Dan Smith Will Teach You Marketing: An interview with a local New York legend

In: advertising| entrepreneur| marketing

8 Oct 2009

dan_smith_will_teach_you_guitarLately it seems that every new business idea involves the web somehow, and everyone is discussing new and novel ways to use the web and social media to promote their business. With the ongoing changes that the Internet has brought to the marketing world, it’s sometimes easy to forget about the basics.

Starting your own business can be simpler than that. A straight-forward idea and simple yet clever marketing tactics can come together to create success.

Any New Yorker reading this will immediately recognize the phrase “Dan Smith Will Teach You Guitar.” Local guitar teacher Dan Smith has been using this headline (along with a prominent photo of himself) on his flyers to promote his private lessons for years. These flyers seem to be posted on every bulletin board and shop window in New York City. Whether you are in a deli uptown or a dry cleaner downtown, you will spot these flyers everywhere. And the formula always remains the same.

I decided to find out more about Dan’s marketing approach. He was kind enough to answer a few questions about how he views his business and the brand that is Dan Smith.

1. What made you decide to become a guitar teacher? How did you get started giving lessons?

I started teaching a couple friends of mine and I liked doing it. It seemed like a cool thing to do, and it beat waiting tables as a way to make money. I also knew I would learn a lot from it.

That said, I’ve never really thought of myself as becoming “a guitar teacher.” I see myself as me, Dan Smith. I teach guitar because it’s a way for me to be who I am and make music, while providing an experience that people find valuable.

Lesson: When starting a business, find something you are passionate about, then start small.

2. The phrase “Dan Smith Will Teach You Guitar” has become legendary among New York City residents. Did you intend to make that a tagline of sorts, or was it unintentional and just sort of took on a life of it’s own?

That’s me trying to be as simple and direct as possible. It says exactly what the experience is. So it was definitely intentional.

Lesson: Don’t overthink your marketing. Being simple and direct works.

3. You decided to use your own name, as opposed to coming up with a company name or other brand name. Why?

I use my own name because I am the brand. What you get is me. I’m not a company, I’m a person.

Lesson: Authenticity is crucial to the success of any business.

4. What does the Dan Smith brand offer students compared to other teaching options? What makes Dan Smith unique?

One big difference is that I don’t view teaching as something that I’m doing “on the side.” I take teaching guitar just as seriously as a doctor takes practicing medicine. I do a lot of different things, but when I’m teaching, I’m totally focused on my student, their music, and what they are learning.

Another difference is that a lot of teachers out there basically just dispense information. They give you a fish, without teaching you how it fish for yourself. Working with me goes way beyond that. I teach my students how to connect to their musicality. One of the many benefits of that is they learn to be as independent as possible. I also want my students to experience the music first-hand and learn on an intuitive level. So everything we do is very hands-on and designed to develop your overall musicianship.

It’s the difference between just learning the rules of grammar and learning how to tell a great story.

Lesson: Your product is secondary. What you’re really selling is the benefit to the customer. Dan isn’t selling guitar lessons. He’s empowering people to get in touch with their inner musician.

5. The flyers for your lessons seem to be all over New York. Why do you think they stand out so well compared to other flyers and posters?

They stand out because I believe in what I’m doing, and I put that conviction into the message and the design. Plus the fact that they’re everywhere. So when you see one, it’s part of this larger dynamic and it makes you think about all the other times you’ve seen it.

Lesson: Be clear about what you offer, then find ways to get in front of prospects over and over again.

6. What do you think are the most important things your students are looking for when they are choosing how to learn guitar? How do you try and deliver on those?

I think students are looking for someone who will really listen to them and take them in as an individual. They want someone who’s knowledgeable and can teach them in simple, straight-forward terms. They also want it to be a relaxed experience that they look forward to. So what I do is create an atmosphere where you can be yourself, make the music that turns you on, and learn in experiential terms.

There’s got to be an emotional connection to what you’re learning. Otherwise, it’s boring and it doesn’t work. If that’s in place, then I can help you connect to what really motivates you to play, and create music. By doing that, my students find out that they have a lot more ability to play guitar than they thought they did.

Lesson: Customers aren’t only concerned with results. They also want to enjoy the experience. People do business with people they like.

Low-tech But High Impact
It’s easy to get caught in the trap of overthinking your marketing and being fascinated with what’s new and shiny. But there are some tried and true tactics that never go out of style. If you have a business to promote or are thinking of starting one, make sure you consider even the most basic approach.

Who knows, you might just end up a local celebrity like Dan Smith.

Thanks to Dan for sharing his thoughts with us. If you are interested in having Dan Smith Teach You Guitar, check out his site.

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Mark Webster

About Mark Webster

One of the Co-Founders of SideTour, former TechStar (NYC Summer 2011), ex-NBA'er, and past TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon Winner.