What Guitar Center Can Teach You About Smart Email Marketing

by Derek Halpern · 23 comments

Guitar Center

About a week ago, I ordered a shock mount for my brand-new microphone through Guitar Center’s website.

Shortly after I received my shock mount, Guitar Center sent me a follow-up email, and I was SHOCKED.

You see, most brick-and-mortar stores just don’t get it.

They ask for emails, and then they blast those emails with untargeted ads for every product except the one the person is interested in buying.

Not Guitar Center. Their email marketing follow-up sequence was amazing, and today I’ll tell you all about it.

How Guitar Center Uses Email Marketing—The Smart Way

First, let’s start with what we know. I bought a shock mount, which means I’m mildly interested in creating high quality audio. Right?

So what’s a good product to pitch me next? Take a few seconds and think about it.

Got it?


Here’s the part of the email Guitar Center sent me:

Guitar Center Email Marketing

As you can see, they sent me information for a few things.

First, they invited me to come into their store for some free overview training classes.

(As you know, as a brick-and-mortar store owner, you want to get people to come back into your store. It’s a good way to drive sales.)

How genius, right?

I just bought some audio equipment, and they follow up with some free training options. Does that make me want to go back to Guitar Center? Yep!

Let’s go further down.

Guitar Center Email Example 2

What else did you notice?

Well, they had some related products interspersed with “tech tips.”

While I believe the tech tips could have been better, with links to more in-depth articles, it was a nice touch.


All of the tips and products were targeted directly to me.

Would I open Guitar Center emails in the future?


Now Let’s Talk About Why This Is Smart Email Marketing

Why was Guitar Center’s email so effective?

I’ll tell you why.

Their email was highly targeted.

I just bought audio equipment, and then they sent me more information about audio training.

More important, the email was laced with highly-targeted deals AND information—the best of both worlds.

But check this:

When you’re running a brick and mortar store, your main goal is to get people into your store. The more time they spend there, the more money they spend.

So, if you look at the email, the whole point of the email is to get you back into their store for a free class. Their follow-up email is perfectly aligned with their goals.

3 Lessons You Can Learn From Guitar Center’s Email Marketing

Now that I walked you through how Guitar Center works part of their email campaign, let’s talk about what you can learn from it.

#1 The Power of Following Up With Customers

This might sound obvious, but there are loads of companies that do not follow up with their customers. That’s a huge mistake.

When people buy products from you, they WANT to hear from you. They already proved it by giving you their money.

#2 How to Follow Up With Customers The Right Way

Then, there are companies who do follow up with their customers, BUT they do it ALL wrong.

For example, some companies, after receiving your email, will begin sending you promotions for anything and everything. They don’t send you what they think you want, they send you what they want to sell you. That’s a huge mistake.

One of the reasons why I love the “what are you struggling with question,” is because it helps me understand what people want when they subscribe to my list. That way, I can sell people what they want…not what I want to sell them.

#3 The Smart Email Marketers’ Secret: Content & Pitch

Look, everyone knows that the best time to sell people another product is when they just bought a different product from you. When people are hot to buy, they’re hot to buy.

However, if you just shill products, people get sick of it. That’s why you’ve got to mix it up with content and pitch, just like Guitar Center.

Or, as another example, here at DIYthemes, after you purchase Thesis, you have the opportunity to subscribe to the blog to get more valuable updates about Thesis, email marketing, WordPress SEO, and other things that help you build a better website.

Do we pitch Thesis here on the blog?

Of course we do. DIYthemes is a business, and Thesis is the main product. As we begin to roll out other products, we’ll share information about them, too.

The Bottom Line

There are loads of people who claim email marketing is dead.

But they’re only half right.

Email marketing isn’t dead. Bad email marketing is dead.

Smart email marketing, on the other hand, is alive and kicking.

About the Author: Derek Halpern ran marketing at DIYthemes, and is the founder of Social Triggers. To get more tips on how to be confident, sign up to his list here.

If you enjoyed this article, enter your email below to get free updates!


Ryan Shell

Their targeting is fantastic! Clothing brands, in general, are horrible with this. I can’t tell you the number of emails I get about women’s fashion. And no, wearing women’s fashion isn’t my thing!

Great post, Derek.



Awesome Derek. This was a great read and some great advice. Now I will need to figure out how to apply it to my business. Thank you very much. You rock!

David Ivey

That’s a Home run Derek. Now that you’ve told me what Guitar Center did right and could improve on — I clearly see it. Now, time to get to work.

