Guadalajara FIL Part 1: Selling an Experience

By Tim Cose, Hal Leonard Corporation

If you only watched exchange rates and US domestic news stories for the past 12 months, Mexico might seem a lot further away –figurativelyand geographically– than it really is. Mexico has the largest GDP in Latin America when weighted by purchasing power parity. In terms of exports, Mexico has the most diverse and complex economy in Latin America. This diversity and opportunity have encouraged a steady growth of middle-class professionals and entrepreneurs, and this growing middle class is setting the stage for a discretionary market of goods and services that include, above all, a rounded education for the newest generation of children.

Last month, Hal Leonard and Faber Piano Adventures partnered witha  local retailer on the first ever sheet music booth at the second largest book fair in the world ( It is a ten-day show, open from 9 AM to 9 PM, and just so happens to be in Guadalajara, Mexico. This year there were over 800,000 attendees. I spent a week straight on my feet, making my former Spanish teachers proud. An experience doesn’t begin to describe my trip, but it was exactly an experience which I felt defined it.

We were fortunate to partner with Mauricio Ramirez, a Faber Piano clinician who owns a local music academy as well as an online retail store with strategic physical distribution and pick-up points around the city of Guadalajara. Mauricio’s ties to the local music community and his knowledge of pedagogy and repertoire run deep, but it was his approach to marketing as an experience that had me continuously reaching for my notebook. It was something straight out of Harvard Business Review, specifically Jeffrey Rayport’s 2013 article titled Advertising’s New Medium: Human Experience. Mauricio will elaborate in a future RPMDA newsletter, but I want to share an overview of some of his strategies that demonstrate the new experience-focused trend in advertising and the ‘four spheres’ outlined in Rayport’s article.

Mauricio is primarily an online retailer. Like any retailer, his presence in the public sphere –the world that is visible as we go from point A to point B physically or virtually– is limited by its footprint, be it storefront or website. Our pop-up location at the book fair, where a large amount of holiday shopping traffic was guaranteed, broke through the boundary imposed by the web and social media presence to provide “engaging, refreshing, [and] compelling experiences” for the fair attendees (Rayport, 2013). This was the first time a print music booth existed in the thirty-year history of the fair, but Mauricio saw this as an opportunity, not an obstacle. In-service days and MEA conferences are a popular way to serve this purpose in the US MI industry, but mall kiosks, school sporting events, and local festivals (think Renaissance Faire) are the outside of the box approach that I have seen more of in recent years. In the interest of creating an experience, the takeaway is that sometimes we must go out into the public sphere and plant the flag where it is NOT expected, rather than only where it seems logical.

Connecting with the public and becoming a part of their social sphere transforms the often fleeting experience into a durable, living advertisement that does not disappear when you lock the doors or log-off. This is not just posting a new product to Facebook. Advertisements in the social sphere “must be relevant in context, align with social goals, address a social need, and facilitate interaction” (Rayport, 2013). Mauricio brought his own Yamaha baby grand piano to the FIL booth with the intention of demonstrating method books. When people started asking if they could play it or take a picture seated at it, the piano went from a demonstration tool to the centerpiece of a social media campaign. By the third day of the fair, we had a new backdrop fitted to the wall behind the piano with the logos of the brands represented at the booth (think advertising behind the podium at a soccer press conference). Every time a customer shared a selfie or a video to Facebook, they also shared our brands. By providing customers with a relevant and unique opportunity to interact with friends, we all won.

Rayport’s article also details Tribal and Psychological Spheres of advertising and I saw these at work during the fair as well. The serious and aspiring musicians gravitated to the recognizable covers of historic editions like the yellow of G. Schirmer or the blue of G. Henle Verlag. In the academic setting, these fulfill what Rayport terms “desires for identity, self-expression, and membership.” Much like the booming vinyl trend here in the US, the proof of one’s dedication and initiation to the tribe of music is displayed on a shelf, not a hard drive. Furthermore, Mauricio offered all local customers free introductory lessons with the purchase of a set of lesson books and thus drew a clear connection between the product for sale and the customer’s unarticulated desire to become a musician. Connecting this ‘why’ customers shop with ‘what’ you are as a brand is the crux of advertising through experience in the Psychological Sphere.

If you want to grow your business through a new shopping experience or advertising, you cannot overlook how we, as people, are affected by the world around us. To quote Rayport’s article, “Instead of focusing first on which media to emphasize in a campaign…start by determining how [it] can integrate into consumers’ lives in ways that deliver value and win their trust.” Beyond products as revenue generators and the ROI of advertising campaigns, look for how you and your company can impact the useful public and social experience of your intended customers. Do not stop at what your advertising and organization says to customers; consider also what it does for them.

Rayport, Jeffrey.  Advertising’s New Medium: Human Experience.  Harvard Business Review.  2013.  Retrieved from