Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World: How a Music Icon Can Keep Pace

When you think of playing a Fender Stratocaster, who comes to mind? Rock icons like Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix? Perhaps you might also picture yourself playing the one plugged into an amp at home or it’s the guitar you worked summers in high school saving for.

Few brands have a stronger connection to rock n roll than Fender. And yet, since the arrival of the Great Recession, sales are slumping and issues are mounting.

$1,500 guitars don’t fly off the shelves like they used to. In fact, there are fewer shelves for them to fly off, as the internet encroaches on music stores, just like many other retailers. Turns out, part of the magic of a Stratocaster is feeling one in your hands, which the internet cannot replicate, especially with lower priced models just a click away.

For those who would suggest the guitar icon needs to simply stay the course and wait for the economy to rebound, a recent New York Times article detailing Fender’s struggles offers an ominous warning, “It’s worth remembering that the accordion was once the most popular instrument in America.”

Here are the strategic issues outlined by NYT’s reporter Janet Morrissey that are limiting Fender’s growth: low cost foreign manufacturing, young musicians making music on computers rather than guitars, Wall St. investors derailing a recent IPO effort and most significantly, there’s a perception that Fender guitars made decades ago are better than those made today, which has fueled the high end resale market.

Engage Your Heavy Users

Fender certainly is not the first iconic brand to lose its way even among loyalists. So what’s a manager to do? Conventional wisdom might suggest connecting with aspiring young guitarists and expanding the customer base. Yet, the musicians most likely to spend $1,500 or more on a Fender are the ones who already have one or more.

In a similar way, when facing stagnant ratings and revenue, we sometimes will hear a station rationalize the use of billboards or television in an effort to increase the audience, when audience size isn’t the problem. Light radio users don’t drive ratings and never will. Instead, stations need more occasions each week from their best listeners.

After Starbucks’ extraordinary growth began to stall a few years ago, rather than continuing its plan to roll out breakfast and diversify into movie and music production and promotion, they changed course and redoubled their efforts to focus on their core customers who weren’t interested in those things, which cluttered up the store and actually made their daily ritual less enjoyable. Fender could benefit from a similar renewed focus.

When it comes to the red hot Fender resale market, they could create a certified pre-owned program similar to luxury car maker Lexus. Better yet, why should Fender enthusiasts need to pick between old and new? They should have both.

Italian eyeglass conglomerate Luxottica, which owns Ray-Ban and Oakley as well as retailers such as LensCrafters and Target Optical markets glasses as being an extension of your wardrobe and persona. Just like shoes, customers should have a pair of glasses for every occasion.

Fender can use the same playbook. With a worldwide distribution system, a passionate fan base and an impressive list of artists constantly on tour that help to promote their guitars, the pathway to growth is waiting to take the stage.

To learn more about how your station can focus on the listeners who matter most to generate more occasions and ratings with DMR 360, contact Andrew Curran, COO, DMR / Interactive.

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