It can be really hard to launch a product in a space you're not known for. If you can't talk to your consumers, you might not have any. The days of making something and releasing it in a vacuum are gone.
NOT FOR RESALE
I’ve been taking guitar lessons to improve my music theory on the fretboard at my local guitar shop, a Taylor authorized reseller for years. This week, instead of an Epiphone Firebird, my instructor had a Taylor solid body with “Not for resale” stamped on the back of the headstock.
Apparently, Taylor decided to pull these solid body models from the product line and gifted 2 per lesson studio to top resellers as a way of clearing out stock of models that aren’t selling.
This should have happened first, not last.
What’s really alarming is that Taylor has been making these solid body guitars since 2007 and gone the path of putting them in stores, putting them in traditional print magazines, but not really broken into the awareness of the regular consumer as “a Taylor electric is a legitimate option for me.” Equally scary? That Bob Taylor, founder, is quoted as saying he wasn’t interested in making an electric guitar but changed his mind when his staff showed him their better electric pickups. I would have rather they quoted Bob as saying something like, “We always wanted to make guitars with the best materials and craftsmanship and focused for almost 40 years on acoustic guitars. It wasn’t until someone could show me a better pickup made by using better materials that I realized it was time for a Taylor solid body.” Note: On the Taylor web site this point did get across. It didn't make it across in the online reviews.
This strikes me as a problem with the go-to-market strategy for the Taylor solid body line. It’s true, Taylor has an amazing reputation for acoustic guitars and semi-acoustics like the T5 - but solid body guitars were a stretch for Taylor, with almost no solid body reputation, no solid-body artist sponsorship portfolio and no placement in player's hands.
I’m sure Taylor had a product launch strategy, but I would have attempted to put the instruments in the hands of players first.
HOW TO FIX THIS
Glossing over the details of this work,
I would have done consumer surveys, not proposing a Taylor electric, but asking people what they shopped for when they shopped for their first good electric guitar. What model did they buy? Why? How did they find it, where did they read about it? What makes it good? What are they looking for in their next electric?
I would have done reseller surveys. What models do they sell the most of, and what what price points? Double, single cut, humbugkers, single-coils, stop tailpiece, tremolo? Get the breakdown on the biggest sellers. Then, get the breakdown on the biggest non-Gibson / non-Fender sales. Parker Fly? Line6? PRS? Compare that with the clone LesPaul / clone Strat / Tele sales.
Determine the cross-section between these two data sets. What do people say they bought and why, versus what sells.
Put the models in the lesson rooms before product launch, as a soft-launch, just before NAMM. Provide almost no information, no spec sheets, let it be a mystery. Leak it to the bloggers. Build some buzz. Then, at NAMM, press release, announcement and put it in the hands of journos. Tell them you have XYZ number of resellers around the country who have been using them in lesson rooms with ABC number of students for the past month and the difference is huge - there’s both a “we’ve vetted this in the marketplace” and a “Taylor supports music education” message here, that by putting consistently good instruments in the hands of young players, you remove the major roadblock of a bad instrument getting in the way of learning. Speaking of bloggers and traditional journalists, this is one area Taylor got right for the release of the solid body series.
Support young players? For students who are taking lessons at an authorized reseller, you subsidize the purchase of a Taylor solid body. The benefit? Strengthen the partnership with your dealer network. They get lesson fees, they get people to keep coming into the shop each week. Taylor gets to have the solid body model presented as “by the way, I know you’re looking at these other solid-bodies, but the Taylor is available if you’re taking lessons here.” The risk is that someone signs up, buys at the discount, and quits taking lessons. But it means more guitars in the hands of more players overall - this isn't a bad thing.
Artist sponsorship. Go back to the consumer discovery interviews. Who are the people who responded listening to? Who are the people taking lessons listening to? Who are the electric guitar heroes who don’t have a guitar that is uniquely associated with them solely? The artist sponsorship department does an amazing job with acoustic artists. The sole electric artist is Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, and he plays Taylor acoustics and acoustic-electrics.
Price the Taylor lower than it has been. Taylor solid-bodies are priced at $1300-$1998. That’s on level with a Gibson LP Studio. You’re entering a market that is unknown to Taylor. Price lower initially and raise prices YoY. Rolex was originally a tool watch priced at $300. Rolex raises prices YoY and now retail at $7000 and more. Or, create the 1600 dollar model, subsidize it for the student, but also make a lower dollar model without the inset top (really, an inlaid flame maple top, which I first confused for photo-flame!), without the frills, nickel plate instead of chrome, made in Mexico - what is the Melody Maker of the Taylor solid body line? What is the Squier? It’s okay to issue only premium pricing when you’re king of the hill. Right now, this is uncharted territory for Taylor and it appears as if Taylor is ceding it.
Build one model initially, based on the consumer interviews. There’s no sense in building one of everything.
Build a model based on a crowd-funding pre-order exercise with some limitations imposed - base price with a few upgrades or options. Let people choose to pre-order and run it like a kickstarter campaign. Potentially run it on kickstarter. The goal will not be to “fund the development of a Taylor guitar” - the goal will be “fund the development of a guitar made by guitar fans - This is your guitar, part of a two-way conversation between fans and guitarmaker, not a traditional “we make, you buy” relationship.” Crowd-funding pre-orders vet the development so what’s built translates into sales, or at least enough sales to fulfill the pre-orders.
Where is Taylor on the Van’s Warped Tour? Excellent job on SXSW. How can Taylor do more of this? How can Taylor do this for other music festivals in the US and UK?
I can’t promise my approach would have delivered different results, but my plan would have definitely built things people have proven to be interested in, and definitely put them in the hands of players.