“I was pretty much afraid of everything. Afraid of the world, afraid of speaking – a really, really shy kid. And music was a way to speak. As simple as that.”

These words belong to Metallica’s James Hetfield, from the opening lines of Guitar Center’s most popular video on their YouTube channel.

The video does what many other corporate videos fail to do: It opens on an emotion soon followed by a promise to the viewer. Also, there’s a main character who’s got something at stake and is not trying to hide it.

Whoever edited this sure knows the key elements of storytelling.

Is this the best piece of corporate media ever?
But then again, it’s not just any video on any YouTube channel. In September, Guitar Center took home three top awards for their YouTube channel at CMI’s Content Marketing Awards 2014.

To me, the James Hetfield video is the best piece of corporate media I’ve ever seen. It’s a piece of content the Rolling Stone should have done, but didn’t do. It made me want to play music again and even – I’m sure marketers will love to hear this – visit one of their stores and buy the whole thing!

So I reached out to them to learn more about their work and ended up with a long-distance video interview with Dustin Hinz, Guitar Center’s VP of Brand Experience & Entertainment Marketing (Dustin is based in Los Angeles where as I live in Copenhagen, Denmark).

You can watch the highlights from the video interview here:

10 billion impressions a year
“In the Brand Experience & Entertainment Marketing team we are 16 people – half of which are producers, the rest are videographers, editors and filmmakers,” Dustin Hinz explained in his video reply to me.

That team, in effect an in-house agency who rarely uses external vendors, produces several hundred videos per year. The videos include everything from a series of in-house concerts aired on broadcast TV both in the U.S. (DirecTV) and internationally as well as on digital platforms such as Qello, a webseries with artist interviews, and hundreds of product and how-to videos – and even a syndicated radio show.

So, it’s by no means a small operation they run. But, the impact is massive. Dustin Hinz estimates that they get nearly 10 billion brand impressions a year.

“It’s a number so ridiculous it’s almost not worth talking about,” he ads.

So let’s look at some of their other numbers instead (as of November 2014):

  • 100M+ viewers through TV (DirecTV in the U.S. and partner networks around the world)
  • 260K+ YouTube subscribers
  • More than 100M views on YouTube
  • 2M+ fans on Facebook
  • 142K followers on Twitter
  • 90K followers on Instagram
  • 3M+ email subscribers

Getting rockstars to participate
One of the reasons why Guitar Center has had such great content success is their ability to continuously get high-profile musicians to participate.

The list includes Snoop Dogg, Slash, Eric Clapton, Peter Gabriel, Lenny Kravitz, Babyface, Buddy Guy, Soundgarden and Metallica – just to mention a few.

This part of their content program is difficult to emulate, to say the least. But it’s also hard work. The negotiations with musicians and labels begin 4-5 months before the actual recordings.

“It’s the most unrewarding and overlooked part of our job,” says Dustin Hinz.

That being said, the negotiations often end well since the synergies are there: The musicians (and the labels) get exposed to new audiences while the Guitar Center gets content to share that supports the brand experience and even drives retail.

However, according to Hinz, the size of Guitar Center’s reach and audience is not the main reason why their programs attract such high profile musicians.

Firstly, the recording quality is extremely high. For instance, the Guitar Center Sessions are taped in 4k video with 5.1 surround sound. It’s some of the best video and sound quality you can find on the web and on broadcast television.

Secondly, the whole storytelling approach is appealing to musicians. Agreeing to be part of this is not selling out. On the contrary, it will most likely add to their personal brands.

“I think what attracts musicians to our programs is our authentic, pure approach,” Dustin Hinz says. ”We’re not asking the artist to hock a product. We’re not asking them to compromise their integrity. What we’re trying to do is showcase them and their story.”

Don’t talk about the brand
Truth be told, the purity of the storytelling is striking. Even more so in the most recent productions where Guitar Center has skipped the opening from previous years where the musicians said “Hi! I’m [artist’s name], I’m at Guitar Center.”

When you have a rockstar in front of the camera in your music store it’s of course tempting to get him to say something like that. But it ruins the opening because it fails to hook the viewers on a feeling.

Also, viewers already know who’s talking (e.g. from the title line below the video) so why say it again?

Brands need to stop talking about themselves. That’s one of the lessons learned from the Guitar Center case.

The Greatest Feeling on Earth
Another lesson is that you need to identify your underlying message. What are you trying to say?

With the launch of their “Greatest Feeling On Earth” brand campaign, Guitar Center has managed to hone in on what their message has to be.

“It’s not about the guitars, not about the expert staff,” Dustin Hinz explains. “It’s about the one reason we all play music: The incredible feeling it provides you.”

But there’s more to it than that. It’s also a battle against today’s on-demand culture. At one point in the interview Dustin touches upon this aspect of it – with these words:

“We live in a world where there’s a lot of distractions. iPads and Xboxes. It’s instant gratification. Playing music isn’t easy. There’s a learning curve. A sweat equity that has to go into it. The content talks about the reward, the pay-off. For the price of an iPhone or a watch you can give this incredible gift,” says Hinz.

So, in a way, this is the frontier you should look out for: Microsoft and Apple on the one side. Fender and Gibson on the other.

Let’s hope parents get it right for Christmas.

_ _ _

This post was originally published on Jay Baer‘s Convince & Convert blog.

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