Everything Right With Fender Play

Aug 5, 2019

As a quick foreword: here are a lot of bad loyalty practices out there and it’s easy to point them out so we can learn from others’ mistakes. But, how about a little positivity? Can we focus on the good and learn as much from success?

Fender – or Fender Musical Instruments Company, if you prefer the long version – launched an app in 2017 called Fender Play. In a moment, I’ll describe why this is an awesome loyalty tool. But first, we’ll need a little background…

The Business – Fender, like its competitor Gibson, faces a series of unique business challenges. The manufacturers make money through new players buying lower-end models, business deals with schools, licensing and accessory sales. And while both brands have huge fan bases that love the higher-end models, the fans and serious musicians can’t endlessly accumulate guitars. Most of these customers already have a guitar or two (or ten) and have run out of wall space. So in order to tap into this base, they introduce new models regularly, hoping the players will buy new equipment, swap out the old and send the used equipment to the secondary market. For the most part, this model works brilliantly.

Supply Chain Impact – The catch is that guitars are delicate and expensive to ship. Plus, there’s a lot of small town America out there. Distributing inventory one or two items at a time can make it not worth it for the buyer. So in recent decades, guitar manufacturers have required minimum carrying inventory and upfront purchases to officially distribute new equipment. This is fine for large national retailers like Guitar Center, but for the oodles of small town music shops (the ones most likely to supply your local school) it was simply unaffordable. This made room on the shelves for unique craft guitars like Luna, or any of the international manufacturers trying to get into the lucrative U.S. market. On top of that, online competition has shuttered many of these smaller shops. In the end, the right supply chain solution may not have been the best market stability strategy.

Marketing Expense – Car dealers, Disneyland and Fender have something in common: the intervals between purchases are so long that it takes a lot of marketing in between purchases to keep reminding you to come back to them. Think about all of the car commercials you see marketing a purchase you make once every five to seven years on average. Musical instruments have an even longer purchase interval.

Fender Gets it Right with Fender Play – Fender introduced the Fender Play app and web portal to be the epicenter of the user experience. It’s filled with desirable features for those at any level of musical talent: lessons in multiple formats, new product information, tutorials on how to use the products and more. Let’s go into each aspect of the program one by one and pull out the principles that apply to loyalty:

  • Reinforcement. The single most effective thing any marketer can do to drive additional purchases is to not throw out a new offer, but to remind them of the good choice they just made and invest in making sure they get the most out of their purchase. Fender Play makes it easy for you to find information and video tutorials and puts you in touch with a community that can help answer questions, giving users more chances to reach a successful journey.
  • Community. Did you just make a purchase or join a tribe? An elevated sense of reciprocity and status in that community has huge sticking power among many segments. There is so much interaction between Fender Play and the guitar community that you truly become a member of a group with a shared set of values.
  • Exploration. The user is encouraged to meander through the site, exploring genres, tools and toys alike. If you’ve been on Sephora’s website, you know it drives a similar wanderlust that encourages creativity and engagement. This is a very different experience than the all-too-often applied approach of forcing the customer through a common linear path.
  • Engagement. The notion is that you can keep taking lessons and interacting with the community. This is not only fun, but it also solves a huge problem… the average guitar buyer purchases a new guitar once every five years (which is a very generous estimate), but the extra marketing and community program makes the amount of times a customer thinks about Fender jump from every few years to every day. Each expert video is another chance for Fender to show the player how great they can sound with a little more practice… and perhaps a new guitar wouldn’t hurt either.
  • Vested interest. All of that advertising between purchases gets flipped into something the user is actually paying for (impressions per user went through the roof). Make no mistake, this is a paid loyalty program, but in the end the user gets as much out of it as they put into it. Both parties are equally interested in making sure the user has a great experience.


Summary: Remember that supply chain story? This, plus many other cultural and economic factors, has led to a decline in small town music stores. Fender is doing everything right to engage their existing base through Fender Play, and they’re also investing in creating new generations of musicians – growing the market itself and driving in store and online demand alike. This kind of innovation is vital to a company’s success, as they leverage loyalty to solve a significant business issue.

Well done, Fender. You did it right.

Read more of our thought leadership on loyalty with a strong community here.