Digital Dilemma: Enthusiasm = Customer Loyalty
Many in our business bemoan the commodity mentality seemingly afflicting today’s consumers. The condition we helped create instills pessimism. We now view our CE careers, once labors of love, merely as paychecks. But there’s evidence that enthusiastic consumers exist. We need only look to other product categories for encouragement.
A market directly related to ours—music instruments (MI)—has maintained a large, loyal following of enthusiastic customers. Just walk into any musical equipment store / guitar shop and see buyers feeding their passions and the cash register. Amazing! It reminds me of the energy we felt during the 70s and 80s.
I was reintroduced to the MI channel in 2001. I‘ve remained a regular customer since. The burning desire of my (then) budding musician son reintroduced me to musical instrument shops. At that time our industry was already beginning its decline. A/V specialty shops were disappearing in secondary markets. Installed systems were starting to become more standard equipment for the well-off and less lusted after by wide-eyed music and movie enthusiasts. Then living in Connecticut, regular visits to Sam Ash, Guitar Center and several specialty guitar shops opened my eyes.
After a couple of visits, we were greeted by name in them all. The salespeople were all musicians themselves. They enjoyed a level of enthusiasm that was infectious—so much so that I’ve returned to audio recording and live sound engineering as a hobby and am anticipating the conversion of my home studio into a semi-retirement vocation. Having since returned to my home turf inMInnesota, the same kind of energy can be found in any musical instrument and equipment shop here too—any day of the week. When traveling, I explore guitar shops as often as I can. Not surprisingly, I find them bustling with activity wherever I visit.
What do music products merchants do differently? They focus on building relationships! They do their fair share of promotion, but there’s always a loyalty-building initiative to back it up—while our channel seems to resort to price, price and price. Music equipment resellers make real efforts to inspire “wanna-be” musicians and techs. Once connected, they actively engage with hobbyists and working artists at every opportunity. The music equipment industry makes it fun and inexpensive to get involved. They offer affordable starter kits. Both brick and mortar and online sellers orient newcomers via easy access to lessons and training events. Clinics, designed to help keep equipment and skill sets both maintained and improved, are regular occurrences. This may all sound familiar to what was once commonplace in hi-fi and video specialty shops. There are some real differences between the past retail experiences of audiophiles/videophiles and those of of today’s musicians and music techs.
The fundamental answer to the question is: The MI business makes efforts to instill passion in their customers to drive ongoing interaction. Marketers reference that as loyalty.
So, what are the differences between what music retailers have a long history of doing and what the consumer audio/video marketers have been doing? Let’s look at some of what I believe contributes (in part) to consumer loyalty for the MI business. By way of contrast, perhaps we can gain some perspective on how and why consumer enthusiasm has waned for CE products. Key to the conversation is people. I don’t believe you can find a clerk or salesperson in a music equipment store who is not a member of the tribe.
Whether they work in big box, small specialty shop or online resellers, I’ve found every one to be energetic with a sincere desire to share their passion for and knowledge of the products they sell. They all appear to be rabid enthusiasts themselves. That was once true in our business. I doubt consumers are hard-pressed find it true now.
Then there’s attitude. The music gear folks promote an inclusive culture. Somehow our industry came to misinterpret “exclusive” to define the creation of a customer base, rather than the rarity of some of its products. We developed a reputation for snobbery and seemed to expend a good deal of energy chasing novices or those with the wrong brand allegiances away.
We were (seemingly) bent on setting the bar for membership in our club as high as possible. Too make matters worse, those who made an effort to provide broader accessibility used the wrong marketing language. The focus on price and industry
jargon by big box and the web resellers killed enthusiasm for our goods. Meanwhile, the music equipment tribe continues to grow by creating loyal new members like me. Just something
to think about. •