From the desk of Christopher Parks for the Technology Marketing Center Leaders' Blog.
One of the challenges as you grow a brand, especially from the ground up as we have is to find ways to continue growth when all the "clever" ideas have run their course. For those who may have been following our saga, we are about as "home grown" a guitar amp company as ever there was one. But the world of guitar amplification is one where the customers tend to want traditional technologies regardless of the advantages of new technology. Their belief in the ability of the 70 year old technology is so firmly entrenched that even if they experience it themselves they often still won't believe it.
We have built and sustained solid growth year after year mostly through the hard work of the people we are fortunate enough to call our customers and friends who tend to be the true early adopters in our field. Given that we live in a market that is much more conservative than the "typical" electronics markets, it is a wonder we have made progress at all. But along the way, we have continually searched out unusual niches or potential adjacent segments where we might be able to craft a solution. For a "go-getter" like me, what is better than a wide open field where customers aren't stuck on 70 year old unreliable technology? We developed a new product for Steel guitar players and as I write this, I am going to visit with two of the best steel guitarists in the world today who are ardent advocates and supporters.
But this is about a truly adjacent market space. One that is as common as bread and butter, honey and tea, bacon and eggs. Bass players! It is an ideal adjacency. They work closely with guitarists with whom we have had many successes. Their requirements are similar. The distribution channel is the same. Add to that the fact they practically begged us to do it... Well... You get the idea. How hard could it be right?
Keep in constant contact with your adjacent target customer:
One of the most obvious solutions we kept hearing about from our customers was a desire for a high power bass amplifier. I for one kept wondering why? There seemed a ton of products for bass players in our relative category. (High power Class D amplification.) There were and are at least 6 or 7 products we would have to compete with. Many of them from well known companies with strong distribution channels and well established brands. We would have to identify the best ways to compete in a market that was easily as well established as the guitar market. We took the time to reach out when customers asked and one contact led to a fairly lengthy discussion at TalkBass.com. (Click Here To Read.) So we spent some time getting serious about making the simplest and best bass amp we possibly could, thinking about actionable needs and how bassists were trying to meet them. More importantly, we began building relationships with influential bassists who were already connected with artists we worked with. These influential bassists gave us suggestions, helping us to identify weaknesses and concerns, often times on stages with audiences as big as 90,000+.
Consider your strengths and weaknesses:
In our case we are advantaged with a founder who is the foremost mind in solid state power amplification in the world today. Moreover we are a double threat in that he is a musician with a deep and thorough knowledge of power requirements for massive sound systems involving unbelievable amounts of sub-harmonic content. We have a strong capability in quality product manufacturing here in the USA, and the ability to respond rapidly to demand. Our distribution channel sells both products and the service and support infrastructure we built for one is the same used for the other. We have a solid foundation of support from many guitarists that already have tried and used our products we developed as micro guitar heads. Our weaknesses are that we have focused on guitarists and guitar amplification as a brand. So we recognized the need to consider this as we proceeded and took the time to develop a great solution that went the mile for bassists. We worked closely with artists from many genres and listened when they asked for features that made sense for the professional segmentation we generally focus on. Our initial shallow depth of bassist relationships is one weakness we aimed to overcome during the beta testing phase of the product.
Identify your competitors strengths and weaknesses:
The more we looked at the market though, the more that we had misgivings. There were lots of great lightweight and powerful class D amps for bassists to choose from at really good prices. The brands were fairly established and quite well loved by very vocal people in the segment. In studying the competition we realized that although their offerings were good, they were clearly lacking in real world performing power and tone. They were basically a "home cooked" pre-amplifier section paired with "someone else's" class D power module. On paper they sound great, but in real life their performance tone and power were quite lackluster. It became clear that in the world of Bass amplification, there are precious few engineers who understand sonic needs and also understand power requirements, and how to make an instrument truly perform with the player.
Wade the waters with caution:
Did I mention listen to your customer? It isn't enough to throw a product into the mix and see how it goes. Your advantages in entering into an adjacent segment can quickly evaporate and leave you with damage to segments you are already serving well. After all, let's face it. Bass players and guitarists talk to one another. When your halo in an adjacent market is tarnished, it can tarnish your reputation in another segment. Be wary of a "half-baked" idea thrown out quickly to increase revenue. Instead, choose the wiser path of clearly identifying the whole product offering and how your product can benefit from adjacent segments. But also bear in mind that anything less than your absolute best in service and support or slow response to complaints or quality issues can leave a closely related customer segment upset. You wouldn't want your current customer base angry with you so be fully prepared to react quickly to any issues and be upfront about any shortcomings.
Benefits that extend further than you realize:
In the case of the Bass Block 800 we were able to use our "Block Series" amplifier platform by extending it, and so our costs on packaging and sundries diminished. More importantly, the platform extension means that touring acts can get more out of less altogether. The "Block Series" amplifiers can all be mounted together and stored in a simple to use, voltage independent touring rig that costs less to transport and delivers astonishing tone and power. Walk Off The Earth use them exclusively as they tour all over the world. (Their rig on the right.)
In conclusion, when you are looking for adjacent markets think it through. It isn't just about additional revenue. It is about creating a platform where you offer real advantages both from a design and implementation standpoint but also by the economies of scale of your service and support infrastructure, and even your supply chain and manufacturing capabilities. Adjacent segments are just that. They are right next to your current segments. Along with them comes the advantages but maybe more importantly the responsibilities of serving the adjacent segment.