A Conversation With Fender’s Evan Jones On Going 1:1 To Disrupt CX + A No Rules World For Brands As Agents Of Consumer Expression

Marketing is continuing to metamorphize at never before clock speeds to keep pace with real-time shifts in consumer behavior. To succeed today, brands must have a laser focus on improving CX in ways that demonstrate a sharper understanding of their consumers, while also creating experiences that effectively reflect culture and offer opportunity for new types of engagement.

With that in mind, I recently spoke with Evan Jones, CMO of Fender Musical Instruments Corporation (Fender). Evan is a marketer who has spent his career finding innovative ways to intersect culture and commerce. We spoke about everything from the heightened need today for direct interaction with customers to help identify behavioral triggers, to the brand’s upcoming new campaign for its American Professional II Series. The following is a recap of our conversation:

Billee Howard: Let’s kick off with how the current environment has made marketers re-examine how customer experience and understanding should be framed. What are your thoughts? 

Jones: If you go back five or so years when I first arrived and really took on reimagining the marketing function at Fender, a lot of what we wanted to do was bring capabilities into the organization that would allow us to more directly connect with and engage players on a day-to-day, regular basis. Investments in content, artists, marketing, and really amplifying artists voices, have been essential to our success. Those things have done a great job in terms of bringing new people into the industry. But, probably one of the biggest investments we made four years ago, was to invest in building a digital organization that was going to create apps meant to accompany and support the player’s experience. The foremost app in that whole effort was Fender Play, the complete online learning app for guitar, bass and ukulele. When we rolled that out about three years ago, our number one priority was to reduce the abandonment rate and make it as easy as possible for someone to get started playing and stick with it. 

What it’s actually done is give us a tremendous amount of insight in terms of how people are playing, what they’re playing, when they’re playing, and what triggers are encouraging them to pick up the guitar in their normal week. We’ve also been able, as a result of that, to build a really strong subscription business. Fender Play is a monthly and annual subscription that we’ve offered ever since 2017. We have over 200k paying users and approaching 250k active users on the platform, and we continue to see those figures continue to grow over time. I think what that’s also shown us is, if we can find ways to reduce the barriers to entry, we can have a lot of success. 

Howard: How do you use data, whether it’s at a macro or micro level, to know who you’re targeting more intimately at scale and/or approach new targets? 

Jones: Two years ago, we invested in building a CRM organization, and a big part of that was to invest in data and analytics capabilities to more effectively market the apps and products. It was also important for us to build a more efficient and effective marketing engine that enabled us to better understand the preferences of our audience. 

I think we’re still in the early days of truly understanding what guitar players want and need; when and why. That journey is going to continue, but what we’ve seen in the last couple of years as a result of the data that we’ve been able to leverage, is the demographics of our audience has shifted pretty dramatically. It’s gone from an older, predominantly white male audience, to a much younger, more diverse audience in every sense of the word. That’s been both something we’ve proactively encouraged by who we target and the way that we approach them. That includes everything from the type of content we make, to the stories that we choose to elevate. So, we’re not just using the data side to reach out, but also leveraging it to create a brand that reflects and amplifies what music and culture look like today. The expansion of guitar from a diversity perspective has been profound and rewarding. It’s exciting to be ushering in a whole wave of new players, which is a major sources of growth and energy for us. 

Howard: I’d like to hear about the new American Professional II Series’ creative campaign you’ve launched, and if there’s anything about the strategy behind your approach that you’d like to share, that would be helpful to hear too. 

Jones:  I think if you look at what we’ve been doing the last five years, there’s a big part of our marketing offense that is the direct offshoot of our corporate vision, which is something that Leo Fender said to his wife not long before he passed. He said he believed “artists are angels and it’s our job to give them wings to fly.” For us as a company, it’s hard to think of a more eloquent way to state what we’re here for. 

With the American Professional II Series in particular, it’s the one that really sits in the broadest sense across the greatest number of artists, across the most diverse number of genres, than any other. For us as a brand, it’s our global flagship product line. We’ve spent years talking to artists to understand what the subtleties and nuances are that they want to help them play better. 

Howard: That’s an incredible vision. Thanks for sharing that. It’s so authentic and powerful at the same time. Is there anything in particular you wanted to talk about related to the campaign itself beyond what you just shared? 

Jones: We’ve been a movement for 75 years and don’t really use taglines, but because of the American Professional II Series and because of the sheer number of artists, the tagline for this campaign is The One.  For All.’  It’s certainly a statement in a bigger sense about the unifying power of music. What we’re hoping to accomplish is not only showcasing the breadth and diversity of the Fender brand and the guitars, but also introduce players and people to new artists they may have not ever met before. I think that’s where the artists that we’re choosing to work with come into play. Everybody from Steve Lacy to Ashley McBryde to Orville Peck and more. At this point in time, there’s probably never been a better moment for that message to be delivered.

We felt that this was a really important product line and we wanted to bring in a really talented partner to help us articulate the message. We enlisted Wieden+Kennedy Portland to help us bring the ‘The One. For All.’ concept to life. To celebrate this spirit of never settling for the status quo, “The One. For All.” campaign amplifies new artists who are breaking conventional rules about the path to success —changing what it means to be a musician right now, and in the future.  Billy Bob Thornton is the narrator for the hero spot, which is intended to show the incredibly diverse range of what’s out there. For context, Billy has had a Fender tattoo going back twenty plus years. We hope that the overarching takeaway of the spot conveys that with anything, particularly music, there are no rules right now. In a time when everybody’s facing uncertainty, what’s really important is finding ways to express yourself.

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