This year, American guitar company Gibson celebrated its 127-year history in music by opening a new interactive flagship store at their headquarters in Nashville. The 8,000-square-foot space was designed in close consultation with three sister agencies, GPJ, G7 Entertainment Marketing and Shoptology. The brand is also leveraging digital channels, including a new video content series called Gibson TV.
The pandemic delayed the opening of the new immersive experience, but it also encouraged more people to pick up guitars and connect with other players in digital communities.
“The goal for the Gibson Garage is to have people be fully immersed in the brands, whether they are first-time beginner players, or long-time aficionados, or they’re the guest of another person who is coming in to look at guitars,” said Mark Agnesi, Direct of Brand Experience at Gibson Brands. “We have been delivering on that. Every single person who walks into the Garage leaves feeling the power of the brands and what they mean to the music community, connecting our history to the present.”
He added, “[It’s] not only interactive brand storytelling, but showing people the real history of Gibson, from the actual instruments that Orville Gibson made, all the way to instruments that you can make yourself while you are at the Garage.”
Gibson’s initiative speaks to the importance of building an in-store and live experience that is worth sharing through digital channels. Leveraging the attention to brand values and design at the physical location in Nashville, Gibson can now use it as a springboard for customer experience and content creation as live and virtual events merge in the current hybrid climate. It’s a great example of the “new normal” that marketers are learning better to navigate as the pandemic and related public health concerns persist.
Designed for fans
In creating the Gibson Garage, the agencies and brand team worked to find the right harmony between brand experience and retail.
“Usually with a company, the focus is on brand experience rather than retail,” said Paul Hemsworth, VP and Executive Creative Director at GPJ. “But there are more retail opportunities and understanding customer experience is the essence of the brand.”
He added, “There’s been an appetite for experience over the last 16 months. With an instrument like a guitar that’s so tactile, you have to feel these things, the action of the instrument, the stings over the fingerboard.”
The concept of a “garage” invokes a place where guitars can be created and worked on, but it also points to where many famous bands got their start, practicing in a garage. Installed in the Gibson Garage is a custom shop and bar, constructed with ebony and rosewood, which is the material used on the fingerboards of some of Gibson’s most expensive guitars. Visitors also see mahogany used on the iconic Les Paul guitars.
The idea was to design an “un-guitar store,” Hemsworth said, avoiding the cliches of wallpapering the store with hundreds of guitars. Instead, they wanted to build more of a “live” concert experience where the visitors could interact with a massive video wall and be shown the history of Gibson in an immersive way. There are also kiosks that highlight a particular notable Gibson model guitar that fans can hear being played.
The site was also designed to be appealing for fans and influencers creating their own content, an important way to spread the word about Gibson and the Gibson Garage.
“If you think about guitars, they’re made of strings, woods and some metals, a beautiful collection of materials shaped into a piece of art. That’s the approach Paul [Hemsworth] took with the space,” said Andre Gaccetta, CEO of G7. “Knowing that content is an important objective for Gibson and a lot of brands, we’ve made a great content-capture space, in addition to a retail space, and in addition to a place where signed artists come to relax and entertain.”
A sense of community
The Gibson Garage appeals to hardcore music fans who are already aware of the brand’s famous guitars. However, they also welcome and seek to educate casual visitors in Nashville looking for something to do.
Gibson maintains a link with fans remotely through the Gibson learning app, which allows players of all levels to improve their playing skills.
“People can come in and take Augmented Reality guitar lessons in the space dedicated to the new Gibson App, they can engage with Gibson TV — the brand’s first-ever award-winning, worldwide online network which features original series centered on music from the world’s best storytellers — and they can browse in the Garage while Gibson TV episodes are being filmed in person,” said Agnesi. “All of these programs physically come to life inside the Gibson Garage.”
With the garage, Gibson also builds strong ties with Nashville, a music mecca. When the garage was still in the works, in March 2020, the area suffered a string of deadly tornadoes, and Gibson stepped up, giving musicians affected by the disaster a new guitar.
Where CX and e-commerce meet
“Through the Garage we are connecting with people globally through our website, Gibson TV events, and people that cannot come to Nashville,” said Agnesi, “experiencing the Gibson Garage through these virtual global performance events and shows, as well as being able to purchase exclusive products and apparel from the Garage worldwide.”
Agnesi compares the in-store experience with an Apple Store Genius Bar. “When you ask those people a question, they know the answer and similarly, the Gibson Garage is an experience that you cannot get anywhere else because you are talking to the most knowledgeable, most trained, and engaged people to help you answer questions about the brand,” he said.
Gibson Garage gives the brand the opportunity to build new connections with fans through purchases in-store and online, building out a new list of aficionados. New customers can also end up in the funnel through the interactive app and video content from anywhere in the world. This is how the hybrid world works.