Updated: Jan 21
We wrapped up our final day at this year's NAMM show and our ears are still ringing. Not necessarily because it was the loudest tradeshow we have ever been to (it was), but because of the resoundingly positive response we received from manufacturers and musicians we talked to.
This is an interesting industry. Many manufacturers do not sell direct. It's always been that way, and consumers are conditioned to put up with it because "this is the way it has always been".
The technology and innovation going into instruments can only go so far. Sure we saw some guitars with slightly different shapes and designs but they all essentially consist of the same tech. A neck, pickups, body, tuning pegs, some knobs, pickup switch, and a body. It's similar for drums. Aside from a few outliers like electric drum kits and some strange and frankly mostly decorative guitars, instruments don't change a ton from brand to brand.
So where are we going with this?
Well, with musicians having a huge amount of options and very little distinction between product, there is a massive opportunity for brands and manufacturers to set themselves apart. That is by making their product easy to buy.
A majority of these music industry manufacturers don't sell direct. Instead, musicians are sent on a wild goose chase trying to find the instrument they want. Their ability to buy that product is completely at the mercy of what their local shop chooses to stock, or what they can find online through a small handful of online retailers (Reverb, Guitar Center and Sweetwater) or desperate google searching.
Musicians we talked to specifically said that it's relatively common for them to find and purchase a competing product during their search. Availability, sales on product, and ease of purchase are all factors that greatly influence their decision. Exposing this would-be customer to these elements pre-purchase is a complete waste of marketing efforts.
Another trend that stood out to us was the impact of influencers on these musicians. Every single musician we talked to discovers a majority of their desired gear through influencers. This can be via musicians they look up to, youtube reviewers or a number of similar influencer channels.
The issue with that is this...that leads these musicians to hunt for a very specific instrument or piece of gear. They go to the brand website to go look up item specs and then are let loose to search the web for a very specific item. Sometimes the stars align and they can find that specific thing at a shop or retailer (being exposed to competing products along the way) but oftentimes they cannot find it.
One musician, we interviewed actually enjoyed "the hunt", as it was referred to, because he discovers (and often purchases) a new product along the way that he may have never even heard of. This is a huge risk to the sale for this brand. The rest of the interviewees found it incredibly frustrating, which is not a good thing for brand reputation.
In conclusion, music manufacturers have a tremendous opportunity here to differentiate themselves. First movers to sell direct are going to gain a following and a reputation for making their gear and instruments easy to find and purchase. Musicians told us that this gear "hunt" has always been part of the landscape, but that if a brand sold the product they were searching for directly on their website, they would buy it. Go figure...