Marketing Guitars

Marketing Guitars

Guitar Marketing

Two things I know about really well at this point in my life are marketing and guitars. And one of the hardest jobs there is must be marketing guitars. At least, marketing them successfully, which means increasing ROI, sustaining (if not growing)margins, decreasing costs, maintaining if not improving the target market segments’ perceptions about them, and the rest of the duties product managers, marketing managers and directors, VP’s and the other roles tasked with the job have.

I would love such a challenge, incidentally if anyone wants to put me up to it.

But guitars are similar to motorcycles, or at least some makes of them such as Harley Davidsons, certain high-profile custom bikes and a small list of other brands like Triumph, Indian, and others that have gone in and out of business due to the challenges I mention here. The main problems are saturation, limited room for product innovation, and being chained to cyclical and fickle target markets that come and go with generational tastes, fads, cultural trends and external forces such as media involvement, since a lot of what compels people (a lot of males for both, coincidentally) is the whole “image” owning and using guitars and motorcycles conveys. Or, at least what their perception is of what they convey to others, mostly fawning ladies that like guys with motorcycles and who play guitar, which is a study left to another time. Machismo is connected to motorcycle ownership, and no small number of guitars have been sold in hopes of being the next teen idol on a stage with an army of attractive roadies backstage waiting to spend time with the next Peter Frampton. Even though I’m sure studies will reveal the results are far from what someone would consider successful.

Back to marketing the things though, particularly guitars. Acoustic guitars have been around for approximately 370 years in modern form. Since 200BC if you want to consider the lute a type of guitar. Electric guitars have been around less time, understandably, for ~90 years. The number of manufacturers has been in the hundreds, if not thousands, with only a few remaining, and even fewer remaining profitable. Most makers have been absorbed by corporations, mainly buying the badge and reissuing cheaper models made in Mexico or other cheap labor markets. Some makers have used technology to make instruments at a lesser cost, by using laser cutters and robots. I’ve seen new guitars as cheap as $20 made in China, that are playable.

acoustic guitar timeline

The big names in the space worth discussing are Gibson, Fender, and Taylor. There are a lot of other brands, like Guild, Paul Reed Smith and Washburn, but they are owned by Gibson and Fender and large corporations, and not really independent luthiers of magnitude. That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of worthy brands to consider – there are – but they aren’t giant global guitar shops. Recording King is a small batch shop, which I own an instrument from, in fact. And small boutique luthiers exist all across the world and make incredible instruments. But they are specialty makers and command large commissions. They aren’t the people I’m talking about having to market either.

Taylor is an interesting case study because they’ve been around since the 1970s, in California, still headed up by Bob Taylor. Thanks to a reemergence in acoustic music in the 1990s with Dave Matthews, Jason Mraz, John Mayer, et al., Taylor saw a surge in popularity and expanded their operations considerably, as they also began manufacturing instruments in Mexico and cutting costs while increasing margins by increasing their lines and prices. Rather dramatically in some cases. The US made models that use exotic woods can be near $10,000 apiece these days. Most domestic acoustics hover in the $3,000-6,000 range and aren’t for the average plinker.

rosa lee mcfall

My Taylor 414 acoustic

But each year, if not a few times each year, Taylor introduces new models, new innovations, and new marketing strategies that keep the cash coming in. It’s impressive, and I’ve studied it carefully over the years.

There are a few ways they stay competitive that should be noted. Some are very good and some are sort of weak, but I’m sure they are still effective or else they wouldn’t be employed. (The tactics, that is, not the people.) Incidentally, Fender has caught onto some of their strategies and has done a great job themselves of keeping themselves relevant through technology. Specifically, their app, YouTube presence and lessons they offer, focusing on the new player.

Taylor sends out a Wood and Wire magazine to people that own their instruments, which is a high-end publication as far as marketing materials go. Taylor also has an app that has the usual tuner, metronome(in FourTrack), videos, and a way to store information about your Taylor guitars, but they also have come up with an innovative service called TaylorSense™.

