The July NAMM U Virtual Summit offered plenty of tips and advice for MI retailers, much of which is offered here.

It is well known that Summer NAMM could not take place in Nashville, Tenn., last month. But that does not mean the education sessions had to stop. With this in mind, the NAMM U Virtual Summit took place, with plenty of practical tips for MI retailers both during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as during a post-pandemic world.

Although some lessons can be learned from the past that can be applied today, we are “traveling down a tunnel and don’t know where the end is” regarding COVID-19’s effect on retailers, said futurist Doug Stephens, who on July 7 delivered the NAMM U Virtual Summit’s keynote address titled “The Future of Retail in a Post-Pandemic World.”

Stephens, known as the “Retail Prophet,” noted that the only real correlation to today was in 1918, when the Spanish Flu pandemic infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide. Although it struck with full force in 1918, it wasn’t until 100 years ago, 1920, until the economy tanked, noted Stephens. And it took five years to recover economically.

“This truly is unprecedented,” Stephens told NAMM president and CEO Joe Lamond during the online Zoom event. “Plan for the worst scenario. We do not know when the vaccine will come. It could be this fall. It could never come.” Pointing to the unpredictability of the current moment, Stephens posed the question “What if this is an extended normal and not the new normal?”

Hopeful, Lamond asked Stephens how MI retailers can survive during the period taking place now until the date a vaccine is a readily available.

“My assumption is it will be 12 months until there is widespread avail ability of a vaccine,” said Stephens. “The economy will run at 70 to 80 percent [capacity] during this time. This may not seem bad, but the problem is expenses cannot go down any more [for retailers].”

The Canadian futurist added that COVID-19 attacks businesses the same way it attacks humans, by seeking out weaknesses and looking for “underlying conditions.” But as a business, there are ways to fight back. One way is make appointments for customers to visit MI stores. “People who come to the store for an appointment are serious and closing rates are high,” Stephens said.

Another way to boost business is to tap into the entire world that is available not just for sales, but lessons as well. “Your market is the world now,” said Stephens. “You can have lessons with people as far away as Asia and Africa.”

Taking advantage of current trends is another approach retailers can take, he stressed. One is the need consumers have today for distractions from the negatives being posed by the world. “Music is a beautiful form of distraction,” relayed Stephens. “The good news is you are in the right category. You are not selling men’s watches right now.”

Confidence in online shopping is another major trend. “We tend to get mired in the now. COVID-19 has been a catalyst to drive music retail into the digital era,” Stephens stated. “It can be seen with online grocery shopping. Eighty-five-year-olds are now ordering groceries [online]. And a study revealed 63 percent of consumers said they will buy online groceries moving forward.”

Above all, MI retailers must make sure they do what they are best at, as opposed to trying to do everything for everyone, Stephens stressed. And retailers can no longer say their “business does not play well online.”

“Your value has to be crystal clear,” he said. “Consumers always wonder if they can get the same product online. You must specialize in an experience far and away better than what a consumer can get elsewhere.” Stephens cited Norm’s Rare Guitars as an example of a retailer providing a special experience. “It is all about the experience. I watch Norm’s videos all the time,” he said. “You have to be at the level of your game where you become notorious.

“Make customers feel they are part of your culture,” added Stephens. “Make them part of your brand. Indoctrinate them in it.”

Successful retailers and brands during the COVID-19 pandemic are ones that focus on the customer first and foremost, continued Stephens. “What can you do to make customers feel better instead of thinking about making yourself feel better?” he asked.

Although the world is of course suffering from a terrible pandemic, Stephens concluded on a high note, revealing that he believes the future looks bright for retailers post-COVID-19. “There will be a period of prosperity following the crisis,” he said. “People will want to reward themselves for surviving the crisis.”

In the meantime, look for opportunities that are presenting themselves now but may never do so again. The “Retail Prophet” cited the story of Adolph Zukor, a Hungarian who immigrated to the United States as a teenager and bought movie theater chains as they were dying during the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic. The move was a huge success, and he later became one of the three founders of Paramount Pictures.

“He saw an opportunity. There could be opportunities in front of us right now,” concluded Stephens. “It takes a lot of courage to lift your head out of the bunker [and make such a move].”

Knowledge Alone Is Not Power

The second day of the NAMM U Virtual Summit on July 8 kicked off with author Scott McKain, who discussed “How to Stand Out in the New ‘Next.’”

Although it is natural for people and businesses to simply try to get through the pandemic, McKain stressed that retailers cannot take this approach. “What we do now will determine our degree of success in the future,” the author of “Create Distinction” stated during the webinar. “The worst choice you can make is to hunker down and pull the covers over your face.”

Instead, McKain advised MI retailers to focus on why customers would choose their store versus the competition. “If the customers can see no difference between you and the competition, they have no choice but to choose on price,” said McKain. “What makes you stand out? … If we perceive ourselves as a commodity, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

To help MI retailers differentiate themselves from competitors, McKain presented the “Four Cornerstones of Distinction.” No. 1 on this list is Clarity. “You cannot differentiate what you can’t define,” asserted McKain, who was also a breakfast session speaker at The 2020 NAMM Show. “You must be precise about what you are. You must be equally precise about what you are not.” He added, “If you are exactly like everyone else, you are ignored.”

