At an event in New York this past December, music fans lined up for hours to see Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh, Mötley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx, MTV News anchor Meredith Graves, and legendary rock photographer Mick Rock tell stories about the life, times, and music of David Bowie. The fans weren’t lining up outside a of club or bookstore, though. It was at a pop-up event hosted by the wireless sound-system company Sonos.
The evening was part of Sonos’s “Song Stories” series, which takes fans on a guided tour through an artist’s body of work, led by the people who were there and punctuated by the songs that made them famous–all played on a Sonos system, of course.
“I think part of our mission is to just really give people an incredible listening experience,” says Dmitri Siegel, the VP of global brand at Sonos. “That’s what they use our products for, and Stories allow us to do that even in a more heightened level.”
Song Stories is part of a broader effort by Sonos to meet music fans where they live–lost in a world of music, sharing stories about their favorite bands, and listening to the songs they love. At the New York event, which was held at Sonos’s New York store, Mothersbaugh shared the story of Bowie vouching for Devo early in the band’s career, which not only led to a recording contract, but to Brian Eno producing their debut album. It was the sort of story fans love, punctuated by the evening’s moderator, rock journalist Rob Sheffield, asking Amazon’s Alexa to play Mothersbaugh’s favorite Bowie song, “Ziggy Stardust,” which came through crystal-clear on the Sonos One.
“The best way to learn about Sonos is to go to somebody’s house to have it, to experience it in action. We have data on that,” says Siegel. “The events replicate that on a bigger scale. You have a more epic demo of the product and a bigger audience there to experience it.”
An Active Showroom
It’s a clever way to bring music fans—many of whom are audiophiles–into a Sonos showroom to revel in the music, while also showing off the Sonos product line. “It’s really just a way of connecting with the customer,” says Siegel.
Most companies connect with customers through slick magazine ads, radio spots, direct-marketing campaigns, or targeted Facebook ads–or maybe TV commercials scheduled to air during Grey’s Anatomy. But Sonos is trying to sell a product to a group of people who actively dislike all of the above. “One of the defining characteristics [of our customers] is that they don’t like ads,” says Siegel. “So we really only take a creative approach to connecting with them.”
To reach its music-savvy customer base, Sonos devotes a chunk of its marketing budget to events, lets music review site Pitchfork run its radio show out of its flagship New York City store, and host podcasts, like the Talkhouse, where musicians interview each other. Sonos has also found a niche at bigger tech events, like at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It wasn’t there to unveil any new products, but to put on a series of women-led panel discussions as counter-programming to the lack of female keynote speakers. It’s all about reaching consumers, of course, but it is more organic than obnoxious.
Sonos now offers regular programming at the New York store and bigger pop-up events and concerts at its new London store, too. Through the gatherings, fans get to see Sonos in action, artists get to know the company and its products, and the press covers the fun, which helps further spread the Sonos name.
“It’s more of a creative way generating media than going out and buying it,” says Siegel. Plus, the events let Sonos really show off what its products are all about–high-quality, seamless audio. “With events like these, you experience sound quality, you experience listening really deeply to a song that you just heard a really great story about,” said Siegel. “Giving people this great experience of listening in a variety of ways, it just feels like our purpose.”