Striking the Right Chord
Most agree that piano segment of our industry has been slower to embrace the Internet in general and social media in particular than other portions. As one MI professional said: “Piano stores are late adopters in general, which is a shame and a reason behind why they are suffering so much. Being too conservative, too slow to embrace technology, having this reluctance about new things has affected their business. They are definitely lagging behind the rest.”
One reason for this characteristic is likely that selling pianos online wasn’t initially as easy as selling a guitar or even a drum kit. “At first, many were happy to have a simple website, have their names in lights so to speak, with links to the manufacturers they represent,” says Yamaha’s Mark Anderson. “However, piano dealers have figured out that the public is getting all their information from the Internet. Secondly, it’s emerged as an important branding tool.”
Speaking historically, Anderson notes that 20 years ago, “everything was cut and dried” for the dealer: he or she knew the world, advertised in newspapers, put something in the Yellow Pages, and had seasonal sales. “But now people get information in an entirely different way, and you have to give your information to them in the ways they want it. Social media can’t be selling, it can’t work that way – it has to be what is happening at the store. You can promote something once in a while, but it has to be about the store.”
“Social media in general and Facebook, in particular, is extremely important,” says Gary Girouard of Kurzweil. “All you have to do is look at the percentage of customers on their smart phones chatting on it.”
Hailun’s Basilios Strmec launched a social media initiative with unexpected consequences. “Our Facebook [presence] has taken an unintended life of its own as we got business requests from merchants in South America, Europe, and even Africa without any additional [advertising or promotional] cost.”
What Works, What Doesn’t for Manufacturers
Yamaha has been on the forefront of social media, being active online for all their products, including their piano segment. They have a team that handles social media, but–significantly– their approach is a casual one. Anderson stresses that it can’t appear “corporate.” “Product pages are great for when someone wants to dig into the specs of piano or keyboard, but social networking sites don’t work like that,” he says. “It’s got to be something interesting.”
What’s interesting? Just one of many examples are exclusive videos of international artist Peter Baartman talking about his approach to playing certain songs (on Yamaha, of course). Another social media-made event was when district manager Dan “Fingers” Rodowicz played the Yamaha Tyros Keyboard at an Oakland A’s game: It was a Facebook exclusive before they moved it to YouTube for everyone else a few weeks later. “Now he’s not pushing Tyros ‘per se’ as it’s about playing in a ballpark,” just like Baartman’s is about playing – but product placement of Yamaha is effective.
When Elton John opened his “Million Dollar Piano” show in Las Vegas, Yamaha employed social media to stage a contest where two VIP tickets for the show were given away. “A goal of that campaign was to make the public aware of our dealers,” Anderson says. You could register online, through Facebook or Twitter, but you’d only get one entry. If however you went to the Yamaha piano dealer, used your smart phone to register via the QR Code (Quick Response barcode) on the posters promoting the contest, you could enter up to 10 times. “It was great because people went out to the stores and were waving their smart phones at the posters, and it got people into the stores.” The winners were flown out for three days at Caesar’s Palace, picked up in a limo, and provided backstage passes.
“We launched our Hailun USA Facebook page about a year and a half ago with the aim of strengthening our family of retailers,” says Strmec. “Hailun dealers have become a tight community with everyone seeking to service customers appropriately and supporting the overall advancement of the brand. It only made sense to us to offer Facebook as a platform for dealers to mingle and catch up on Hailun specific new and info.”
Strmec was pleasantly surprised when, “consumers also joined us and commented on photos or news bits, and it became clear that checking our Facebook site became part of the investigation process into their pianos.” They stay active with it: “We keep our posts relevant to everyone in the industry. Pictures of sales professionals in different markets, success stories, emails from customers, humorous anecdotes, and even interesting tidbits from other piano makers all find their way onto our Facebook page.”
From his perspective, it becomes equally important for the customer to identify the “feel” of a company, i.e. the way it communicates and the type of relationship it has with industry stakeholders along with the quality of the pianos. “Customers mark a well-established Facebook page as an indicator of a trustworthy company to purchase pianos from.” So it matters.
Kawai launched their Facebook page a year ago, and it is managed by several, including Tom Love. “Our site is definitely for the consumer,” he says. “We view it as another way to disseminate information to our customers.” The decision to jump into the social media fray was from an internal discussion and a desire not to be left behind. There were some initial concerns about customers going off on rants on the page, but “honestly we don’t get a lot of rants period, and are known for being proactive.”
