who plays a Reverend nor what would drive them to choose a Reverend as their musical soulmate.
As is, this particular Reverent guitar has a clean looking head (the top of the guitar that houses the tuning pegs and keys) with metal tuners.
However, not much is left to motivate the buyer.
We could bore you with ad after ad for acoustic, electric, classical, and 12-string guitar’s, only to be continually discouraged by the outcome.
To steal market share, guitar branding must focus on what resonates most with buyers.
Winning in the guitar market shouldn’t be hard.
Right now, everyone is selling a portion of what they should, but foolishly, hardly anyone is doing what’s right: selling to the emotional triggers of the musician.
What they want is to rendezvous with a beautiful sounding six-string.
Manzer is on the right track
This ad works because it focuses on the experience that the guitarist is going to have with a Manzer guitar.
A beautifully made guitar, when played, can make a guitarist feel like they have transcended the world around them.
Manzer is certainly doing things right with its advertising.
The copy for the following ad is simple yet powerful: “Imagine a Therapist that does all the talking.”
It doesn’t hurt that the Manzer guitar pictured here has a beautiful fretboard.
Martin & Co. is also pretty good
This print ad for the Martin & Co. company also hits the right stroke as the Manzer ads do.
Guitarists have a sense of allegiance to their primary guitar. Here, Martin recognizes that most guitarists want a lifetime friend in their guitar and that, as it ages, that friendship will deepen (this is why Willie Nelson continues to play his beat up guitar).
Guitarists believe in superstition like a basketball player does by wearing the same socks when they win.
They believe in the emotional connection they have with their instrument.
That’s why it doesn’t matter if you are a beginning guitarist or if you’re a pro, you want to be a part of this collective musical story.
For the love of guitars
The story has always been the same. It’s the hope of becoming a star alongside your traveling companion: your guitar.
That guitar holds a special place in the heart of the guitarist. It’s their baby. They love it. They bond with it.
This should be the ingredient most used when companies market their guitars.
What does the guitarist aspire to be? Without cluing into this, we’re left with nondescript advertising that does little to move the heartstrings.