How Gibson Connects With its Fans Using ‘Storytelling’ Over ‘Content’

Every retailer has customers with varying degrees of knowledge of their products, and for legendary guitar-maker Gibson those customers range from curious amateurs to seasoned professionals. This has resulted in a customer base with incredibly varied experience and expectations for the brand’s instruments, requiring a smart approach that can meet each customer at their own stage of their personal musical journey.

“Whether you’re talking about guitars or you’re talking about toothpaste, you have those loyal followers,” said Josh Ehren, Global Head of Direct to Consumer at Gibson in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “For us, we have such an amazing fan base, and that fan base goes from‘I have never touched a guitar in my life, but I am deeply rooted in music culture’ all the way to the most amazing and world-renowned artists — and everything in between. That is a massive differentiation — between people who are maybe considering playing a guitar, to those who have been playing for a year or playing for five years, all the way up to our professional artists.”

Gibson is connecting with its fans across all expertise levels through a number of programs. Some of the key pieces of the guitar retailer’s strategy include:

  • Storytelling Over Content: Gibson offers a range of media devoted to every aspect of guitars, ranging from tips for hobbyists to discussions with celebrities, and it’s all aimed at providing customers with stories that resonate rather than boring, easily forgotten content;
  • Strong Retailer Partnerships: Gibson comes from a wholesaler background and considers its retail partners to be a key part of the overall customer experience, so it works with them to help support the business as a whole rather than focus on maximizing its own DTC sales; and
  • The Gibson Garage: Gibson’s flagship store in Nashville, Tenn. is devoted to supporting customers across all channels by being home to everything from live concerts to guitar experts who will provide remote advice on any purchase — even when the sale won’t be directly through Gibson.

Gibson’s retail side, which is primarily DTC, is a relatively new development for the company. The brand has had a website and ecommerce capabilities for years, but now it is accelerating its direct selling capabilities through its app, website and the Gibson Garage. Driving repeat sales across such a wide range of potential customers requires top-notch insights, which the retailer is getting through a partnership with Emarsys.


“It’s easy to sell a guitar,” said Ehren. “It’s easy to sell a motorcycle. It’s easy to sell a jacket. It’s easy to sell whatever you’re selling. It’s a whole lot harder to keep them wanting to play guitar, to want to keep riding that motorcycle, to keep wearing that jacket — and that’s where the work comes in. Ultimately, the thing that is most meaningful to Gibson is continuing to make music matter. That’s what it comes down to. If we stay rooted in that, and then we take all of these different touch points for all of our different types of customers — which again, we call our fans — we have an understanding of what is going to resonate. We can use data to help understand and then serve up the right type of storytelling at the right time.”

It’s About ‘Storytelling,’ not ‘Content’

Gibson’s customers may display all levels of expertise, but they all share the drive to improve — after all, that’s why they want to spend money on a quality guitar. Gibson’s digital tools and features are dedicated to helping them along this journey through a range of content and capabilities, and it all starts with accessibility.

“Our strategy right now is to use that to help our fans learn to play guitar, and/or become better at guitar playing,” said Ehren. “That, at its core, is what we’re here to do. The benefit of working where we work is we have every kind of person that understands what it takes and what the hurdles are. It can be intimidating to start something new — I don’t care how old you are or what you do — so we start with something as simple and easy to navigate as possible.”

Ehren noted that learning guitar is never a linear journey, and that many customers will pick up the Gibson app at different levels of comfort or interest, which has resulted in the company developing a wide variety of offerings. One result of this approach is Gibson TV, which produces free videos on a range of topics: interviews with celebrities about their first Gibson, guitar care tips and in-depth looks at the nuts and bolts of creating an instrument.

I really like to call it storytelling over content,” said Ehren. “Content makes it sound really dry. This is a deep, immersive element that we offer. I’ll be honest with you, when I came into the company I was watching [Gibson TV] and I went, ‘Oh my god, what is going on with this? These videos are so long.’ Then I actually looked at the data, and it was amazing to see how people are actually watching this start to finish. There’s magic in that and there’s magic in, most importantly, how that really resonates and how that connects with our fans.”

Gibson also is producing smaller, more personalized features aimed at helping shoppers find the exact guitar and accessories for their needs. For instance, because finding the right instrument is an extremely personal process, the retailer is planning on producing content that will give browsers a sample of what a given guitar will sound like in tandem with a given piece of equipment.

“We can actually take any type of guitar, plug it into different types of amps, pedals, etc., and we play so you can actually hear exactly what it’s going to sound like based on what style you’re looking for and what the product is,” said Ehren. “And we’re going to be doing more and more of that type of content because it makes it really easy and brings all of these decision points down to a manageable element, especially if you’re newer to guitar playing.”

Retailer Partners and In-Store Experiences Define the Shopper Journey

The aforementioned personal nature of guitars makes in-store shopping an important element of the process, and Gibson works closely with its retail partners to ensure that they also are providing a top-notch experience for shoppers considering buying a Gibson. As a result the retailer sees them as partners, not competitors, who share in everything both parties need to succeed.

“Traditionally, it’s an ‘us versus them’ mentality,” said Ehren. “That is the furthest thing from how we approach this. DTC’s number-one KPI is how it drives the entirety of the business and supports the integrity of the business. We have an amazing dealer network, and they’re truly our partners, not just a network. They are the arms and the legs that really help drive what the experience looks like for any and all of our fans. Everyone asks what the secret sauce is on how we work with them — it’s communication and coordination. It’s literally that simple, because we see them as partners.”

Perhaps the ultimate expression of Gibson’s emphasis on the customer is the Gibson Garage, the retailer’s flagship store. The space was designed to reduce the intimidation factor of walking into a music shop by putting an emphasis on making everyone feel welcome, with access to products at every price point and for all guitar players, from beginners to experts.

The store also has an experiential aspect, including a full-blown stage near a floor that can be cleared in as little as 15 minutes for concerts and a custom guitar shop where customers can choose the piece of wood that will be used to create their own instrument.

Additionally, the Gibson Garage doesn’t just help in-person shoppers. Anyone can call in and one of the experts on hand will walk them through any aspect of guitar shopping and care, even if the shopper is planning on buying from a dealer. The intensely personal nature of these purchases makes getting it right vital, even if that customer isn’t buying directly from Gibson.

“You take all of those tools that we have, and ways that we can connect, and that is truly a wonderful way for us to utilize in order to connect with the entirety of our fanbase,” said Ehren. “That’s really what it comes down to. If we’re able to engage with them and connect with them on an ongoing basis, it makes it a whole lot easier to keep them wanting to play guitar, to keep them rooted in music and understand the beauty that it offers to anyone and everyone.”

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