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  • Writer's pictureRande Vick

Music Retail In the Days of the ‘Rona

Updated: Nov 29, 2022

Marketing for Niche Businesses
Rande Vick Agency

Holy moly. Anything I can say about 2020 at this point is at once cliche and also, spot on. Like, if 2020 were a scented candle, it’d be an outhouse on fire… Still, it’s the reality we find ourselves in, and even the most devout optimist finds some holes in their game in the face of One-Hell-Of-A-Year, Nothing-Like-You’ve-Ever-Seen, Year-Of-A-Thousand-Curses, etc. Keep your chin up, but admit it - this isn’t the projection you had in mind last Holiday season.

If you’re in specialty retail, you know that the game has changed - and although you knew you had to up your ecomm game coming into this year, now you KNOW - you have to sell online to stay alive out there. Some of you embraced online selling years ago, making the transition an easy shift in focus, while others are revamping life as you knew it. Thrust into a world of tech speak that all comes down to what’s on everyones mind: How can I sell more when my doors are mandated to be closed, or customers are told to stay at home? I remain optimistic for those who have the agility and resilience to take life’s troublesome ingredients and turn them into some primordial pizza. To those about to rock Q42020, I salute you.

In the Musical Instruments Market, sales - which were projected to grow at a slinky .07% to 3% (maybe more, depending on the vertical), we are now staring down the barrel of a 2.8% slump (in the US). People are still buying fretted instruments, but they’re buying more of the entry level stuff than previously projected. Numbers in music technology are also encouraging as people find themselves with enough time to finally give home recording a go, or perhaps try their hand at creating a podcast (who doesn’t want to channel their inner Joe Rogan right now?). The next few years are projecting healthy growth (particularly in Pro Audio), but you’ve got to live long enough to tell the tale. Globally, China is on fire (not literally), taking the market lead on overall growth. In the US, we’ve watched Amazon flourish in the time of pandemia (Jeff Bezos is not complaining!), Big Box stores and those with strong online selling platforms taking center stage.

But let’s brass tack this. Are your online sales flying like an eagle, or flatter than the Earth in a tin-hat wearers YouTube feed? Are your doors open, but your aisles baron? Is your cash register collecting (apparently rare) coins or just dust? Look on the bright side, nobody has caught Covid-19 from a dusty cash box! Right?

Laughably, “Hey man, how’s your website?” Has become a strange pickup line used by digital marketers at trade shows, cold calls and salesly emails across this great nation. I’ve heard it a million times. And inevitably, the answer comes back, “it’s fine.” It’s like when Aunt Betty asks you how life is when you see her for Christmas dinner. “Fine.” Defacto. It might be true - most retailers have fancy schmancy web-homes that are up-to-date, state-of-the-art, and beautifully coded. But traffic? We rely on Reverb or something else for actual sales. Organic or paid search is given up to the big boys, and we are left to bicker with 2,000 like minded music shops over $.99. It is hard enough to get listings live online, let alone finding the time to actually market these individual listings. If we look at the case studies (like the one that provides a little insight into Sweetwater’s success and strategy by BrightEdge), and take an honest hard look at the way of the world, we will all draw the same conclusions. The bigs in our industry aren’t relying on Reverb for revenue growth. They’re making sure they’re showing up first where potential shoppers are searching for relevant information. And they’re making sure their content is optimized for search engines like Google and Bing.

Today, the term “SEO” (Search Engine Optimization) has morphed into a multifaceted beast that includes several disciplines (like paid search, social media, email marketing, blogging, retargeting, and a litany of acronyms that would put most start up tech companies to shame). Let me drop a freebie here: Google My Business (or GMB, as the hipsters say) just might be more important than your website. Boom. Google would rather give as much information as they can without actually bringing a wanderer to your website (unless, of course, you’ve paid for the luxury). But that’s just one thing on a list of marketing cards you haven’t had time to wrap your mind around yet because - even if you have a marketing team - everyone is swamped… In 2020, Google Ads budgets have been slashed in the US. Facebook and Amazon have fared slightly better, but they are down considerably over expectations. When everything is changing, and information is slow to show, it’s easy to throw up our hands in defeat. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The MI industry hasn’t had much to offer when it comes to SEO experts that specialize in the product offerings and unique value propositions we bring to the market. But rest assured, your competitors are staying relevant because they’re finding ways to get in front of shoppers first. The US SBA still recommends that “As a general rule, small businesses with revenues less than $5 million should allocate 7-8 percent of their revenues to marketing.” Most MI Retailers are not even close (most fall about 1.8%) - but the successful ones get it. You have to meet the threshold to see your ROI - and by the way, if you’re tempted to think of marketing as an expense, you need to change your mindset. Marketing drives sales straight to the bank. Marketing is an investment - and in 2020, it may be Thee Investment.

As you might know - I have the feels for this industry, and I hate to see good people and good stores suffer for lack of knowledge. And there is no shortage of information out there - some good and helpful, some gimmicky and gamey. And when you’re doing your best to keep your head above the proverbial waters, you may not have time to review it. If you need an assist, a pep talk, a few pointers or an entirely new website, hit me up.

If you’re finding that 2020 is pushing your success to new levels and you have met the challenges with suspiciously keen reflexes, you might just be a time traveler. Or you’ve been doing this long enough to value a rudder shift at high speeds. Either way, kudos! We’re all in this together, right? Let’s pull together for the sake of our industry and for the future rock and rollers who need you to be there when it’s time to fit that new Les Paul on for size. I believe what you do is important. Some might even say essential. Keep on keeping on, friends.

Let’s get there together!

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