TaylorSense is a trademarked ability to remotely and electronically monitor everything about your instrument to keep it in top condition. Specifically, humidity, temperature, battery life and impact(when it’s dropped, not how hard you’re shredding). Taylor owners typically take very good care of their guitars, and they should considering they cost more than a lot of people’s cars. Humidity control is very important for wooden instruments, there’s no denying, but most guitar owners aren’t likely to be able to have a humidor for their guitars or the technology to keep instruments at a desired humidity and temperature.

You have to have a guitar that has the sensors installed, of course. And that means….buying a new guitar! Why not!? A built-in hygrometer is a must! These features actually are useful for the gigging musician, who are putting their guitars in the back of hot cars, vans, and airplanes and carting them across hill and dale. Having your guitar in Charleston, SC for a week and then toting it suddenly to Sedona, AZ, for example, isn’t a good idea.

Fender introduces new models all the time. And a lot of the time they’re “new” just like the old ones. A reissue of 1950’s Les Pauls for example. A gold top! New flaming! There’s not a whole lot to jump and down about unless you have lots of money and collect the things, in my opinion. And even then, it’s dubious to me. Taylor does the same thing, a twist here and there to the cosmetics, a new bracing that “redefines” guitar playing, using a “new,” limited stock of wood, or whatever. But there have been few real breakthroughs when it comes to creating an awesome guitar, either electric or acoustic. Mostly gimmickry and marketing hype. Which is still effective. I have to believe the big guys have MBA types that can run tests and validate the effectiveness of the strategies, rather than just winging it like a lot of businesses do, incredibly.

If you look on Facebook Marketplace, eBay, Craigslist, Reverb, or a gazillion other places where there’s a used guitar marketplace (and new guitars as well) it’s easy to see there’s no shortage of guitars in the world. Just like motorcycles. Nice ones, too. So, how does a company get people to shell out $1000+ for a new guitar?


My Gibson Les Paul

With the methods above, like the nice onboarding job Fender’s doing with their YouTube videos, creative placements, like within Youtube videos like this one with Ed O’Brien of Radiohead fame, talking about his Stratocaster offering with Fender, or Rush’s guitarist Alex Lifeson discussing his namesake gear in other very interesting and genuine interviews/lessons. Authenticity is a big deal in marketing, and using it is effective with this type of product, and companies. If you look in the comments on the “That Pedal Show” video, you’ll see many people wanting to go out and buy that guitar of his just from watching the video. Or this one. Myself included.

offset telecaster

My offset Limited Edition Fender Telecaster

Another effective tactic is to grow your target market. Women and guitars haven’t traditionally been one in the same, save for but a few creative, explorative, adventurous types. And of course in guitar advertising, with half-naked women draped over guitars, or holding one without even pretending to know a single chord. How they fit in playing guitar is an interesting topic in itself. However, there is a recent noticeable surge in interest by women and acoustic guitar ownership, which is successfully being seized by manufacturers, if not helped greatly by guitar marketers.

If you join some of the many guitar-related groups on Facebook, you’ll notice how many fantastic ladies post videos of themselves playing, and singing, pieces they’ve learned or even written. It’s impressive. I’d argue women should be able to equal if not surpass men with acoustic guitar proficiency. I base that on the fact they’re generally better with small tactile tasks with their fingers. They can do fast, accurate motions better than thick-fingered gorillas men can, like sewing, embroidery, knitting and lock-picking. Just kidding about that last one; I have no idea. But it makes sense. They are no less creative when it comes to writing music, and often are more naturally adept at converting passion and feelings into works of art. Music itself has lots of mathematic undertones to it, which is one of the few reasons that may deter females. I’m not saying that to be masochistic – it’s just a natural fact, which some people refuse to believe despite evidence as long as humans have existed to the contrary. It’s why women are having to be coaxed, unsuccessfully I might add, into engineering and computer programming fields, as well as mathematics and other highly quantitative areas.

When scouting out marketing tactics for this piece, I noticed Fender marketers decided to take the safe route and inject an androgynous female with a man’s haircut, but with tattoos and rings and edgy clothing with their acoustic and electric models on display. It’s as visually neutral as possible.

