top of page

Part IV – How to save Gibson in 10 Steps... Marketing is a lot more than advertising

Saving Gibson

In parts I, II and III, we focused on processes that Gibson can adopt to build strong products and messages that will help them compete and grow. In this article, we focus on marketing; identifying segments that are likely to grow, processes to understand user needs and how to build effective communication.

Sixth Priority- Marketing Can Grow The Business- When They Know Who To Target

We’ve already covered segmentation from the product side and now it’s time to consider those same groups from the marketing perspective. In customer-centric organizations, marketing has access to customers and views into online behaviors, channels and language and they usually share customer relationship management with sales and channel management.

There’s no way to know which way Gibson’s research will go, but we already covered the ‘I Loved Gibson in My Youth’ segment in Part ll. Let's continue to imagine logical segments and see if we can help Gibson identify other markets where growth opportunities are likely:

Potential Market- Country Music

  • County is one of the few guitar-centric music styles that is steadily growing.

  • Although Gibson’s acoustics are well positioned in country, Fender dominates the snappy long scale electric guitars that are the core of articulate and bright styles.

  • However, modern country also incorporates rock (especially southern rock) tonalities- the thicker, fatter, warmer tones that Gibson is known for.

So it would be logical for marketing (in conjunction with product) to meet with a wide range of country musicians to talk about their needs. Targeting middle aged, semi-pros (to get a large, well-funded sample) Gibson could pitch a few ‘strawman’ concepts to get the conversation started.

For example, Gibson could take a page from the PRS handbook and pitch an electric model that provides a reasonable mix of snap and thickness. It would probably need to be long scale (because it’s easier to remove ‘snap’ than to add it) and Gibson has an extremely narrow inventory of long scale guitars. As a result, a well positioned long scale country model should be well differentiated from the rest of the Gibson portfolio.

To get started, marketing could ask users to imagine a long scale, flat top, L5s body guitar with a maple neck, rosewood fretboard and three Firebirds pickups (Gibson Firebird style pickups are used by many guitar makers for exactly this purpose- it’s one of the few pickups that has articulate snap as well as growling crunchablity).

Adding an easy to use, Fender-style, five-way switch provides logical positions for standard and ‘quacky’ tones and four wire pickups could be offered as an upgrade for PRS-like coil matching. Add a piezo loaded bridge (as an upsell for acoustic-like tones) and you have created a small, easily priced and understood family of guitars.

For this exercise, we’re asking users to imagine something like the baby of these two classics:

Fender Nashville Telecaster, Gibson L5S

Marketing could then develop a few more concepts, convert the thinking into a tight powerpoint presentation and take the research on the road.

Starting with 20 volunteer focus groups, hosted by guitar shops across the county, marketing’s goal is to use the concepts to get prospective customers talking. The data we’re looking for is clear:

  • Overall user response

  • Preferred channels and language

  • And most important, anticipated value (projected by collecting competitive and parallel histories to triangulate quality and price ranges)

Add in a few trade shows and some online test messaging to get more data and we’re ready for next steps:

  • Prototype the two winning concepts and get those instruments back into the hands of a random sample of the musicians who participated in step one.

  • And assuming one of the concept prototypes receives highly positive feedback, reconnect with your focus groups to lock down keywords and values.

  • Build the roll out story and set clear Key Performance Indicators.

One of the last steps is the one that Gibson often starts with; put the winning offering into limited production. The goal for this step is to gather massive amounts of feedback and confirm that the chosen KPIs accurately predict satisfaction and Return On Investment for this specific offering.

Assuming that ROI is strong, it’s time to tighten up and sustain the offering using customer centric development processes we discussed in Part II and when all of this is working, it’s fine to fire up the PR machine.

There’s another logical step to invest in the future. If data is collected and managed well, it is relatively easy to look backwards to identify focus group attendees who predicted the winning horse- Take the time to deep dive into their working knowledge and instincts and give them incentives to participate in future research.

Keep in mind that focus can groups never stand on their own. If you feed them garbage or leave them to go their own way, focus groups can be counterproductive. However, when you find someone who strongly represents a key segment, considering naming the segment after them and invite them to join an online Customer Advisory Board for future research.

Potential Market- Females

Once again, Fender (as well as Yamaha and other guitar builders) understand the opportunities:

  • In a consumer survey across North America three years ago, Fender found that 50 percent of new guitarists today are women.

  • The company has since sought relationships with female artists and highlighted women in marketing campaigns.

"From our perspective, the industry has actually never been in better shape"

“We are going after younger consumers. We decided, when I joined, that we needed to pick up the pace of product innovation, to abandon names of the past and invest in names of the future”

Fender CEO Andy Mooney

Wang, A, 2018, ‘Guitars Are Getting More Popular. So Why Do We Think They’re Dying? Gibson’s bankruptcy doesn’t tell the whole story about the future of the instrument’, Rolling Stone, May 2018, .

First steps are easy:

  • Do the research- Learn female musician needs and begin the customer-centric development processes discussed throughout this series.

  • Avoid misogynistic images that position women as non-musician objects.