Kawai knows that there are people who “live” on Facebook and “do everything they can there – and it’s good to be where the customers are. Having a YouTube channel is extremely important, as some people prefer YouTube and that’s another interesting part of the mix.”
“Facebook reaches a broad sector of the music industry market and new converts as well, including both our current market and the young people of our future market,” declares Mason & Hamlin’s Tom Lagomarsino. “Therefore, with a broad brush we are targeting dealers, retail sales associates, distributors, future potential dealers, and consumers who are interested in learning more about our company, products, current events, etc.” He adds that customers who already own their Piano Disc products can see and hear their new music – live and in high definition with videos, interviews, and artist profiles. “These new social media outlets transport our music and products to new audiences. It’s a way of keeping people up to date and current in one cost-effective and visually-stimulating fell swoop.”
Lagomarsino disputes the notion that piano manufacturers have less of a need to be active in social marketing. He says with Mason & Hamlin artists such as Jarrod Radnich and Brian Culbertson, they are using social media to “make the piano cool again” and reintroduce the appeal of “this incredible percussion instrument. Pianos are relatively expensive instruments; but when they are the center of a performance they also can command the most attention. The reach of social media for exciting video performances rivals and surpasses the most impressive traditional marketing campaign.”
Going forward at Mason & Hamlin, they will continue to highlight new music and product releases, promote artist concert dates, customer appreciation programs, and e-newsletters. “And we will be linking it all to our hi-definition videos of our products in use, and those who subscribe will enjoy being a part of our community and receiving the advantages of this integral part of our marketing plan.”
Schimmel’s Lothar Kiesche reports they are in the process of preparing a Facebook page. “Social networking is of immense importance for selling pianos,” he says. “In fact, this is just a new version of what has happened all the time. The Internet does not really change the selling approach, it just gives us another channel with its own set of rules.”
There have been trials and tribulations. Anderson admits not all social media campaigns work. He tells of one where they were counting down to a Yamaha event, and they were sending something about it every day. “Doing the analytic, we could see by the third day people were unsubscribing from us!” he laughs. “It was a small percentage doing that, but I pulled it right away. Now this was in the early days, and we learned to watch the analytics closely and see where the needle is moving… we also learned it’s important to have a post-mortem on these campaigns.”
They use Facebook successfully, engaging their customers. In April Yamaha posted this: “We’ve been getting into the new Facebook Timeline and found it’s a great way to share a little company history with you. What products or company history would you like to see us add to the timeline?” They got a big response from it with people requesting information about their products.
Frank West says despite preconceived notations of the Lowrey demographic, older baby boomers and beyond are active online. “We have plenty of older customers visiting our website,” he says. “Just from personal experience, I know a number of seniors who use Facebook to stay in touch with their grandkids. When you’re out and about, just look at the number of older adults with smart phones. And we had a group visiting our office here yesterday and at least a half a dozen were taking notes on their iPads.”
While appreciating the benefits of being online, and encouraging their dealers to dive in, Lowrey hasn’t gotten in the proverbial social media water yet, West reports. “We’re starting by encouraging it at the retail level to help them get people in the door,” he says. “For us, we haven’t refined our strategy yet. We see some manufacturer sites that are well crafted, and others that aren’t. Lowrey isn’t going to launch a Facebook page just to launch one. It’ll be well-thought out.”
Over at Bechstein, David Skidmore says that there has been more than one incarnation of their Facebook, most recently when it was reborn when they re-launched their new international website. “Facebook is for dealers and manufacturers equally,” he says. “Most of our effort in social networking is focused on consumer involvement. Certainly all of our social media efforts are strategic as we make every effort to bring more brand awareness of our products to the public. It is definitely a symbiotic relationship as to the success for all of us.”
The Big Picture
Yamaha’s aggressiveness includes embracing “old” media as well. “When we’re coming out of a marketing meeting, we’re looking at how everything is tied together. The banners on websites, Facebook and tweets should look like the ads in MMR.” They make everything available to their dealers including videos so “if they want to jump in the pool, they can get art work for anything we’re running” and include it in their social media messages.