McKain advised MI retailers take three steps now to create clarity. The first step is to “create a clarity statement for every action.” “Be so clear about what you do that you can define it six seconds,” McKain advised. He offered the following example: “Steve Jobs said: ‘Apple is insanely good products.’”

The other steps are to “consider clarity in all your efforts” and “reconfirm with your customers/prospects and be certain they are clear on all aspects.”

The second Cornerstone of Distinction is creativity. “It is not about being different just to be different,” relayed McKain. “Creativity is about finding unique ways to serve your customers.”

The author provided an example of the Taylor family, founders of the Enterprise rental car brand, as a company that created distinction with its “We will pick you up” campaign. “Instead of having to go to get your rental car, they said they will come to you,” said McKain. “Jeff Bezos also did that. He said people do not have to go to the bookstore to get their books.”

When trying to differentiate oneself, McKain stressed that retailers should not try to do too many things at once. “Pick a single point where you will develop a difference and just do it,” he said.

Communication is the third Cornerstone of Distinction. “We are a culture of story junkies,” stated McKain. “It’s the single area of communication all age groups share. Everyone loves a great story.”

McKain encouraged MI retailers to write a story, but said it should not be about themselves. “Write a story about how a customer improved his or her life as a result of your efforts,” he said. “Create a story that hooks people. That’s what engages people. Make them the hero, not you.”

Customer experience focus in the final Cornerstone of Distinction. McCain advised retailers to answer the question “What is the ultimate experience a customer can have?” McKain stressed that the customer experience goes well beyond the MI store owner. “Customers could be thinking of an employee, not you,” he said. “Every person on your team is the CEO in charge of the customer experience.”

Unfortunately, retail employees do not always provide the best customer experience they can. However, they are much more equipped to provide a positive customer experience with proper training and strong messaging about what sets your store apart. “A fairly recent National Retail Federation survey stated that 70 percent of frontline employees cannot answer why customers should buy from their store instead of the competition,” revealed McKain.

McKain continued that retailers should do the following now in order to ensure the best customer experience: “Ask, ‘What if everything went exactly right? What specific steps do we need to execute to make it work this way? What are the roadblocks that prevent us from achieving it? And am I providing the tools for how it is done?’”

Simply stated, “the goal is the ultimate customer experience for every customer; for every prospect; for every time.”

“Whoever said knowledge is power got it all wrong,” concluded McKain. “If that were true, colleges would have the most power, which is not the case. It is the application of knowledge that is power.”

Video Killed the Radio Star

The NAMM U Virtual Summit shifted to another important topic with its July 9 keynote presentation of “New Marketing and Social Media Strategies for 2020.” This webinar featured a tag-team effort by Jenn Herman of Jenn’s Trends, known as “the world’s forefront blogger on Instagram marketing,” and motivational business speaker Larry Bailin, both veterans of past NAMM shows.

Bailin stressed that the fundamentals of how we market has not changed due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. However, businesses were unprepared once the pandemic hit. “Everybody’s got a plan until they are punched in the mouth,” said Bailin, citing a quote from famous boxer Mike Tyson. Although they may have been caught by surprise, that does not mean MI retailers cannot still make significant changes to improve their websites and social media platforms, Bailin relayed. “We have been given a rare opportunity to be great,” he said.

Herman has seen a lot of changes in social media strategies since the pandemic hit. She has seen companies who have hardly posted any updates for years subsequently offer plenty of posts. “The pandemic really heightened the need for social media,” she said. “People had time to be online and post as much info as possible, but that can backfire because it is too much information.”

Instead, Herman advised retailers to instead give customers exactly what they want on social media. “It could be education, entertainment or resources,” she said. “If the customer wants it, you need to give it to them.” Herman stressed that social media cannot simply be used as a way to sell products. Customer service is one big goal retailers must accomplish on social media. She provided an example of when she arrived at an airport in Canada, only to find her suitcase had been destroyed, including the wheels badly damaged. The only way to find a remedy for the problem was by contacting Air Canada on social media.

Live video on social media is extremely popular today and can pay great dividends for retailers as well, Herman revealed. “People are getting really used to it,” she said. “Use it as a way to connect to the audience. It is a great way to build trust with the audience.”

She provided The Music Store in Mesa, Ariz., as an example of an MI retailer doing mini lessons for its viewers on social media. “People are learning things from the mini lessons and will want to sign up for [full] virtual lessons,” said Herman.

Do not be afraid to ask people a question on social media and look for responses. She cited a post from Mrs. Miracle’s Music Room as an example of this done right. The post read: “Had fun playing ukulele with my 16-year-old daughter today. She taught me E minor and we played ‘Riptide’ and ‘Saturday Sun’ by Vance Joy. Have you been beginning or learning an instrument?”

Another great approach on social media is to create a Facebook group for your audience, which is not focused on selling instruments, Herman said. “It could be retirees in your town who may want to play instruments,” she noted.