Fender Play

Although you can, and should use effects pedals and loopers with acoustics, they generally are gear for electrics. And this type of gear that men can spend a fortune of money on as women can shoes, and days playing around with, is just something that doesn’t interest the softer sex. It’s like guys like remote controls and lots of knobs on things, and women want it simple and “just done.”

effects pedals and looper

My effects pedals and looper

I don’t seem to notice more women adopting electric guitar ownership, which is also understandable for the above-mentioned reasons. Electric guitars don’t offer the natural, soft, organic tones and typically the same level of visual artistry as acoustics do, with their exotic woods and finishes. Electrics are made from driftwood and anything you can think of as well, sure, but they just don’t add up to acoustic instruments in terms of sheer beauty. The electronics, huge fingerguards, tremolos, knobs, and other onboard instrumentation detract from the luthier’s work on an acoustic. Some don’t, like Taylor’s electrics, but generally, they’re night and day visually. The pricing on visually beautiful electrics also set them in another league in terms of price from the everyday Stratocaster/Telecaster/Les Paul type guitars. You’re looking at several thousand dollars just to get an entry-level Taylor. You can get an arguably decent, yet totally average-looking and constructed electric for a few hundred.

red fender telecaster maple neck

My Red Telecaster

Something guitar marketers are smartly doing is making guitar ownership something personal, and something that is enjoyed on a level that is enjoyed as a passionate hobby for self-improvement and recreation. That’s opposed to years past when guitars were bought to become the next rock-god, usually even just in the owner’s mind.

The evolution of electric guitar ownership typically goes: air-guitar to tennis racquet to Harmony garage-sale acoustic to Squier Strat to used bottom-level Les Paul or Mexican Made Telecaster to new Strat, Tele or Les Paul, to collecting dozens of vintage collectible Les Pauls, Strats, Teles to collecting all sorts of exotic, weird, vintage makes.

Rock and roll music was what kept people, mostly teenage boys and middle-aged men, buying axes from pawn shops and lusting after shiny new ones. But over the past decade or two, rock and roll has taken a backseat to hip-hop and more electronic music, instead of wannabe Stevie Ray Vaughns. Cultural trends have had an impact on the industry which has been brutal.

electric guitar timeline












Amazon Tells New York Nevermind

Amazon Tells New York Nevermind

At the last minute, for Amazon to decide to not locate their much-anticipated HQ2 in New York because they were obviously not welcome there by the government and loudmouthed activists, is an example of how insane some situations have become between politicians and capitalists. If you look at the photos of the people who don’t want Amazon to locate there, you have to wonder, how in the world would it even impact them personally? In New York, the people trust the government to make the decisions for them, whether that’s about abortion or economics and finance. Both issues the government was never intended to be a tool to handle for the people it represents. And both times it failed. New York is a collectivist state and allows mob rule to employ a few people to make decisions on behalf of the entire state, much like a socialist state. Much like Venezuela, in fact. There are the people at the top that make the decisions and tell the people at the bottom what decisions they should be making, which is what enriches the people at the top. It’s a fascinating arrangement to watch from afar.

Who were the winners and losers here? Well, Take Amazon. They lost nothing. They’re still the biggest company on Earth. Take New York. They lost the chance for tens of thousands of high paying -high skilled jobs, billions in tax money, a spike in intellectual capital to move to the place, a flagship hub of commerce to be placed where cities lined up to have the very opportunity they threw away and more. It could have been the beginning of an East Coast Silicon Valley, for better or worse. When companies locate to cities like that they inevitably create opportunities that were never imagined and give back to the citizens in ways never asked. It draws attention and intellectual resources to the spot where they’re located. There’s a reason cities were lining up for years jockeying to be the place Amazon chose. And New York told them to get lost. Because of short-term political egos and power plays. Not for the benefit of the people of New York and any long term success.

I’m not sure how DeBlasio or anyone can begin to think New York is now better off than they would have been with Amazon locating their HQ2 there. Jeff Bezos knows a thing or two about business and planning for and funding the future. Much more than anyone in government does. And Bezos might not know as much as they do about how government works, but that may be just as well. No one seems to know how the government should work, and at the same time, everyone seems to know. Northern Virginia was the real winner here, and that will be felt down into North Carolina.

