Canadian Music Trade - In Depth

A 2020 Retail Refresher

This article originally appeared in the February/March 2020 issue of Canadian Music Trade magazine.

By Andrew King, Editor-in-Chief of CMT

It’s a common refrain among small business owners and managers – the idea that running a business can often feel like running in a hamster wheel. With your gaze permanently fixed forward, you’re doing all you can to maintain momentum and keep everything in good working order. Decisions are made and problems are solved as they emerge to keep it all running smoothly.

Of course, many are up to the challenge and even excel under pressure. But when all of your energy is dedicated to surviving, it doesn’t leave much room to thrive – to assess performance indicators, set and reset goals, and incorporate new ideas or approaches that can help the business grow.

The annual NAMM Shows are ripe with opportunities to do just that – to take a break from the daily grind (or at least the daily in store grind), zoom out, and take in educational programming from industry experts on the various facets of your operation. But funny enough, the hamster wheel analogy can be just as applicable to the shows, where there never seems to be enough time to check out all of the gear, connect and reconnect with your contacts, generate new business opportunities, and tap into some of the expertise on offer.

To help bridge the gap and share some actionable ideas in an easy-to-digest format, Canadian Music Trade connected with the presenters behind some of The 2020 NAMM Show’s most engaging and forward-thinking sessions.

How to Turn Website Visitors into Sales Opportunities

Frank Cowell, Online Marketing Expert & CEO of Digitopia

When it comes to MI retailers’ digital programs – the summation of your online presence and activities, from your website to social media properties to advertising, etc. – Frank Cowell says that many have adopted a “shotgun marketing” approach. As the name implies, it’s the idea of firing out unfocused, generalized content in hopes of hitting as wide a swath of one’s customer base as possible.

According to Cowell, it’s rarely effective.

In his NAMM U session on converting website visitors into buyers, Cowell presents a digital growth formula developed over 20 years of sales and marketing experience. One of the keys to that formula and achieving its desired results is the concept of “hyper-specificity” – narrowing in on one specific buyer persona relevant to your store and then creating experiences where all assets and activities exist to either solve a pain point or enhance a pleasure point for that group.

“I think there’s huge opportunity here for small retailers,” he shares. “Small retailers go beyond just the SKUs. The product is less about what’s on the receipt and more about what they’ve wrapped around it to tailor to their chosen buyer persona. There are so many ways to round out that buyer’s experience with the thing they’re in love with, and the physical product is only one aspect.”

The first step is choosing the ideal persona to focus on. It could be one you’re successfully catering to already but where you still see opportunity for growth, or it could be one you know you’re equipped to serve but haven’t yet attracted in a significant way.

“It’s important to start with the end goal in mind, so start with your buyer persona and then define the world they live in and how you can be a part of it,” Cowell continues.

Once that’s established, the goal is to focus your digital program on that specific segment and the relevant pleasure or pain points. Then, you get to things like content creation and SEO to bring those targeted potential buyers to your website, where you drive home the value you can provide them.

“Post about it, blog about it, make videos about it…” Cowell advises. And while the engagement starts in the digital domain, your progression should continue into the physical store. “So hold events on it, do lessons on it, cater your inventory to it… Go all-in on that combination and it will snowball. You’re creating a plan of progression to get that person from, ‘I’m engaged but not ready to buy’ to ‘I’m ready to buy, and ready to buy from you.’”

Cowell strongly recommends starting with one persona. “And we’re not suggesting you’re going to forever ignore the others,” he tacks on, “but what we see is people afraid to ignore any one buyer persona, so they end up doing a weak job of marketing to any one of them, and that means their resources aren’t being used very effectively.

“Hyper-focusing and going really deep on one group will be the best marketing you’ve ever done, and it’ll bear more fruit for your organization than the general shotgun approach that you think is working,” he says in closing. “If there are things that are working, keep at it, but if you’re looking to grow and take it to another level, you’ll see the best results in focusing on one hyper-specific audience and one particular pleasure point or pain point, and then going all-in.”

How to Create Effective Videos for Social Media

Jenn Herman, Online Marketing Expert & Founder of 'Jenn’s Trends'

These days, videos are an integral component to online promotion – especially for MI retailers, considering the audio-visual nature of the trade. In one of her two sessions at the 2020 show, online marketing expert and perennial NAMM U presenter Jenn Herman shared tips on how to create effective video content while minimizing costs and hassle.

