An Evaluation of Web Strategy in the Musical Instrument Business

Crossposted at the Heavybag Media blog.

With NAMM taking place over the weekend and several of our clients in the musical instrument business, I thought it would be appropriate to evaluate the participation level in social media and web strategies of musical instrument companies. (Disclosure: a few of these companies are Heavybag Media clients, noted below.)

As part of this evaluation, we have set up a site bringing in RSS feeds from as many musical instrument related companies we could find at (a reference to an Arthur O’Shaughnessy poem) using Sweetcron.

Many corporate websites are becoming irrelevant, serving as static brochures. Visitors are expecting more than just information and positive spin. Social media, blogs, syndicated news, widgets, and videos are just some of the ways these companies are participating, along with a new approach to sharing and conversing with customers. Using the network effect of social networking sites allows content to be more discoverable than being on an island (aka, your website). More searches are happening on YouTube than on Yahoo (Google being first place). For this reason, along with zero bandwidth costs to you, there is no reason to not have your brand’s content on YouTube.

The Musical Instrument industry (including makers of brass and woodwinds, guitars, basses, drums and percussion, keyboards, synths, pianos, recording and effects, live sound reinforcement, DJ, karaoke, and all related accessories and educational products and services) is using a variety tools and tactics to execute their web strategy for marketing and customer contact. They can be classified into 12 areas:

Newsletter/mailing lists with a public news archive

You can tell these companies have been using the web to engaged with their customers for years, because at one point newsletters were the easiest way to reach out to customers, back when sending and managing e-mail was easier than posting a blog. I would still recommend both newsletters/mailing lists and blogs to make content available in as many formats as possible. Feedburner allows publishers to be notified of new posts by e-mail.

Bias: news, press releases, newsletter
SKB Cases: news and mailing list
AKG: mailing list, news
Sony: mailing list, press releases

Newsletter/mailing lists with no public newsletter archive

You need to sign up for the mailing list just to see if any news is happening. This strategy means that there are fewer pages for search engines to spider, and then other sites have a better chance of receiving search traffic about a companies’ product, like Harmony-Central forum.

Ovation Guitars (Disclosure: Heavybag client)
Dean Guitars
Dipinto guitars
Gretsch Drums
Toca Percussion
LP Percussion
Steinberg Software
Roger Linn Design

Hosting Forums

These are a great way to get search engine queries from users that helps them find answers to product questions saving companies repeated support inquires over time. They do take some time to manage, but they are a great way to show customers that you are listening and willing to help. Several of these brands below are with the Harmon Group.

Fishman: news, forum
Jackson Guitars: news, forum
Lexicon: news, forum
Digitech: forum, news
dbx: news, forum
TC Electronic: forum (more below)

Using a blogging platform or good content, but no feed

This is coming from a good place, but for blogs to live in the blogosphere properly, they need to have feeds and comments. WordPress is free, runs on any commodity LAMP server. There is no reason to re-invent the wheel here. Although, there is one blog in my survey that seems to be using but has disabled the feed. This is no way to get people to go to your site. Allowing people to subscribe to your feed makes your content stickier. (Update: I spoke to Rick at PreSonus and he is now aware of the problem).

PreSonus: blog, YouTube

Blogs on Blogger, MySpace, or WordPress

These guys are seeing the light. In some cases, maybe it is a rouge employee in the marketing department who is living the “better to ask for forgiveness than permission” rule. It is really easy and free for anyone to go on to these sites, start a presence, and link back to the main site.

Epiphone blog, Twitter
BC Rich: blog
Jomox: MySpace (no posts yet), news and newsletter
Seymore Duncan: MySpace blog

RSS syndicated press releases

These companies understand the benefits of syndication. Both musicians and publishers looking for news updates and stories can subscribe to news feeds directly from the sources by subscribing to RSS feeds. This has less management headroom in comparison to having a mailing list. But some are just putting out the same type of content they have always put out: product launches, personnel changes, partnerships, and promotions. And these sites are not using a full blown blog platform so there are no comments or trackbacks.

Akia (with bonus Digg button)
Crown Audio
Monster Cable

RSS syndicated news and newsletters/mailing list

From an infrastructure perspective, these guys have everything covered. Some are also using social media. But some are not using blogging platforms, so there are no comments or trackbacks.

Behringer has a blog posts by Uli Behringer himself and three other Behringer personnel so far. It looks like they just started the blog in December 2008. They are also on Twitter.

M-Audio: news, newsletter
Moog Music: MySpace blog, YouTube, news (no feed or newsletter)
Native Instruments: news, newsletter

Blog on the company’s site, used as a channel to push promotions

These sites have a full blog platform such as WordPress, allowing comments and RSS feeds, but still the content is not helping or teaching potential customers. In some cases the companies are well-known companies in their categories. Maybe they think they can only push awareness of promotions, which may result in a spike in sales, but does little to help build a long-term relationship with their user base. Some posts are about events and profiles on organizations that use the companies’ products. Most do not have comments or have them disabled.