David Ivey
Black Bucket Brew Inbox Magazine Editor


Wait, wait… you’ve got to be kidding?
Guitar Center has some of the _worst_ email marketing from any company that I receive emails from regularly. Not only that, but you are magically resubscribed to their emails after unsubscribing. I have unsubscribed from Guitar Center emails at least 10 times, yet, a few months later, they begin sending me emails again, with absolutely no opt-in from me. IF you buy anything from the store, they re-activate your email address, even if you have previously unsubscribed. Further, they have separate unsubscribe options for every type of email they send. So, if you unsubscribe from the “Weekly Sales” email, you may still get the “LEARN HOW TO SHRED WITH JIMBO THE AXMAN” emails, and if you unsubscribe from those, you will still get the “MusiciansFriend 1 DAY SALE,” and if you unsubscribe from those, you will still receive the… You get where I’m going.

Even beyond this, they have draconian unsubscription methods. IF you unsubscribe from their emails, you are told, “Thank you, your email will be removed as soon as possible within the next 10 business days.” After unsubscribing, I will receiving emails from them for 2 weeks. Also, the unsubscribe buttons are difficult to find, difficult to access on a smart phone, and the page that you go to after that requires you to follow some extra steps to unsubscribe.

On top of generally the worst customer service of any store that I have ever visited (with a close second going to Gamestop), I can find very little redeemable value from Guitar Center. They may target their emails effectively, but everything else about their email policy is spuriously illegitimate.

Derek Halpern

I haven’t had the same experience as you, though I haven’t unsubscribed from their mailing list.


Just wait until you begin getting the “Guitar Lessons with SLASH from VELVET REVOLVER” every other day. I want to be like, “Listen, Guitar Center, I just bought ‘The Paul Simon Songbook’ and ‘Folk Mandolin Lessons,’ I have zero interest in fashion lessons from Guns n’ Roses.”

Vinny O'Hare

I have to agree with Mike. I have been on their email newsletter for about a year now.

While the first emails are great just like Derek points out they become the same emails after about 3 months. You get the same 4 recording sessions over and over again.

It is also the same 3 coupons over and over almost everyday. On the days they don’t send the coupons they are sending some “10 best left-handed bass players of all time” articles. Half the time they are being controversial in their picks just to get fans to post comments.

I have unsubscribed numerous times but that just doesn’t work. You magically get back on the list.

It will be nice to see Derek follow up on this in about 12 weeks.

Les Dossey

Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.

Derek’s post is about effective follow up marketing for a brick and mortar or online organization and for that Derek gets an A+

Thanks Derek!

Danny Cruz

Hmmm. I don’t know. I know they can be quite aggressive. But to this day I haven’t felt like they have been overly aggressive – to me. I can’t say you are absolutely wrong about the customer service part. I’ve had mixed experiences depending on the sales person. For the most part, I usually know more than the guy trying to sell me something. On the other hand, there have been guys that have been genuinely helpful and genuinely knowledgeable. By the same token, there are guys in the same store that are too pushy for sales. But overall, my experience is that they stand behind the product they sell.

But anyway, this is not about the store itself. It’s about the email marketing deal. And I have have to agree with Derek. They’re pretty good at it. Too aggressive or not, they’ve sold me more than one guitar thanks to their emails. Plus, buying from GC has it’s own tricks. Once you know them, you can get the best deals. -D

James Burgos

Mike, if I’m not mistaken, I thought the point of this post was to note what we can learn from Guitar Center about smart email marketing. The post about how badly Guitar Center sucks should be a post on your blog.

If Guitar Center drops the ball at any point beyond what they did right, does that mean they are all wrong? Does that mean that a full exposé of their alleged shortcomings is necessary in this comment thread?

Mike, when seeking knowledge, sometimes its necessary to mine for the jewels and discard the junk. If any part of what you are saying is true, that’s fine point to keep in mind, but it doesn’t diminish Derek’s observations in the point he was making in this post.


Thanks for sharing, Derek. I was wondering how that kind of marketing can be incorporated in Thesis. Is that an application or service I would need to buy? Keep up the excellent work!!

Lise Halskov

Hi Derek. Cool stuff – it’s such a pleasure to see good old fashioned customer service done right on the internet. It’s rare to see it, but man, it works well! Thanks for sharing!



Hi Derek. I love most of your posts and this was another fantastic one!

My site is unique in that it’s an information based site and I give the information away for free, however, this gives me a great idea for monetization.

If I wanted to monetize it better, I could add a small web store to my site, http://www.discoversoccer.info. Then (and here is where your article comes in), if someone purchased say “speed rings”, I could follow-up with free practice games using those speed rings – and of course, other useful items to accompany them.

I’m not there yet, but it is definitely a good idea!