“Retailers should consider creating videos for any message they want to convey to their customers or audience,” she begins. “They could cover frequently asked questions like business hours, how to enroll in a class, how to reserve something online… Or it could be simple tips and training videos like how to string or tune an instrument or recognize an authentic instrument from a knockoff. If it’s something you can answer for someone in your store or show someone how to do, it makes a great video!”

She identifies four general categories for videos:
• Brand Awareness, where you’re establishing and sharing info about your brand
• Relationship-Building, where you’re partnering with other brands or accounts to widen your network and build loyalty
• Educational/Informational, where you’re establishing credibility and expertise
• Promotional, where you’re focusing on a product or service, discounts or promotions, and ultimately driving conversions and sales.

As far as an ideal mix of these categories, Herman says it’s less about adhering to any specific ratio between each of them and more about ensuring that your brand-building, relationship-building, and educational content exceeds your promotional and sales-oriented content.

“You want to create plenty of content that pulls your audience in – things that offer them value or build your credibility as an expert or resource they trust,” Herman shares. “Then, when you have a promotional or sales-related video, they are more likely to respond to those.”

For those yet to test the waters of video, Herman notes that the essentials you need to get started are relatively minimal; in fact, the ground floor is a smartphone.

“We often get too caught up in the ‘need’ for all this equipment and then give up thinking it’s just too much to coordinate,” she says. “But all you need is your smartphone; it has high-quality filming options and records in high definition. Then you just have to upload that video to whichever tool you use for sharing. It’s that easy!”

If you want to up your game beyond that, for about $200 you can get a good tripod, simple ring light, and lavalier mics that plug directly into your phone for improved audio.

When it comes to your setting, ensure you’ve got a quiet, well-lit area. Natural light is your friend, so she advises putting a window behind the person holding the camera and having the object or person on camera facing said window for ideal lighting.

Herman also shares some general tips on creating effective video content. First and foremost, get right to the point. “Do a super quick intro – a few seconds max – with your name and company, then say what you’re going to cover in the video and jump right in! Or even better, list the video topic right away then give your name and company name. Don’t waste people’s time by rambling through the start or you’ll have big retention issues.”

Second, make it as long as it needs to be and no longer. On that note, she says video length can be optimized for certain platforms. For example, vids posted to Facebook should be over three minutes; Facebook Live videos, which offer a more direct and interactive connection with your audience, should be at least 10 20 minutes. Instagram posts go up to 60 seconds. Videos posted directly to your website should be one to three minutes. And keep in mind that all serve a slightly different purpose.

Finally, make sure you’re creating videos your audience wants – not ones you want to create. See which keywords are most commonly used in your niche or retail space (there are keyword search tools to help with this) and you can ensure that you’re dedicating your resources to creating content with the greatest potential impact.

Hey, Alexa … How Does Voice Search Impact My Business?

Mitch Joel, Innovation Expert & Best-Selling Author

According to a recent study from the University of British Columbia, one in four U.S. adults and one in five Canadians say they own a smart speaker. What’s more, nearly 30 per cent of smart speaker owners now use them to make purchases, and 30 per cent of all internet searches are done without a screen.

“Sometimes with tech, we have innovations that are kind of ‘wait and see’; other times, like this, there are inevitables,” begins Montreal-based innovation expert and author Mitch Joel. “We’re talking about this in the context of smart speakers, but the speech technology behind them is already out there in over three billion devices – it’s in our cars, on our watches, speakers – pretty much everything.”

To drive the point home, he notes that Amazon currently has over 10,000 employees dedicated to Alexa alone and thousands more positions they’re looking to fill.

But even with the mass-proliferation of this technology on these devices, as of now, it’s all on a sort of closed loop controlled by the few developers behind it with limited opportunity for outside input.

Because of that, Joel makes it clear that this particular session wasn’t intended to provide actionable takeaways, but rather forecast what’s to come and prepare attendees for how it could impact MI retail.

“Back in the early years of the internet, I was telling people,
‘You need to have a website.’ Then [Google] Search came and it was about capitalizing on AdWords,” he says. “Here, with smart audio and music merchants, the message is, ‘There’s going to be a landgrab here soon for people audibly asking about you, so you should know the landscape of what’s out there and what’s coming.”

Central to this is understanding that searching via voice and searching via text is inherently different. “If I wanted to find out right now if Steve’s Music in Montreal has the new Fender American Elite Jazz bass, I would type something like: “Fender American Elite Jazz Steve’s Montreal.” If I’m asking, it’d be, ‘Hey Google, does Steve’s Music in Montreal have the Fender American Elite Jazz bass?’ I’m asking for the same thing but in a totally different way, and as we know, search is currently optimized for text.”