Taylor Guitars (featuring links on every post)
Ernie Ball

All of the Conn-Selmer brands have at least an RSS feeds on their news pages. Some have Facebook fan pages:

Blog on the company’s site (or on Blogger/, with content that helps or teaches

If a company is doing this, in my opinion, they have seen the light. They are using their brand’s influence to help their user base, teach them why they should pay more for finer features, and help them kick ass with their products after the sale. These blogs are also not afraid to put a face on the companies’ personnel. Some blogs have an actual byline from an person in the company.

Kessler:blog, written by the owner’s son
Gibson Guitars: MySpace, news, Twitter, YouTube
Dixon Drums: blog, YouTube (disclosure: Heavybag client)
Propellerheads Software: artist profiles, YouTube

Roland has 8 different content channels, all with feeds, and most with a newsletter option, each one for a specific market need. These include:

They certainly offer the widest range and best frequency of content if you count ever channel. Roland has a long history of content production with their RUG (Roland User Group) print magazines. They are also one of the only companies profiled here to have a support channel as content available in a feed. This makes sense since they are a technology company. These notifications are are mostly software updates. They specifically cater to the church musician niche with their Worship Connection content channel, offering advice on live sound that fits in well with their organ products. They have a link to Worship Northwest 2009, a conference sponsored by many audio companies.

The Best are using two or more: blog, forum, MySpace, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, Facebook

These companies have embraced the tools of social media. I don’t like the content style of all of them (some are too press release-ish), but they are going to where their users are. They do not need to reinvent concepts, and are fine using open source software or free web 2.0 services. Their blog content is decent as well.

ElectroHarmonix: YouTube, MySpace blog
Ludwig: MySpace, MySpace blog, Facebook, news, Twitter
Yamaha: The Hub: podcasts, blogs, and videos
Kaces: blog (disclosure: this is our client)
Rock n’ Roller Cart: blog (disclosure: this is our client)
Line6: news, Twitter
Reunion Blues gig bags: blog, wiki (a directory for touring musicians), Twitter, MySpace (disclosure: this is our client)
Sabian: news (no feed), forum, Twitter
Taye Drums: blog, community, Twitter, MySpace, Facebook

D’Addario bands have MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, and forums for most of it’s brands. They are listed on their community site along with a directory of sites that teach you how to play better:

TC Electronic has news across multiple categories available in one RSS feed, a forum, videos on YouTube, a Netvibes Widget, and a newsletter: news (on the home page), YouTube, Netvibes news widget, newsletter, forum, news page for the TC Helicon brand, and a Flickr stream. These guys really get it, and I think they are the best example of a company that is really participating in the social web, allowing their brand to be found across many platforms. I especially like how their news is part of their homepage. They understand that the context of their web presence is immediacy.

Newspage and newsletter/mailing list, no feeds

BSS Audio: newsletter and news
DM Pro: newsletter, news
Focusrite: newsletter, news
Mapex: newsletter, news
Marshall Amps: newsletter, news
Novation: newsletter
Peavy: newsletter, news
Soundcraft: newsletter
Sabian: newsletter and news
Zildjian: newsletter and news

Non-syndicated news page with press releases and/or collection of press mentions, no feed or newsletter, no forum

When companies can speak directly to musicians from their sites, why do they need to write a press release? It’s as if the only other place the musicians will read about new products is magazines and other niche sites. These news pages are written for them. There could also be content for end users.

Allen and Heath
Audix USA
Dave Smith Instuments
DW Drums
Fostex USA
Gibraltar Drums Hardware
Hosa Cables
Johnson Guitars
KRK Systems
Kurzweil Music Systems
Middle Atlantic
Nord Keyboards
OC Drum and Percussion
Ovation Guitars (disclosure: this is a past client)
Pearl Drums
Premier Percussion
ProCo Sound
Samson Audio
Sony Professional
Tama Drums
Ultimate Support

Some of the tools we use

For Heavybag Media clients, we use Twitter for “ambient awareness,” WordPress as a blogging platform, PHPList for mailing lists, YouTube for free video hosting and syndication, MySpace for demographic outreach, Google Analytics and Feedburner to track visors and subscribers.

Our Favorite Picks

We are happy to see Conn-Selmer syndicate all of it’s news. TC Electronic has done a fair job using social media and RSS syndication, and YouTube. Yamaha has not only great videos that help to educate customers on their products, but podcasts also. Roland has the richest and longest running content channels.

Comments and Suggestions?

If you have any suggestions on companies we forgot to include, corrections, or would like help with your web strategy, leave us a comment.

(photos by synthesizers, psycht, Squiggle, and TCElectronic on Flickr)

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