West also advocates to consider social media as part of a whole: link it with an online newsletter, use it with Constant Contact, etc. “It builds awareness and can be a lot cheaper then placing a print ad.”
Girouard says it’s key for a manufacturer to monitor the information, make sure it’s correct. For that reason Kurzweil is active on YouTube. “I believe absolutely that getting as many product demonstrations out there as possible is important,” says Girouard. “It’s about controlling the information, and keeping the story authentic. If you don’t someone else will likely do it ‘for’ you and nobody knows your product as well as you do. You want the best quality information out there as possible, because with social media, that information gets circulated and forwarded.”
All agree on the importance of YouTube. “It is so ubiquitous,” says Skidmore. “One can get lost! However, whenever there is a noteworthy performance or announcement that our products are involved we most assuredly identify it on our website, and will pass along the link to all whom we think may be interested.”
“It’s important to have an active presence both on Facebook and YouTube. With the increasing popularity and reach of social media, it is a significant factor in our marketing plans. It’s a primary area of focus when it creates an affordable and simple tool to maintain our connection and forge new introductions and demonstrations of our products to a broad spectrum of people.”
“We do see an ebb and flow in popularity between the many different social networks,” says Skimore. “We actively monitor what we do as well as competitors, and follow the trends closely to determine where our efforts should be concentrated. Many of our dealers have very well thought-out web pages and depend on this communication for a large percentage of their success nowadays.”
Twitter appears less important to the mix. It seems suppliers who are on it have just linked it to their Facebook page and when they put something on that, it automatically tweets, too. The exception to this is Yamaha.
“We do Twitter differently, use a different methodology,” says Anderson. “To be honest, that’s one of the areas that needs to be looked at especially carefully. It can be time consuming because if you’re doing it right, you should be adding stuff to it on a regular basis. But a lot of people use it to follow our artists.”
Encouraging the Dealers
“At our annual Mason & Hamlin Dealer University, a part of our curriculum for the last few years has been a social media sales & marketing class,” says Lagomarsino. They teach participants how to immediately leverage the resources of social media to their benefit and that of their customers. “We teach feasibility, ideas, examples, statistics, trends, and walk them through a step-by-step processes for integrating their businesses into the social media framework.”
This can be just the fix for a domestic piano industry’s relatively small budget for traditional marketing. “Necessity is the mother of invention and properly managed social media is a cost effective way of reaching more people in a more focused means than traditional media methods.”
“As a dealer you might see your business tap into new customers,” Strmec says. “A word of experience in handling it though: initially, we restricted access to our Facebook account to the digital communications manager. While this initially made sense, we found that communication needs to flow faster. So we gave everyone on the front line access to our account and had trainings on how to use Facebook. This has led to much more vibrant and interesting site than we had and has been part of our satisfaction with this new way of communication.”
West says that their Lowrey dealers find Facebook a bit of a mixed bag right now – some are very interested, some see it as shallow and hype. But “it’s time to evaporate the hype around Facebook and show dealers that it is a valid marketing tool. So we’re encouraging our dealers to pursue social media. This business has always been about the more people who know who you are and what you do the more you can get them involved [in music making].” He says one of their dealers has 4,400 contacts from social media. “How many of those people joined an organ class and stepped into the program?”
“We encourage our dealers to do anything they can online,” Love says. In many ways social networking is more suited for dealers than manufacturers because they can create communications between them and their community about recitals, lessons, and other events going on at the store. He cites one Kawai dealer, Lacefield in St. Louis, as one doing a good job with their online presence. “They have fun with it.”
“Today, I know some of our dealers have really great things going on that, especially on the education side,” Anderson says. I see some have teachers and students social networking, which is great.” But he does admit that sometimes whether or not a dealer is active in these areas is directly related to whether or not they have someone on their staff savvy about it. “But the ones that aren’t using social media, should be.”
“We work with our dealers to bring them up to speed, creating a lot of video, a video brochure, a dealer web kit, and other things,” Anderson says, adding that they set up dealers so “surfers don’t leave their site, but everything appears to be from them.”
“Facebook today is critical but who knows – it might go the way of MySpace,” says Girouard. “We’ll see how making the company public affects it.”
Strmec too points out that the future is unclear, as is Facebook’s preeminence. Yet, Hailun is “sure that the desire of consumers to stay connected to each other will not wane. As a manufacturer it is an invaluable to be present and active.”
