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Telling Stories using Data with Fender Director of Growth, Strategy & Analytics, Cliff Kim

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Cliff Kim | Interview

Cliff’s storied career has included stints at Yahoo!, ESPN, Live Nation, and now Fender, where he’s the Director of Growth. His focus has always been on analysing digital behaviour to improve the consumer experience — in fact, this has been a passion of his pretty much since he was at college.

At Yahoo!, Cliff explored how they could use data to increase their traffic and create more demand, whilst his work at ESPN centred around adding new audiences and welcoming different demographics to the channel. Cliff first moved into the music industry at Live Nation: helping the company make it easier for consumers to discover new bands that they might like.

He is currently looking at how Fender can leverage data to help the next generation of guitar players. With his expertise and the collective team’s help, the digital business has doubled in size over the last few years.

At his core, Cliff is a digital storyteller. Data without a story means little — it’s just a bunch of numbers on a sheet. However, in the right hands, it can provide truly game-changing insights.

What is Fender? 

Fender is the ultimate place where people can learn, play, and perform the guitar.

Leo Fender (the great American guitar inventor) said: “Artists are angels and it’s our job to give them wings to fly”. There are 2 sides to this. The first is that we give them the instrument (i.e. we sell guitars on our site). Secondly, we’ve also developed a teaching platform so that they can begin to truly master their guitar-playing skills.

We’re working to craft a new generation of guitar performers and players. However, our mission is even bigger than that — put simply, we are dedicated to creating more music in the world (not only through Fender)… As the saying goes, all boats rise together!

Our executive team is at the heart of this. They have a truly customer-first approach, which is key in making the magic happen — even when it comes to the data side of things. Once you start seeing raw data as actual people, you can then begin to make a real difference to the end consumer.

What role does marketing automation play?

Learning guitar is hard and takes time. Most people give up within the first 90 days so keeping them motivated is key.  

We spend a lot of time working on our customer lifecycle, trying to figure out how we can continually communicate with them and keep them motivated. It’s a hard formula to crack, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.

Every user is completely unique — they have their own motivation, goals, and problems. From our perspective, we need to use our datasets as well as possible and work on improving our segmentation efforts going forward. 

Both music and motivation are very personal, so the only way we can get better is by continually iterating and continuing to draw as much data as possible. 

We basically have a three-step process that we use:

  1. Set a baseline: this is where experience matters. You need to take your initial framework based on what you already know and then work from there.
  2. Measure: when you make any changes (no matter how large or small), you need to measure their impact.
  3. Tweak: always keep on tweaking and trying to improve what you do. Never stay still — always try to get better, even if it’s only by 1%. 

Segment is our main source of data aggregation. It basically funnels all our data into different places at lightning speed; the sooner we can get that data, the better. Everyone internally is working from the same data sources, we don’t have to question its validity, and we can immediately get to work implementing it to make strategic/tactical decisions.

Fender’s digital transformation with Segment

Can you tell us a little more about your different products?

In 2017 we released Fender Play – our complete learning app for guitar, bass and ukulele. It is a subscription-based service (£9.99/$9.99 per month) which gives users access to bite-sized tutorial videos to accompany them on every stage of their journey – from the very day they pick a guitar up for the first time. Recently, in light of the uncertain times we find ourselves in, we wanted to do our part as a business and give the power of music to everybody, so we decided to offer the service for free to the first 1 million people to sign up. The response has been amazing from the community, our artist partners and more.

Fender Play is our flagship digital product; not only does it really help our consumers, but it also propels our business’s own wider goal: creating and supporting the next generation of guitar players.

Fender Play Massive Rocket

There is also Fender Tune (our very first digital product), which helps you tune your guitar, and Fender Tone, which helps you find the right tone that you are looking for. We basically want to provide a 360-degree guitar learning and playing experience.

How important is mobile for you?

Mobile is massively important for us — more than half of our users come through mobile. We understand that mobile and web are basically companions and should realistically work together for the end consumer. However, people usually find out about us and sign up on their mobiles, so it’s really important for getting people to begin their guitar-playing journey.

What are some of your biggest challenges at the moment?

The truth is that there are lots of limits to what we can do as digital marketers — one reason being that many consumers are still apprehensive about us having access to their data. 

It takes an average of 8 touch points before a customer makes a purchase. The key is making sure that all of these touchpoints are connected and saying the same thing: working together to lead the consumer down the funnel. 

Personally, I put a lot of emphasis on reaching out to other companies to share what we’re doing (and vice-versa). My belief is we can all help each other out and share our learnings. If you do this right, you can nurture symbiotic relationships that ultimately benefit the end consumers.

Our main challenge is helping users stick with the lessons and get over that barrier — we want to keep them motivated and stop them from dropping off. Learning to play a guitar is really hard work and a commitment. Your fingers become sore, you still feel like you’re rubbish, and you might be able to play a chord or two but you’re still far from putting it all together into a song. However the second you DO learn that first chord, song or riff the feeling of accomplishment is addictive!
It’s important that we give our users small goals that they can accomplish on a consistent basis. If we do this, we can begin to help them form some great daily habits.

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