To say that being appointed as ‘outsourced marketing director’ to curate the re-launch of the legacy brand, Rhodes, was ‘an honour’ is an understatement.
It’s hard to overstate how important the Rhodes electric piano has been to the history of contemporary popular music.
2021 saw the launch of the MK8, a ground-up redesign of the classic Rhodes piano using optimised components made by the latest manufacturing techniques, giving the piano a chance to inspire a new generation of musicians.
Despite COVID-19 and global supply chain issues, the company re-launched in December 2021, immediately exceeding expectations in sales and to much critical acclaim.
The Rhodes piano was crucial to the evolution of jazz and rock and roll in the ’60s, with ,Kieth Jarrett and ,Ray Manzarek just some of the musicians who used the instrument to create unforgettable melodies. More recently, The Rhodes sound has made its presence felt in tracks from ,Nils Frahm and ,Thom Yorke.
2 years in research and development, the production of the new MK8 piano was overseen by Chief Product Officer, Dan Goldman, with design assistance from industrial designer Axel Hartman and electronics support from Cyril Lance, formerly of Moog.
Rhodes has a sizeable global following – both fans of the sound and also collectors of the vintage Rhodes pianos. The whole launch needed to be approached in a careful and considered manner – to unite fans of the vintage instruments and raise awareness among the new potential Rhodes customers.
Simultaneously, we needed to champion the build quality and defend the instrument price which, though competitive for a piano, cost more than a new small car.
But there was a bigger story too: a team of smart, savvy and brave British entrepreneurs had decided to resurrect the American brand, and relaunch it from a factory in Leeds, UK. Their launch product was the stunning MK8 piano, built to last a lifetime, with arguably the best ever Rhodes sound and piano-like feel.
At the outset, we ran a Deep Dive launch workshop. Having conducted research, we established Rhodes’ goals; their market segments, and which segments we were going to target.
We then considered the best way to bring the piano to market. All options were considered from crowdfunding to hyped product launch. We settled on the latter, and the date was set for 1 December 2021.
We set clear objectives and conducted a review of all marketing opportunities for Rhodes and considered how best to allocate the available budget.
The first suggestion that Rhodes was making a return, was the teaser campaign. Before we had any media assets to play with, we were able to use the computer renders supplied by designer Axel Hartmann as an online teaser campaign to great effect. Each feature was drip-fed into various online networks, (See below), taking care to never show the whole piano. This stretched out over several weeks with increased excitement from the Rhodes fan-base.
Working with renowned product photographer, Julian Ward and his team, we secured stunning photo images and film material (featured in this article). A photographic studio in Leeds was booked for the day, and every crevice, line, socket and feature of the MK8 was beautifully lit and photographed.
Sleek, cool, engaging and with nods towards both retro and future, the new Rhodes website offered a customiser, allowing visitors to chose different finishes and add optional extras. A PDF of your choices could then be downloaded for you to consider offline.
Using a code to access, the website was in ‘beta’ offering Rhodes fans and music VIPs early access to order the piano from November. The site fully opened on 1 December 2021.
The website also included a Rhodes blog, supplying regular features on the history of Rhodes, technical advice and regular short interviews with musicians, passionate about the Rhodes sound.
Engaging my colleague Jasmine for SEO optimisation, ensured due diligence was taken to see Rhodes web content ranking in search engines.
No product launch can exist without a robust CRM system and targeted curated emails in place. We chose our system and engaged Kate Barret of E-Focus Marketing to map out and plan our CRM needs. We drew up a number of automated email responses and email campaigns to suport the Rhodes purchase experience. The email database was segmented by nationality and also customer behaviour to optimise marketing opportunities.
Rhodes fans are active on social media, and in various forums online. Our first step to engaging the fanbase was to publish an open letter from CEO Matt Pelling, explaining the Rhodes Music Group’s agenda. This was followed by a combination of the leak campaign, clips from YouTube of iconic Rhodes players explaining why they fell in love with the Rhodes sound, and each Friday a recommendation of a record that owes its memorable sound to the Rhodes piano, from The Beatles ‘Get Back’, to 10 CC’s ‘I’m Not Alone.
Working closely with music industry PPC agency Motive Unknown, we assembled a programme of targeted adverts that would send those who clicked to a dedicated landing page within the Rhodes website, at once presenting a unique experience fo each visitor and also allowing us to track how effective the adverts were as lead generation for future customers.