Consider the potential ROI for integrated, sustainable interaction. Imagine:

  • Making a central resource for everything musical for women everywhere- from youth to professionals.

  • could be a moderated, interactive forum where Gibson’s female employees mentor and teach- investing time and content to build Gibson loyalty.

  • Marketing could easily use this forum to collect data, contact information and build relationships with highly targeted prospects.

Imagine the potential ROI for a wide range of events and activities like these:

  • Build content calendars to regularly publish rich, easily searched content that is heavily integrated with internal events and external opportunities.

  • Sponsor regular onsite webinars and events where Gibson funds competitions and winning musicians win Gibson accessories and guitars.

  • Support multiple Gibson themed bands across the globe, supplying guitars designed for women, to local groups to gather feedback and build an image base.

Perhaps most important across all segments, Gibson needs to create a clear sales path that maximizes customer total lifetime value:

  • Start by projecting Customer Life Time Value for key segments- estimating the total profit that Gibson could make from an individual persona across their life time.

  • A reasonable next step would be focusing on high CLV prospects who rarely buy Gibson (let’s assume women for this discussion)

  • Prioritize current costs based on highest projected life time values- For this discussion, let’s assume acoustic guitars have the highest life time potential for women, followed by bass and electric guitars.

In this case, let’s break down messaging for this segment into steps:

  • Female oriented acoustic messaging would be a high priority- ie “This is a great starter acoustic for you because…” list attributes that meet needs here.

  • Provide a clear path to more advanced instruments- “If you have mastered chords and are ready for slinky blues, add this all mahogany, concert style guitar for incredible, mid-rich riffs”.

It may not be necessary to heavily invest in alternative branches, but Gibson needs to make sure that a complete path is prepared and easily accessed:

  • “If you’ve mastered acoustic and ready to move into a band, did you know that bass holds the band together? If the rest of the band plays a C and you play an A, then the chords becomes an Am- Take a look at this short scale, light weight bass if you’re ready to expand your horizons.”

  • Or “If you’re ready to move into classic electrics, this lightweight SG, with a small neck, is perfect for AC/DC to Lynyrd Skynyrd.”

  • Set long-term expectations- “Start saving for this custom shop Hummingbird; at the rate you’re progressing you will be ready sooner than you imagined.”

These examples should make it clear that CLV isn’t rocket science. However, the long-term impact can be negative or positive, so models need to be closely monitored.

Customer Life Time Value is also an extremely useful metric if Gibson would like to use loyalty programs to grow segments:

  • By identifying total CLV, Gibson can identify current investments that are likely to pay off over time.

  • Imagine a loyalty program, where current purchases build points that provide discounts on future purchases.

  • In this case, if acoustics are associated with higher CLV and Gibson wants to strengthen that association, then acoustic purchases could generate more points than equivalent electric purchases.

  • Or do the opposite if Gibson needs to grow the electric market; all of this depends on the strategy that Gibson chooses and the data they collect.

CLV is one of many tools that Gibson can use to better understood customer opportunities and reinforce narratives.

But keep in mind that a realistic narrative is the center of customer experience.

Incentives and offers will only work when Gibson knows exactly who they are targeting and can build messaging and paths that resonate- What they need to do is exactly the opposite of scattergun messaging where generic spam and popup ads confuse and disoriented prospects.

Potential Market- Acoustic Guitars

One last obvious market, Gibson has been very strong with their classic acoustic lines. However, acoustics have been heavily encroached by Taylor, Martin (and many smaller companies) in the mid and upper mid range while high quality boutiques like Lowden and Olson are happy to expand at the top.

Perhaps the best opportunity for Gibson acoustics would be the reorganization of Gibson electric lines as we have previously discussed.

If Gibson reduces the wasted effort and confusion across their electric offerings, they could invest more in acoustic mindshare development and branding.

And just in case you missed some of those questionable Gibson electrics:

Gibson Alternative Designs

Unusual Gibson models- Is the ‘Inverted V’ even playable?

At this point it should be clear that Gibson needs to figure out where they are going, they need to build segment specific customer roadmaps, start collecting data and rebuilding their narrative.

And once again, it should be clear that Gibson has tremendous opportunities in practically every direction if they place the customer front and center.

We still have a few interesting opportunities left to discuss- Coming up next, protecting dealers and employees, changing attitudes and building leadership.

And let’s talk about acting as informed consumers who can help Gibson focus, because we can!

So what do you think? What’s your perspective on Gibson and the guitar market? Looking forward to your input because we learn from you!

Have you noticed that we’re finishing up a series on products and marketing and have yet to mention CRM, Marketing Automation or other technologies?

The reason is simple; Product, Marketing and Sales processes need to be established and adding value before systems and automation make sense- Learn more at:

Michael Stierhoff is the Chief Customer Officer at Lighthouse Marketing and Business Solutions; helping Lighthouse customers grow their business by better understanding their customer’s needs.

Perhaps more important for this article, Michael is the Chief Cook and Bottle Washer for the where we help guitarists “Find Their Perfect Sound’.

Continue Reading:

bottom of page