Baby Boomers and Money=Babies and Money

Baby Boomers and Money=Babies and Money

This is a financial study just released by Merril Lynch about Baby boomers and their financial standing and comprehension. Baby boomers, mind you, being the generation that should be retiring now en masse. There should be a HUGE transition of wealth they’ve accumulated and saved being moved, withdrawn, spend, gifted, etc… But the reality is that many are still working, many are trying to just find work, and many can’t even get a job, so they’ve found a way to live off taxpayers until…

When you have over 80% of them who don’t even know how much they need to retire, and they’re AT retirement age, that’s pretty bad news. America herself is $21 trillion in debt, largely because of political promises, kicking cans, unforeseen consequences, foreseen and ignored consequences, voter ignorance, and utter irresponsibility. If you look at who grew that amount the most over history it would have been…you guessed it, the baby boomers.

It will be interesting to see how, if any of it, is solved. The government has no money to bail them out. Their kids are the most likely targets, but one look at them and their parent’s financial acumen being hereditary is apparent. I work with no small number of men who are past retirement age, who not only have their grown children living with them, but their family and their grandchildren. And they’re having to work to support them all until… My next door neighbors still have their grown adult child living with them in the basement. It’s not uncommon. It’s a new paradigm in American culture. It’s not a healthy one either. It goes along with the decline of marriage, the steep increase in single parent homes, especially among blacks, and strange multigenerational arrangements that don’t exactly form a strong triangular foundation or mother/father/child.

How to Get News Without Cable

How to Get News Without Cable

I haven’t subscribed to a cable service in a very, very long time, and I don’t watch TV like I did growing up. Everything’s changed. The way I consume media, and the way it’s offered, both for the better.

People  I grew up around used to get their news from one of the 3 or4 stations they picked up on tv: ABC, NBC, CBS and PBS. from around 5:30-8pm each weekday night, households across America had one of the old-school, much revered, talking heads telling them what was going on in the world. Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather, etc… They also had a subscription to a local newspaper, the State newspaper and possibly a few other periodicals like the WSJ or NYT. They also subscribed to magazines like Newsweek and Time and that was how we stayed on top of the current events. Usually, a few days or even weeks after things had taken place. If at all, and carefully (and responsibly) presented by journalists.

Flash forward to today when it’s clickbait headlines, noise, absolute bias, ulterior motives, activist journalism, and a firehose of information given by people who have no idea what they’re talking about to the actual source and SMEs themselves.

Additionally, no one much gets “cable tv” anymore like in the ’80s or even ’90s. Maybe satellite for rural areas. And subscriptions to newspapers has fallen off the chart. Social media has replaced a lot of the time we used to spend absorbing the current events and thinking and learning about where we along the timeline of global history, politically, economically, politically, culturally, etc…

The way I’ve learned to best manage it and stay sane and unbiased and well-informed is to curate the information that’s out there. A co-worker asked me how I get my news. She listens to NPR on the way to work, gets it from social media, and maybe a couple of other sources.


The way I’ve chosen to get my information isn’t from the sources, but the topics. I know who provides the material, and I’m aware of their certain leanings, whether politically, or how in-depth and insightful I on their on their reporting. As useless as USA Today and CNN are, they still have a lot of resources dedicated to acquiring and distributing information. I feel I should take advantage of that. I’m fairly smart enough to filter out the bias and read it from the author’s perspective, even if it differs from my own. That helps give me a more balanced idea of what’s really going on, and how our society is really reacting to it.

One of the most frequent, easiest and best tools I use for this is Refind. It’s awesome. And it is well-integrated and has simple ways to save and view articles. And there’s a social aspect to it, but not too much.  I’d highly recommend trying it out. An extension I find handy, if not slightly distracting in a good way, is that every time I open a new tab in my browser, I’m given the latest and newest stories that might be of interest to me. I can quickly scan the articles and see if there’s something to bookmark for later, share, or save to a collection to little libraries I’m building on certain topics, or about certain events or people. In this way, I can filter out all the things I’m not interested in, and only get the relevant stuff. And it learns my preferences and makes suggestions on who and what to follow as well, which just makes it more and finely-tuned and dialed in.

