Nieve Cavanagh, Fender’s EMEA Vice President of Marketing: Engaging with new musicians created during lockdown

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Today, we chat to Nieve Cavanagh, who is Fender’s Vice President of Marketing for Europe, Middle East and Africa. Nieve gives us an insight into the impact that COVID has had on Fender’s sales and the Fender Play programme. We also talk about ways to engage and retain the new customers created during lockdown.

Q: Do you think that the pandemic has created new musicians? Do Fender have any data to confirm this is the case? 

Absolutely!  We have seen an impressive increase of sales during the pandemic on both the physical hardware and digital product sides of the business.

When the world went into lockdown last year, we made the decision to offer people 90 days of membership to Fender Play – our online guitar, bass and ukulele learning platform – free of charge, no strings attached, purely as a goodwill gesture. It resonated and helped provide a sense of relief while people were stuck inside.  We hit the 100,000-user mark within 24 hours and decided to keep the offer going. Ultimately, close to a million people signed up globally – far surpassing our expectation. About 20% of the new users were under 24 years old and female users grew from 30% pre-pandemic to 45% with this new wave of players.

2020 was also a record year for sales and the best of our 75-year history with a marked increase in demand for entry level instruments, suggesting that there was a significant uptick in people picking up guitar or bass for the first time. We saw our beginner to intermediate level guitars like the Player Series and Squier Series models fly off the hooks and are still having a hard time keeping anything in stock. Models selling under £500 grew 92% from mid-March to mid-October and most of those were sold to beginner players.

Q: The Fender mission is to make sure that you support players at every stage of their playing career. What strategies do you have to ensure that the customers who have been inspired to pick up a guitar for the first-time during lockdown keep playing?

Research we conducted back in 2015 told us that 90% of first-time players abandon the instrument in the first year if not the first 90 days. Fender Play was launched in response to this insight and is specifically designed to reduce the abandonment rate among new players. Users can choose a learning path that suits their musical style and each lesson delivers a new skill in around just 6 minutes.  This allows players to learn at their own pace and see real progress quickly. There’s a large global community of Fender Play users right now, and it’s growing every day!

We’re using technology in other ways to support players too. For example, Fender Tune – an app available on iOS and Android – makes tuning your instrument super-easy, even if you’ve never done it before and it’s absolutely free. Late last year we also launched ‘Find Your Fender’  to help new players navigate the sometimes confusing market by asking them a series of very simple questions about their favourite music, tones and colours to match them with their perfect instrument.

Finally, we build marketing plans to be as inclusive as possible and shape our social communities to offer something for players of all levels. We recognise that people want to be inspired by some of the incredible artists that play our instruments and we make lots of great content to do just that, but we also build strategies around community to engage with people as they’re starting their learning journey or looking to level-up their playing. For example, there’s a Fender Play group on Facebook with over 50,000 members who do an incredible job of supporting each other as they build their skills and confidence over time.

Q: Do you have any tips to help retailers to make the most of this opportunity presented by musicians who have started playing during the pandemic?

The core principles of good retail still apply – engage with your customers, listen to what they want and respond to their feedback. The power of social media also goes a long way in connecting directly with your community and a targeted audience. Each brand or retailer has a special opportunity to create a message that is completely authentic to their community that also engages and inspires them. It’s important to offer them a great experience when they shop with you – give them a reason to come back!

Q: Vice President of Marketing for Fender is your first role in the music industry. What was it like coming into the industry from a non-MI background?

I love a challenge and learning new things is a real motivator for me, so I found it really exciting. I can honestly say that of all of the places I’ve worked, Fender has the highest proportion of people who genuinely love their job, are passionate about the brand and the products we make.  I’m nearly 5 years in now and I’m still being challenged and learning every day. I love our brand mission, I love the people, I love that every day’s different and I love the impact that the work we do has on the world. I’m very lucky.

Q: What are you and your team most looking forward to in 2021?

So much! We’re in our 75th year and we’re driving innovation and excitement in the market in much the same way that Leo Fender did when he kicked things off all those years ago. We have an exciting roadmap of incredible new products coming this year. We’ll have campaigns in-market year-round, meaning that we’re always busy planning one thing whilst delivering another. It’s never quiet at Fender! One of the projects we’ve been particularly excited about is the launch of the Chrissie Hynde Telecaster that launched in February of this year. Signature projects are always cool to work on and local talent gives it more of an edge – especially when it’s an icon like Chrissie. When fans see themselves in one of their admired players, it inspires them and opens up a world of possibility for their future in music.

Looking more broadly, we are looking forward to the return of live music and the world starting to feel a bit more ‘normal’. The past year has been tough for everyone our artist and industry partners included. We know how much joy live music brings to so many people, so we’re excited about the return of in-person events and experiencing the thrill of live music with friends again.