Kiesche adds that rather than a matter of if or if not social networking is important, what’s important is how it’s used to complement the work of dealers and manufacturers. “Social networking is important and will continue to be,” Kiesche says. “It will be another of several communication channels to reach customers and dealers.”
“The future of Facebook is unclear, and who knows where it will be five or 10 years from now,” agrees Love. “But for now it is the dominant one on the block. Just go out in public, ride the subway, and look at what the kids are doing – they are online as they walk down the sidewalk. So this stuff is ingrained into the fabric of our culture at this point.”
“Going forward, social media’s importance is only going to increase,” Girouard adds. “It’s just really important to have a social media strategy now. It doesn’t matter if you’re a musician, a piano store, a manufacturer, a distributor – it’s vital in our area because of the sheer number of people using it. We as an industry have to go to where the people are. I will add that I do see an evolution toward smaller, more focused networking. You’re already starting to see the younger generation using [platforms] other than Facebook,” and be more interest-specific. “That would be much more valuable.”
“Yes we think it’s here to stay and we are likely just glimpsing the tip of the iceberg,” says Lagomarsino. “The statistics in favor of social media marketing are astounding and show growing relevance daily. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media venues present an opportunity that did not exist 10 years ago. It’s not for everybody, but for those of us who have experienced the benefits, it’s an exciting medium that presents excellent potential for the future.”
“We live in a constant environment of change,” says Skidmore. “The key is to be on the forefront of our ever-changing marketplace. We must be ever vigilant as to what are the key inducements to purchasing our products at any given moment in time. Every successful manufacturer and dealer can attribute much of that success by their ability to adapt to the changing demands of the consumer. We have no doubt that shopping habits will continually evolve. Social networking will certainly evolve as well. Into what, no one knows. But we love the many ways that we all can display our wares in the marketplace of today.”
Making Social Networking Work – Piano Dealer Edition
“I think Facebook pays off in a new and special way,” compared to traditional marketing, says Charlie Ollmann of The Music Connection. “We put up news and specials and try to keep our regular customers in tune with what’s going on in the store.”
Ollmann, president/CEO, opened his “mom and pop neighborhood guitar and school band store” in 1981 with his wife, Barb. They have grown over the years and now have two locations, the main one in Forest Lake (Minneapolis/St. Paul area), and a piano showroom in Edina, Minn. They are a big Yamaha dealer, carrying “every products in their main lines.”
The Music Connection first built up an extensive email list, and today they have 7,500 customers who receive something from them about three times a month. “It has to be something worthwhile, because we don’t want people inundated,” Ollmann says. “Some of my vendors email me stuff every three days! And that’s too much.”
Their Facebook page has over 500 friends and they keep it active. Within a couple of weeks, they posted a note about Yamaha piano rebates, a shot from the local paper of Ollmann himself at a wienie roast, something about a Yamaha special financing deal, a coupon for their store, and a shot from of them at the Minnesota Music Educators Clinic. Social media, with email and their web page, has pushed their traditional ad costs down 40 percent. “When we do a big event and see someone new in the store, we ask him or her how they heard about it and more and more it’s an e-blast of Facebook, and that’s helping our bottom line.
A challenge is they are a full-line store, so have a variety of customers, the one looking at new pianos are usually quite different then the ones looking at pro sound systems.
Ollmann has had his Facebook page for two years, and has a sign in the store to encourage those who come in to “friend them.” They also have a button on their website. They haven’t done a contest or give-away to get that number up yet but he says they are very likely to do one in the summer. Ollmann, a professional pianist who plays out at dueling piano gigs, also let’s musicians and people he meets that they should “friend” his store.
While Music Connection has someone in-store who handles the majority of all their on-line needs, he personally handles most of the Facebook stuff. “We try to post something twice a week.” And all of it is positive: acknowledging that some stores choose to weigh in on the political or social issue of the day, he stays clear of any of that. “There’s no ranting on our Facebook sight,” he says. “It’s our whole philosophy of the Golden Rule: treat people as you want to be treated. We don’t talk bad about competitors or products we don’t carry. If one of our customers has a big gig or has put out a new CD, we try to promote them. We’ll put up the occasionally funny bit that pertains to music.”