Author: Donna Stone

Donna Stone is an MBA candidate at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. She is dual-specializing in Strategic Marketing and Services Leadership and Supply Chain Management. Previously, she worked in Marketing and Logistics. Her interests include hiking, talking, and traveling. Her favorite animal is the panda bear - she hopes to one day travel to China to see the Giant Panda at the Wolong Panda Reserve.

Learning Global Marketing Lessons from Fender Guitars

Richard McDonald of Fender Music shows slide of Jimi Hendrix

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work for a brand that claims the highest market share in every market it enters? Richard McDonald, the SVP of Global Marketing for Fender, knows. He grew up worshipping Fender, and now he not only works for it, he lives for it.

At the April AZIMA meeting, McDonald informed us that Leo Fender wasn’t a guitar player; he was a brand innovator, committed to his product, and willing to interact with his customers to ensure their passion was also his passion. He drove the business by letting his customers take the wheel, supplying guitars to musicians and crafting new models from their feedback.

McDonald presented us with three lenses of the Fender brand: protect, evolve, and transform.

  1. Protect the brand by creating compelling products
  2. Evolve the brand to create profitability and operational excellence
  3. Transform the brand to engage and grow the customer base.

As a company, Fender demonstrates these lenses by keeping its products relevant, engaging its customers, and daring to dance along the edge of innovation. McDonald urged daily customer interaction to enable the brand to do what it should do: reflect the customer. Staying relevant in such a dynamic landscape is difficult, but if you tell your story well enough, you don’t have to worry about your customers having misinformation.

For example, Fender decided to address negative online chat room buzz in an unorthodox way by inviting the seven loudest influencers to visit Fender’s headquarters. While there, these individuals received a firsthand view of the brand and the people behind it.

This visit demonstrated the value of interacting with customers and the impact of receiving immediate feedback. It wasn’t about who shouted the loudest; it was about having the right voice- that of the customer. If you can’t relate to your customers, you can’t solve their problems. And if you can’t solve their problems, your brand is destined to become a “what not to do” case study for MBA students.

Throughout the presentation, McDonald emphasized strategy. Not a brand strategy, not a digital strategy, but a customer strategy. No matter who your customers are, you have to know them, relate to them, and listen to them.

Technology today makes it both easier and more complicated to interact with customers. It grants instant access to feedback, while increasing the touchpoints along various channels of communication. More channels equal more feedback, which equals greater opportunity to either win customers or lose them. The use of technology shouldn’t be “checking the boxes,” it should be about putting your customers at the center so they can help you transform your brand to stay relevant.

From their first Telecaster® prototype in 1951, to their current position as one of the world’s leading marketers, manufacturers, and distributors of musical instruments, Fender has amplified the musician in all of us. They have consistently proven it takes more than just a big sound to be successful. That’s why Fender continues to hit the sweet notes by staying relevant, engaging their audience, evolving their products, and sharing their passion- one string at a time.