Again, there’s not much retailers can do in this area for the time
being. If your company is big enough that it has its own account rep with Amazon or Google, they can be engaged that way, or you can use their automated customer service processes. Otherwise, you can develop your own voice skills for Alexa or Google Assistant, but that’s a significant investment and the return you’re likely to see in any case is limited.

As such, Joel’s takeaways are to first be aware of where your searches are coming from via your analytics tools. You can also speak to partners like or eBay about what they’re doing in this regard and how it could be of mutual benefit.

Finally, he recommends just buying and playing with this technology to get a grasp on what it can do now and what it might be able to do in the near future.

“Imagine how this could infiltrate the MI marketplace,” he enthuses, listing off things like speakers with built-in tuners, speakers that record lessons automatically and send the audio to students immediately after, that give notifications on when the class is done, that can work as a metronome… “There’s a lot of automation here compared to mumbling into your phone.”

He adds that building a voice skill for your business could be incredibly powerful and beneficial to the in-store experience.

“Imagine talking with a customer and just asking your watch or your phone if a certain product is in inventory,” Joel offers. “It’d be a game-changer in terms of not having to walk to the back room and killing the momentum of the interaction; there are just so many applications on the side of just running the business that make this very exciting.”

So while you may not be able to dominate the game in terms of voice search at this point, knowing where we are and where we’re headed will be a big boon as these doors start to open. And they will…

5 Community Events for Every Music Retailer

Tim Pratt, President of Dietze Music

In contrast to the many tech-focused sessions at The 2020 NAMM Show, Tim Pratt, the president of Dietze Music’s four locations in Nebraska, presented on the many opportunities and rewards associated with direct engagement within your local community.

“You can’t just hang your shingle and expect people to come to you,” Pratt stresses. “You need to be out there in your community showing them why they should. As a brick-and-mortar store, that’s the only way you can compete.”

Among the five examples he shared in his NAMM U session were the company’s participation in the Lincoln Children’s Zoo’s annual Boo at the Zoo trick-or-treating event and its permanent exhibit at the Lincoln Children’s Museum.

“One of the things we’re really focusing on is engaging that youngest generation – the three- and four-year-olds that might not come from a musical family or haven’t had much experience with instruments,” says Pratt. “These are the kids that are going to be coming into school and taking up an instrument, so getting them hands-on with music before they do has become a big part of our focus.”

Boo at the Zoo is a fun Halloween-themed event that brings out anywhere from 10,000 to 14,000 trick-or-treaters and their families each year. Dietze Music’s onsite set-up includes kid-friendly graphics mixed with the store’s branding, a photo booth with characters from Paw Patrol and The Incredibles, and a cool sound-activated lighting exhibit. In addition to the candy they hand out – which Pratt acknowledges is the biggest single expense of participating – they also give out coupons for a free kazoo that can be redeemed in-store. Of the 10,000 cards they print, about 600 are redeemed.

“There’s really not a huge cost associated with this,” he reinforces. “Where else can you go, spend this kind of money, and get 600 people into your store as a direct result? A lot of them may not even know what a music store is, so sometimes it’s like, ‘Whoa, this is cool! I didn’t know this existed.’”

The museum exhibit is a more permanent, year-round initiative and subsequently involves a more sizeable investment of resources. “That commitment isn’t for the faint of heart,” Pratt asserts. “It’s not particularly cheap, and there are about 180,000-some kids that go through every year, so it’s a wonderful exhibit and great opportunity to get our name out locally with that crowd, but we need a staff member there for several hours every week or two, and then this may not come as a surprise, but kids break stuff [laughs].”

Overall, though, he believes it’s been a worthwhile and rewarding endeavour. The store is frequently tagged on social media in relation to the exhibit and the visibility and goodwill it generates is palpable.

“Music is such a great connector,” he says about community engagement in general. “When we’re out in the community, we can easily strike up conversations with new people about their favourite bands or if they have a favourite instrument, and then hopefully turn them towards what we’re doing at the store. And it’s not just about the outside community; these activities are great for team-building for our staff and we can get a lot of different people involved, so we’ve been really pleased with what we’ve seen thus far and don’t plan on slowing down.”

For more on these or other presentations from past NAMM events, visit

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