Appointing Egg Audio as our music tech PR agency enabled us to reach out to and contact the 3 largest influencers in music technology: Andrew Huang, Dr. Mix and Sanjay C. With combined Youtube subscribers in excess of 4 million, we were able to ensure the relaunch of the Rhodes piano would be extensively covered on YouTube and reach our target audience of musical instrument enthusiasts.
Magick agency were drafted in to assist with brand guidance, ensuring that the right look, feel and tone was associated with the Rhodes Brand. Tone of voice workshops were organised, and the Rhodes visual output was refined to present a truly aspirational brand.
Working with Andreas Allen, musician partneship specialist, we built a network of passionate Rhodes musicians in the public eye, who were delighted to be associated with the new MK8 piano. These included a ‘who’s who’ of top level musicians from the UK and USA. A series of factory visits were arranged, introducing a-list Rhodes players to the new piano, and the team that are making them. Each visit was documented for future use as Media assets.
Weekly press releases supported each ‘leak’ from the Rhodes camp as we built up to the website going live. Factory visits were organised for key journalists, and Rhodes achieved glowing reviews for the MK8 in industry leading publications such as Sound On Sound magazine, and in more mainstream publications like Engadget and T3.
To cultivate interest, high quality interactive press releases were sent out to key journalists.
The resulting press was placed in all the most relevant magazines. ‘Music industry Bible’ Sound On Sound gave over 8 pages to review the instrument.
Alongside the key communication assets, Rhodes needed a suite of supporting materials, from templates for equipment manuals, quickstart guides and designs for Rhodes dealer certificates. The Rhodent T-shirt design was a collaboration between 2000 AD / Judge Dredd artist Steven Austin and Rhodes, catering for Rhodes superfans, coining the term “Rhodent”.
Much consideration was also put into the unboxing experience. When one receives a MK8 piano, inside the box would be Rhodes documentation, an owner certificate, a brochure about the evolution of the MK8 from the original Rhodes piano, a Rhodes branded polishing cloth and a sheet of stickers.
Ronnie Scott’s internationally famous jazz club was chosen as the venue for a ‘meet the MK8 event’. Working with both Ronnie’s and funk legends ‘Incognito’ we were able to engineer a live ‘question and answer session’ and a filmed live jam on the Rhodes MK8, to be archived for later use.
Time was spent exploring all the ways Rhodes can grow their audience, from factory visits to integration into the international festival scene.
Having worked as a teacher, the inventor of the Rhodes piano, Harold Rhodes, was dedicated to teaching people how to play the piano. Ensuring that the Rhodes Music Group remained purpose-led and ‘legacy-focused’ was of great importance.
Schemes to introduce pianos to schools and colleges and a fund for young musicians were given close consideration as the brand moved into its post-startup phase.
Rhodes policy on inclusivity and the environment were made public-facing allowing anyone to understand the Rhodes approach.
A marketing department needed to be assembled to continue the launch communications agenda into the next year. A mid/senior weight Marketing specialist and an eager marketing assistant were recruited to continue the work begun during the launch, ensuring the Rhodes had top-level copywriting and graphic design skills in house and the resource to maintain consistent output.
To leave the brand with a clear route map for the next 12 months and beyond, a weekend in the higlands of Scotland was booked for the leadership team, during which strategy, future initiatives, company culture and Rhodes legacy were topics of discussion.
Doubling-down on the launch of the MK8, two campaigns continued to get the new piano under the noses of the piano-loving public. On Email, a lighting box on the website offered the chance to win a limited edition Rhodes MK8 piano – a special anniversary edition to celebrate 75 years of Rhodes – with all black keys and gold detail.
This campaign ensured Rhodes received over 30,000 new organic sign-ups to their email database, and further huge spikes in their social media following.
The campaign proved so successful that we decided to manufacture 75 off the limited edition piano. An “order book” was opened and 500 people registered to buy the 75 pianos.
Rhodes are back. They have healthy sales, brand awareness, a new MK8 piano, interactive website, a raft of marketing initiatives and big plans for 2023 and beyond. Huge respect to the visionary entrepreneurs behind the relaunch. By investing in a year long collaboration with me, they achieved a 30x return in sales.
If you’re looking to turbo-boost your marketing – please get in touch. An outsourced globally-experienced Marketing Director – offering objective, apolitical strategy and project direction – clearly worked for Rhodes.
Together – working with your team and my chosen suppliers – we can plan and deliver marketing on a scale that best suits you, your product and your budget.
From individual 1 hour sessions to sustained strategic and operational support, book in to have a chat about how we can work together to optimise your marketing and get you a tangible R.O.I.
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