Bailin added that retailers must adapt to changing times, not the consumer. “Building a following is critical,” he said. “Social media and podcasting are a great way to do so.” Bailin encouraged retailers to be proactive about building their social media followings. “You have to go and find people,” he advised. “You cannot sit with your fingers crossed.”

Picking up on the previous conversation, Bailin said video is expected to be 80 percent of all internet traffic by the end of 2020. TikTok is the hottest video product today, boasting 80 million users, including 30 million in the United States.

“TikTok is an amazing video editor and super-simple editing platform,” said Bailin. “It is a wonderful platform to create content. The videos you create can even be used if TikTok goes away.”

“Goes away” could either refer to TikTok losing popularity in the future, like the once-popular video platform Vine, or the possibility that the U.S. Government could ban the platform due to alleged concerns regarding the Chinese government’s access to user information. “The government could ban it, but until it does, use the crap out of it,” Bailin advised.

Picking up on TikTok, Herman said “bite-size” video content is really picking up steam on social media. Even if TikTok were to be unavailable to U.S. users, others will copy the idea. (Unsurprisingly, Facebook/Instagram already has announced its own TikTok competitor: Instagram Reels.) Herman also pointed to private video calls, augmented reality and virtual reality as trends that could change the social media landscape.

Overall, Herman recommended MI retailers “post with a purpose” when it comes to social media. “Do not wing it and hope it works,” she said. “All posts combined must meet an end goal. If you do not know that end goal, it is not worthwhile.”

In addition to social media tips, Bailin briefly touched upon website best practices. He noted that the prettiest and ugliest websites will get the same attention if nobody knows how to find them. Search engine optimization (SEO) is important if you want customers to find your website. SEO tools will help your web designers boost traffic to your website, and the content should be tailored to what people are actually looking for. Bailin offered a key point to keep in mind about internet search habits: “People are searching for the problem [on the internet],” he said. “Not the solution.”

But beyond that, consumers have little patience if the website does not load quickly. “Fifty-three percent of visits are abandoned if a mobile site takes longer than three seconds to load,” Bailin said. And he advised retailers to focus on mobile visitors, too, pointing out that about half of website visits are accomplished via mobile devices. According to Bailin, designing your website for mobile devices means the content should be concise, never providing more words than necessary to get the point across.

All of these factors together contribute to the user-friendliness of your website. “The most user-friendly website gets the sale,” Bailin said.

Above all, Bailin concluded that no matter whether it is material for your website or for social media, MI retailers need to see tangible results. “Do not do something you cannot measure in terms of revenues,” relayed Bailin.

Better Call Saul

The NAMM U Virtual Summit concluded its keynote speeches on July 10 with the “NAMM Young Professionals Keynote.” Featured was Saul Friedgood, president of Eastman Music Co. Friedgood took Zoom viewers through his life growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, and his early career there, including working for many political campaigns, such as those of former presidential candidate Walter Mondale, former president Bill Clinton, current presidential candidate Joe Biden and former U.S. Senator Tom Harkin. “Most of what I do today, I learned during that time,” said Friedgood.

However, despite having a strong passion for political campaigns, Eastman’s president learned how it is perhaps more important to learn about what you do not like in a job as opposed to what you do like. “I= had a feeling at work [that] I was doing something special,” he said. “But I found politics was not for me.” Backstabbing and a poor work-life balance were the things Friedgood did not like about politics and drove him from the field: “I saw Tom Harkin constantly flying to and from Washington [D.C.] and spending countless hours fundraising.” So, Friedgood moved on to other jobs, including ones at a software company and a packaging company.

“But at the end of the day, neither job gave me the passion to go to work every day,” he said.

Friedgood never found that passion until he met Qian Ni, who founded Eastman Music in 1992. The company began as a distributor and began manufacturing products in 1994. Friedgood joined Eastman in 2001. According to Friedgood, every day he wakes up with a passion for his work that is brought on by knowing Eastman Music is a huge family. “We are all working together to solve problems,” he said. “We are able to do things together and make mistakes together. We are doing things that make people’s lives better.”

Friedgood also proudly talked about the history of violin making, dating back to the “Golden Age” of the 1550s to 1750s, during the webinar, as well as the history of Eastman Music. “The very best ideas we have came from our customers,” he said.

The company has also acquired several companies to help drive growth. They are Wm S. Haynes Co., S.E. Shires Co., Backun Musical Services and Bourgeois Guitars. Haynes was purchased in 2004, S.E. Shires in 2014, Backun in 2017 and Bourgeois in 2019. “Eastman Winds is now a major company,” said Friedgood. “It would never be where it is without the contributions from Haynes and Shires.”

“We are called Eastman Music Co.,” Friedgood said. “But we should be called Eastman Music Family or Eastman Music Collective.”

Eastman Music now has seven manufacturing facilities and produced $60 million in sales last year. “We feel we are just getting started,” said Friedgood.

Eastman’s Music’s president concluded by offering advice for young people coming into the MI industry. “Try things,” Friedgood stated. “Ask yourself if you got your dream job in an organization, would it make you happy? Make sure you listen to yourself and learn from the experience.” And if help is needed, do not be afraid to ask. “The music industry is so collaborative,” he continued. “People are willing to take the time to help you.”

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