Mark Hare

Nice, Derek. Did you jump through any hoops at all, i.e. tick boxes or opt-ins, for them to target so well? Or did you simply purchase the product after signing up with your email addy, then—bosh—get laser targeted?


” For example, some companies, after receiving your email, will begin sending you promotions for anything and everything.”

This is what most internet marketers do, and I absolutely hate it. I will give them one or two chances, but if they keep “spamming” me with every promotion thcy can find, I unsubscribe.


Now that is what I call customer services for sure. I have always truly believed that marketing should be considering what people are looking for and than only sending them to items that they need and not a whole lotta stuff that takes up space.


**** The 2 things I’ve learn from from Derek’s last post

First, thank you Derek for the post, once again you’ve put in our face a good strategy that could definitely help us grow our business and I thank you again for that.

Now, maybe Guitar Center will lose there focus and start email blasting like a shotgun loaded with birdshot, but at the end of the day, I say, let see the bigger picture and learn from what they are doing right and stay away from what they are doing wrong.

I know that the post title said “What Guitar Center Can Teach You About Smart Email Marketing” but it could have been what NIKE did that transform my business, What I learned today from AMAZON.COM etc.

Lesson 1: **Highly targeted emails is the way to go**. How many of us have subscribed and then unsubscribed from IM related list because all the emails we received was about the latest course or the latest 1 push magic button software that will put our site up in the Google Heavens… now all those emails were absolutely not targeted(or maybe targetted at making money in their pocket by using their list as a cash cow) but on the opposite, people like Derek Halpern or Pat Flynn of http://www.smartpassiveincome.com have understood this concept and are very successful today, with a very good decent list in part because of that strategy.

So lesson #1 is that not only catching emails is important but after catching those emails when you’ll communicate with your list, just give them what they opt-in in for. It’s okay to sell, we all do it and all need to do it but doing it right is the key and this is what Derek attempted to teach us here.

Have you noticed that in most if not all the emails we receive from Derek there is a link to buy the Thesis theme. I never felt that it was aggressive as there was always very good content that came with the soft sale. Very good job on that.

** ok there might be more to the email but that is what I got from it.

Now Lesson #2: Maybe it’s just me but there is one little phrase that caught my attention… ” As we begin to roll out other products, we’ll share information about them, too.”
What other products? What is coming out? and When?…. is it just me or products other then thesis are currently in the making… if it is, I just can’t wait to see what’s in the making.

Anyway, keep posting those tips and trucs.

I also wanted to thank the ones who shared their bad experience with Guitar Center because it only confirmed that targeted email is the way to go if you want to avoid that people on your list get annoyed like some readers did. So if Guitar Center turns out to be a birdshot factory, they’ll not only teach us how to do our email follow at first but they will also teach us what not to do as well.

thanks for reading if yo read that far.

I’m out


Debra Eve | Later Bloomer

Derek, this is a superb piece that got me thinking. I’m not a marketer so I don’t do mailings, but I do have subscribers I could be treating in a much more personal way.

My husband, however, is a professional bass player who has NOTHING good to say about Guitar Center for many of the reasons expounded by other commenters. I’m guessing Guitar Center recently hired a new social media/marketing person who sees the light. I guess I’ll find out the next time he drags me in there because he couldn’t wait to get something online 🙂


Nice I just started doing email campaigns

Andre Chaperon

Ignoring the fact that it Guitar Center “may” not be truly customer focused (al la Zappos), email follow-up is definitely the best place to build trust and rapport with an audience (backend sales being the result of that relationship).

But “fact driven” follow-ups, much like Guitar Center seem to send out based on the examples Derek gave above — are not the most effective way to play the game (and don’t just take my word for it: http://amzn.com/0307587959).

Storytelling should be the framework for your sales message. It’s what you wrap your message around. Injecting stories into email follow-ups is the big game-changer.

Just saying 🙂


Pat Bloomfield

Great article Derek,

This really highlights the right way to design content that appeals to prospects/clients. I really need to think and redesign the content that goes into my emails and whole emailing strategy.

Thanks for sharing.

Jade Handy

This post title caught my attention…and I don’t have a musical note in my body! I’m thinking, “hmm, that sounds interesting.” Then, “this better be good (although I know it’s Derek, so I’m pretty sure it will be.)” POW! Out of the park. I’m passing this onto my retail clients immediately!

Bismark Ampofo

Hey Derek just like all the other commenters thanks for the tips. I really like how you presented GC’s strategy then explain each part with your own strategy for online business.

This got me thinking – how can affiliates use this. Well, I love to hear your thoughts. But will try to see how I can make it fit.