Try Refind today, feel more enlightened and sane tomorrow.


Some Thoughts on Compensation

Some Thoughts on Compensation

Money Makes the World Go Around

People think about money a lot, and I’m no different. Especially recently, since I’m looking to make more as well as facing paying a lot out to people for various goods and services. Rent, legal bills, utilities, loans, maintenance, and much of the same things everyone has. Probably not in the same ratios, however.

I have mounting legal bills because of a divorce that has been in proceedings for around 7 months. We’re no closer today to closing our case than we were 7 months ago, but I’ve managed to amass thousands in legal bills for my lawyer’s services. That got me to thinking: what other jobs and fields are there where people get paid not based on results or outcome, but on product, and in some cases, just showing up day after day? My lawyer is very skilled in the courtroom and drafting/filing paperwork. He is very unskilled when it comes to managing an office (aside from reliably sending out invoices) and closing cases. But for divorce lawyers, there’s a conflict of interest in how they are compensated. It behooves them to keep the cases open because an open case represents a money tree. If he/she needs money, file a motion. Send an email or make a phone call. They bill down to 6 minutes at a time in some cases, and it’s not unheard of a divorce lawyer to charge $375 an hour. The retired judge who was handling our second round of mediation, which failed as expected, was surprised to learn my lawyer “only” charged $275 an hour. And for the mediator to show up and accomplish nothing, he himself was paid hundreds of dollars, as was my attorney. They basically passed notes back and forth between my wife and me on our behalf until I was forced to walk away.

In much of business, business owners hire employees based on their output capabilities. Labor is like a machine and is judged and paid based on that premise. It’s not depreciable, however. When looking for a job, the candidate must show that he/she can produce quality work consistently, under stress or whatever the position entails. That’s why it’s good to have a job where you can quantify your work accurately.  If you have one where it’s tricky to measure your output, so that you can justify your wages and justify increases, you might find yourself on the low end of the pay scale. Secondary school teachers face this. College professors don’t because their value to schools is in the ability to publish articles. The teaching aspect isn’t what is compensated, which is proven by the difference in what adjunct teachers are paid and tenure-track professors are. The difference between the two is only that the latter is expected to publish, and do service. The number of articles and level of journals that they appear in is easy to see, and the ones that do so at a high-level research school are paid more than those a lower level teaching school.

Government administrative jobs usually are viewed and compensated more on input than output. But that varies of course. In some cases, compensation is simply a reflection of what the other guy is making somewhere else. Although the public county school system I live in is one of the most poorly run in the country, the new superintendent just received over a $100,000 raise because that’s what some other people make elsewhere. It had nothing to do with the fact that the school system is on probation for all sorts of violations, the state is threatening to take over, and the superintendent was already doing the very same job for $100,000 less. Meanwhile today, teachers are picketing at the state capital and threatening a walkout over their pay packages.

Doctors are paid similarly as well, and “earn” comparably high salaries. They are paid whether you get well or die, however, not on the quality jobs they do. Just on whether they attend to you as a patient or not is why they’re paid. It’s why I’ve had to bring my little daughter to see a doctor, even though what was to take place could have been done over the phone. In order for the doctor to be paid by the insurance company, he needed to have the patient physically standing there.

Engineers are paid well, but they are paid on quality and scope of work. Makes sense. Executives are similarly paid. There are goals and metrics in place they must achieve. A lot of people speak poorly of the amount of money a CEO makes, but at least he/she can justify why or why they didn’t earn the money. The same can’t be said for many other professions though. It makes you wonder what types of people gravitate to each type of job? Some people are fine being judged by their work and have their pay depend on their productivity, like most salespeople. Others rely on protections to warrant a paycheck, whether they do a good job or not, or at all. Union jobs, tenured jobs, political jobs, etc…


The 2 Worlds of Marketing

The 2 Worlds of Marketing

Most people don’t give marketing much thought. Which is how marketers like it. But with so many people online these days, it’s impossible to avoid online marketers trying every trick in the book to lure you into buying their products and services. That’s why a lot of people confuse marketing with sales. Sales are part of marketing, but marketing isn’t really a part of sales.

