Fender doubles down on in-house CRM as latest product launches target female players

Female players are key to Fender's expansion

Fender is expanding its in-house customer-relationship management (CRM) capabilities as it shifts focus from trade marketing to cultivate an inclusive community for both beginners and established players.

Evan Jones joined the 73-year-old guitar maker as chief marketing officer in 2015. When he first arrived, the brand had been concentrating its marketing efforts into trade and retail – a strategy he has jettisoned in favor of consumer-based storytelling that speaks directly to a wider, digital audience.

According to Jones, Fender has added nearly four million people to its social channels since 2016. These pages have been shaped to act as community hubs catering to first-time players in need of support and advice, as well as veteran jammers that enjoy content celebrating its rock ‘n’ roll history.

Jones commissioned Fender's first comprehensive consumer segmentation study when he arrived from sports cap brand New Era. The research found 50% of all new guitars in the last five years had been purchased by female players at that point – an insight he quickly set about reflecting in Fender’s branding and communications.

“If you go back in time, 10 years ago, [we featured] probably 70-80% male artists,” he said. “Now, it's probably 50% female. We're doing everything we can to support them, be it with equipment, social media content or concepts that they can be a part of.

“The last thing we want to do is to invite [women] to an experience they don't feel a connection with.”

The quest to make women feel at home in the Fender community has also extended to design. The brand launched a signature ukulele with the 14-year-old America’s Got Talent winner Grace VanderWaal, for instance, and has paid attention to female players’ desire for lighter, more colorful six-strings in its latest product launches.

Now that Jones has established a more inclusive Fender community of around 13 million people, he is actively growing his CRM team to establish a more direct relationship with those members. Fender has added “about 20 people” to its customer relationship division in Los Angeles, California – including the new vice president of CRM, growth, and media, Matt Annerino – over the last three months.

By identifying “what instrument you play, where you are in your journey and what your aspiration is”, Jones believes his brand can serve up targeting content more relevant to Fender players. And on a universal level, he hopes it will ultimately “elevate guitar in culture” once more.

The CRM piece forms part of Fender’s wider play to solve the guitar industry’s “abandonment issue”. Roughly 90% of first-time players give up learning the guitar in the first year, according to the brand’s research, so “if we can reduce that from 90 to 80% so that 20% make through, over time we can double the size of the industry”, Jones explained.

Fender is currently experimenting with education, personalization and experiential in order to improve both its customer data set and audience relationship outside of social and digital.

On the education front, it has rolled out Fender Play, a subscription-based online tutorial series that has so far taught 75,000 players the basics of guitar playing for $9.99 a month. Mod Shop, which Jones describes as Fender’s version of Nike ID, offers more experienced players the chance to customize their own Telecaster, Stratocaster and more online, while live events have been earmarked as key to building the Fender community further.

“Our next step is really looking at experiential marketing and connecting offline and online with communities,” said Jones, hinting that a Fender activation in the style of its Great Escape events could be planned for SXSW in Austin, Texas later this year.

“There are concepts that could play really well [to connect] emerging artists with new audiences,” he continued, “but also experiential moments where we can get people, for example, who have a shared passion around creating in their studios and their homes – bringing them together, letting them get access to artists, producers, others who can help them understand how to do it.”

Fender relies largely on its in-house team to carry out its transformation from trade-based to consumer-based brand, which, so far, has generated positive financial results. Jones explained agencies are pulled into the mix for projects and product launches (he chooses not to name these shops on the record), but the passion and sophistication of its audience demands a dedicated team of designers, copywriters, creatives and producers to create the bulk of its creative output.

“When I first started I gave our creative team two orders: make content that is as thoughtful as the products we make, and [make content] that artists would be proud to share and be a part of,” he said.

“We've learned along the way that when we get too ‘campaign-y’, and too focused on the advertising at the expense of the product or artist or experience, it doesn't work as well.

Or to put it another way: “If the consumer's normal bullshit meter is high, with music it's higher."

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