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‘Tis the season to be jolly: A look into the pro audio Christmas market

With the festive season very much upon us, Tara Lepore finds out if Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year as she speaks to some of pro audio’s leading manufacturers about their seasonal sales strategies and what this time of year means for business

Professional audio is not just for Christmas. But for newcomers to the industry, the combination of seasonal discounts and generous gift-givers might make it the time of year where one can get their hands on a coveted piece of equipment that’s been in their online shopping basket for the majority of the year.

The season of consumerism is the time of year when big-ticket items are most frequently bought, meaning that Q4 is an important quarter for many pro audio firms, particularly those that branch out into the consumer market with premium offerings. From a retail perspective, Black Friday – the discount-heavy shopping holiday exported from the US – is a big opportunity to drive sales in this period, with promotions popping up everywhere over the four-day Thanksgiving weekend, and technology often being the biggest pull for consumers looking for the best deal.

Audio plugin retailer Waves is one such company capitalising on the holiday, offering its “lowest prices of the year” during its Black Friday sale and pre-sale. While deals can be found with the manufacturers directly, distributors are even more likely to lower their prices around this holiday – US musical instrument and pro audio distributor Sweetwater is offering $300 off AKG Microphones this Black Friday (that is, the fourth Friday of November). But just how big is this spike in sales for the manufacturer? And is this something the industry can capitalise on further?

Fresh ears

For a promising young audio producer, a premium piece of audio technology is likely to be high on their Christmas wish list. When PSNEurope contacted a list of manufacturers for this feature, an important factor that came up for multiple firms was the chance to capture a new market – that is, someone who might be purchasing a piece of studio equipment for the first time (or a generous parent or family member who might be doing the purchasing instead).

From Focusrite’s communications department, Simon Poulter said: “It’s certainly an important period [for us], however possibly for a different reason than some might think. It seems to be a time of year where we see more ‘new music makers’, or people who have never made music before, taking their first steps into that world, perhaps after a nudge from a loved one. So it’s certainly important from the point of view of welcoming new music makers into our industry.”

Alex Lepges, marketing director EMEA at Audio- Technica, commented: “Because our company has such a wide offering of products, the Christmas period is very important for us. While on the one hand Audio-Technica offers conference systems and products for large-scale fixed installations, we also have Bluetooth headphones, affordable project studio mics and turntables in our line-up. The latter are perfect for festive gifts of course, so there will generally be a marketing focus on these products in the run up to Christmas.”

When PSNEurope enquired about different marketing techniques in this quarter, the response was mostly ‘business as usual’. But by sticking to the status quo, are manufacturers missing a trick?

DPA Microphones’ sales director told us the difference in sales between quarters was “limited”, adding that the Christmas period sees no huge spike for the firm.

For studio monitor manufacturer Genelec, Q4 sales are “traditionally always strong”, according to
its international sales director, Ole Jensen. “We’re not generally a company that is driven by seasonal promotions,” Jensen told PSNEurope. “Our focus is much more on achieving consistent sustainable growth throughout the year, and as most of our customers are professional users, you won’t find that many Genelec loudspeakers sitting underneath the Christmas tree.”

Ho-ho home studios

As we move into 2020, the ‘bedroom producer’ that was popularised in the past decade is no longer entirely amateur. The rise of freelance audio producers means that an increasing number of professional users are choosing to build an environment at home to work from day-to-day. These home studio owners are a demographic that some manufacturers are tapping into, particularly around the festive period.

This year, Audio-Technica launched a cashback campaign for selected products at some of its European retailers. Products covered by the promotion included the AT2035 large diaphragm studio condenser mic (which is popular for podcasters, vloggers and home and project recording set-ups – i.e. individual customers looking to buy expensive products who would benefit from cash incentives), and the AT-LP140XP turntable, a more affordable option for budding DJs and vinyl fans.

In 2017, Audio-Technica collaborated with Audient to create a specialist product bundle, the Essential Studio Kit. Featuring an AT2035 large-diaphragm cardioid condenser mic, ATH-M40x studio monitor headphones and an Audient iD4 Black USB audio interface, the bundle proved especially popular in Q4, as Tim Page, former marketing manager Audio-Technica, previously told PSNEurope: “The response to that has been great – uptake from retailers has been very strong, particularly in the run up to the Christmas buying period.”

For the 2019 Christmas period, global pro audio brand Shure has just launched a collection of Holiday Bundles: the Portable Videography Kit, Digital Recording Kit and Mobile Recording Kit. Jay Walpole, Shure’s musician and consumer audio sales director, said: “These bundles are aimed at making it easy for consumers to choose a gift for the musician or content creator in their life.”

He added: “At this time of year, our ever popular SM7B, studio, broadcast and recording microphone, continues to sell really well – there will be a lot of these microphones filling peoples stockings during December. We do also see an increase in entry level wireless sales during this busy period. And, as always, our SE range of products – both the pro line and the consumer line – sell really well over Christmas.”

Marketing techniques

For many brands, seasonal promotions don’t make up part of the marketing strategy. DPA Microphones told PSNEurope that the firm considers itself to be a premium brand so it doesn’t roll out any seasonal discounts. For Genelec, when it comes to liaising with distributors on end-of-year sales, avoiding a last-minute rush is important, as Jensen comments: “The uplift in Q4 sales is to a certain extent linked to our professional customers’ fiscal year ends, where there is an emphasis on customers closing their books and making sure that outstanding equipment purchases are fulfilled before year end.

“Distributors may decide to stretch their purchases a little further if they wish to hit a yearly target, but again we like to monitor these situations throughout the year to avoid a rush of last minute orders. It’s not in our interest – or the distributors – if they start to build up excessive year-end inventories.”

While corporate sales may remain fairly steady, the popularity of audio products in the home – such as voice activation systems and soundbars – will likely see another strong Christmas period.

Lepges at Audio-Technica said: “Our headphones and turntables are ideal gifts for anyone who likes to enjoy good audio quality and these tend to be strong sellers at this time of year. But studio microphones do very well at this time of year too.”

In the past, Genelec released a seasonal snow-white version of its monitors, as Jensen explains: “While we often produce a Yuletide-coloured limited edition run of some popular models around Christmas period, this is more of a light-hearted ‘thank you’ to our customers rather than a big revenue-generating exercise.”

Last year, the Finnish firm adopted a marketing strategy for its social media followers in the form of an advent calendar giveaway. Every day of the month of December, the company’s social media accounts ran caption competitions, product quizzes and other interactive techniques to boost online traffic and generate revenue. This year, it’s “business as usual”, according to Jensen: “This has been a particularly successful year and we’re sitting on an extremely full order book right now.”

So while the spike in sales may not be hugely obvious across the board, clearly – for some firms targeting the home user particularly – the season of giving is a good time to inject a little more money into the marketing budget, and spread some seasonal goodwill to your customers, in the hope for an even more prosperous New Year.