And with so many companies and people trying to sell stuff online, there has emerged a very large cottage industry of “digital” marketers. I even label myself as such depending on who I’m marketing myself to. My background is that of traditional marketing, however, which is a completely different field. During the years by running an online business, I’ve learned all there is about digital marketing as well, and even have certifications in it, for whatever they’re worth.

You’ll see a lot of familiar names, especially if you hang out on LinkedIn, such as Neil Patel, Larry Kim, Gary Vaynerchuk and Neal Schaffer. What you’ll also notice in these people’s bios is that they’re speakers and authors as well(and quite well-paid consultants). Their names always appear on the “must-follow” and “most influential” lists of marketers.

But that’s misleading. And that’s because you have to know what marketing really is, which most people don’t. They think it has to do with sales and advertising. Which it does, but that isn’t what it is.

A good example is this article that landed in my inbox which is “21 Questions to Ask before Implementing Marketing Automation.” It begins with a SHOCKING! statistic that less than 10% of companies have implemented automated marketing. That’s most likely because they aren’t talking about marketing. It’s “Sales Lead Software.” The sales department would be handling this, not marketing. Marketing for the product/service was primarily done long ago when the marketing plan was being executed. This whole article is geared more toward sales, not marketing, but it has “marketing” littered throughout it.

Marketing is about satisfying people’s wants and needs in, hopefully, an innovative way. Doesn’t have to be innovative, but in a competitive setting like business it should be to be successful. And there are lots of innovative ways to go about that task using the internet. And within that space, these folks are pretty good at marketing. Themselves. To people that are also looking to reach a large target market, like they do with themselves. This is where it begins to get blurry.

Traditional marketing consists of market research using any number of tools such as surveys, interviews, focus groups, and so on to determine the size of the target market, the interest in the product or service and associated features, and whether there’s even a market at all. A detailed inspection is done with regards to the environmental aspects that surround the product/service, such as governmental/regulatory issues, geographical issues, technological, political, and competitive factors that need to be considered. Usually, a great amount of data are collected to analyze using multivariate testing and regression analysis and the whole affair is heavily quantified and then manipulated and many, many complex Excel spreadsheets are created with lots of graphs and charts to illustrate the findings. This is what CMOs and highly-paid consultants do for companies, and what you learn to do when you get an MBA like I did. And you can dive even deeper, like I did, and concentrate in marketing strategy.

Contrast that with digital marketing, which consists mostly of getting followers, “likes,” getting people to engage with your blog posts, and sign up for newsletters and email lists. It’s really more “sales” than marketing. Hubspot, which has become a multibillion-dollar company by helping small businesses market themselves, specializes in “inbound marketing,” as it’s commonly known, but in fact is a series of sales tactics. It also involves SEO, which is simply staying on top of best practices to rank in Google’s ever-changing algorithms.

The people mentioned earlier are adept at leading people down the sales funnel via trial and error of growing their own personal fan base over the years, but likely have never spent much time actually studying marketing, per se. They are charismatic, and have good sales chops, have found their niche, but would have a hard time telling you what a p-value is used for. What makes these “marketing influencers” money is speaking gigs and book sales, and not so much bare-metal marketing.

For me personally, I’ve found it’s best to be versed in both traditional and digital marketing. Digital marketing is a supplement to traditional and is a valuable, and I’d even argue necessary, set of tools in ths day and age. It’s sort of rare to find that set of skills as I look around, however. Thus the 2 separate worlds of marketing that are developing. Universities don’t teach digital marketing. It’s something that changes too quickly and involves trends, dynamic coding, writing skills, design and schools simply aren’t agile enough to properly equip anyone to be effective. And the digital marketers don’t typically mess with the academic world of traditional marketing. You might find a few people that happen to have an MBA or a Masters in Marketing, but it’s usually just coincidental.