By: Bob Taylor, Co-founder and President, Taylor Guitars and author of Guitar Lessons: A Life's Journey Turning Passion into Business.
Question: Who likes a guitar? Answer: Everyone.
When I made my first guitar as a kid I was pretty proud of it. I was one of those kids you might not have noticed, because I was spending my time in woodshop rather than at dances.
I wasn’t popular; rather, I was a total dork. However, I emerged from that woodshop class with a guitar that I’d made and a desire to go forward with that as a career. There was nobody to guide me in the process. I was alone in that quest, but I jumped in anyway, starting a small shop with my partner, putting my hand to chisel, and soon began turning out a guitar every week or two.
Question: Who wants to buy a guitar from a company they’ve never heard of? Answer: Almost nobody.
I would show people my guitars and they’d like them because everyone likes a guitar! In fact, people were amazed when they saw my guitars. But for them to part with their money required a lot of confidence on their part. More often than not a person would admire our work only to purchase something with a brand name instead.
Building our Company Brand
A lot has changed since those days of start-up obscurity and lack of know-how. Today, Taylor Guitars is in the lead-selling position of acoustic guitars in the United States; we produce hundreds of guitars each day. Our company brand is well known beyond the borders of the guitar playing public, enjoying fans of all types. In fact, people know our company for many things: our business practices, environmental work, employee relations, local presence, celebrity players, as well as our guitars.
How does one go from start up to industry leader? In my experience is takes work on all levels. I like to think of it as a three-legged stool, which needs all three legs to be strong. Those legs could be thought of as Production, Sales, and Finance. But to strengthen each leg, you need to pay attention to more.
- Under the Sales leg: Marketing Planning, Company Branding, Public Relations and Customer Service.
- Under the Finance leg: Fiscal Responsibility, Customer Credit, Vendor Relationships, Employee Benefits and Community Service.
At the start, these numerous details were not on the radar, but certainly the basic three were. Without our focusing on all three areas of sales, production, or finance, we failed. It took dedication to achieve success in each of these areas as we sword-fought our way through the first several years of our company. We scored sales wherever we could, one guitar at a time, and made them one at a time, counting each penny as we went.
But with each year we strived to add detail to each of these areas to distinguish our corporate brand from other makers of guitars and to slowly build our brand.
Our first order of attention has always been the guitars, which remains true even today. Without a great guitar, sales are nearly impossible to sustain. But without sales, great guitars are never owned by players, and without profit, the whole idea of being in business is meaningless.
Differentiating Product and Brand
As Taylor Guitars matured with each year we began to indentify ways to differentiate our product and our brand from other players in our industry.
It’s important that you understand that your product and your brand play different roles. Your product is more narrowly focused; it’s the “hard” thing you sell. Your brand is the “soft” part; it’s what the company means to people. It’s also what people buy in to, apart from the product, and it is equally valuable. In fact, many people would argue that your company brand is more valuable than the product. Even the Bible says in the book of Proverbs, “A good name is more desirable than great riches.”
We started with the obvious, which for us was making guitars that played better and sounded different. I use the word “different” for sound, because sound quality is subjective. Soon, recording engineers and players began to use the word “better” when they described our guitar’s sound. We added electric pickups when it was unpopular to do on an acoustic guitar. Eventually the market came our direction, with nearly every guitar player demanding a guitar that played well and that could be amplified.
Today, we are the leader in that market, and it has become the largest segment of the market.
A few years after we learned to cover the basics, we began to build our company branding. We ran advertisements that were completely different than anyone else in the industry; those ads spoke to the feeling that people derive from playing and loving guitars. Those people began to like our company as well as our guitars.
We then extended that branding into our customer’s lives with our magazine, Wood & Steel, and with dealer events, festivals and factory tours. Hospitality became our middle name. Soon the spouses of guitar players understood what their husband or wife loved about their Taylor guitar, because they felt included as well.
From the food server at the restaurant who sees the name on our credit card, to the purchaser of a new guitar, from the wood-cutting families in India, to the printer of our magazine, from the customer to the retailer, to GE Capital who helps the retailer put more guitars in stock, we strive to serve and include everyone in our story and make it fun and rewarding for them. They love it!
With everyone on your side, it’s easier to succeed.
Bob Taylor (El Cajon, CA) is the co-founder and President of the world-famous organization Taylor Guitars which is based in California and employs over 550 people and is author of the book, Guitar Lessons: A Life's Journey Turning Passion into Business (Wiley, 2011). He has pioneered or helped develop many of the newer technological innovations used in acoustic guitar production today. From the moment he made his first guitar during his junior year of high school, Taylor knew that he wanted guitars to be his career; the passion that he exhibits for his products has largely contributed to his company's sustained success.