• AudioAdvice established a solid reputation in a region, then leveraged that online.
  • The ecommerce transition was not a “copy our success and paste it online.” Instead, it took massive soul-searching and question-asking to understand how, what and why would their customers buy online.
  • They embraced competition with other online marketplaces.
  • They effectively communicated a compelling value proposition through their website.
  • They are available to provide advice at almost any time in a given week.
  • They reach their audience throught targeted content pieces.

Meet Jonathan Stephens, with AudioAdvice

  • Jonathan is the general manager of He was one of the main instigators in moving AudioAdvice from two premium showrooms in North Carolina (and thus serving the local population) to online.
  • AudioAdvice was founded in 1978, and launched their online store in 2015 (37 years later). Instead of splurging on a Harley, AudioAdvice’s midlife crisis meant going for a Magento site—and it is paying off.
  • How did Jonathan come on board? While in school to get his MBA, Jonathan was mentored by the CEO of AudioAdvice.

AudioAdvice “back then”…

Audio Advice was started by Leon Shaw in 1978. HIs vision was to provide an exceptional world-class experience while focusing on high-performance goods in the audio/video space. At the time, there were 18 other competitors in his geography. Now, AudioAdvice has eclipsed the competitors in many ways—all through patient trial-and-error.

High-performance audio is another luxury market. You really want to love this $50k audio setup that you are going to get installed. Or, you want to appreciate the beauty of the $100k home theater configuration. Their showrooms in Raleigh, NC and Charlotte, NC are just that.

But, serving local markets is only so scalable… unless you want to drop a new store in every major city in the US (and that can be expensive).

AudioAdvice goes online.

Hearing perfect sound or seeing a beautiful image on a TV is not something you can easily replicate online. After all, the only headphones you might have could be from that flight back from Amsterdam last month—and you know they had to have cost Delta less than $0.10. They seem better at playing muffled static than actually hearing what was intended.

Locally, obviously, we have a very well-established brand but at a national level, Audio Advice was an unknown brand, for sure.

Jonathan Stephens

They went online in a strategic, calculated way:

  • They could not ignore Amazon and other marketplaces.
  • They had to replicate, as best as possible, their core value proposition.

How did they compete with Amazon?

  • Free, fast shipping.
  • No-hassle returns.

(which, by the way, this is not cheap or easy to do in itself)

As they came to see, these offerings would reduce the friction to purchasing, but it wouldn’t necessarily ensure a sale. The sale comes from a compelling value proposition:

  • Superior knowledge in the industry.
  • Effectively sharing that knowledge.
  • Leveraging that knowledge in only selling the very. best. products.

They see the validation of this migration all the time:

  • Their repeat visitor purchase rate is very high.
  • A customer was taking pictures in front of one of their stores. This is not normal behavior as parking lots are typically there to hold vehicles, while the driver goes inside. This customer was a massive fan of the AudioAdvice YouTube channel, and was super excited that he was in town and just had to stop by.

When we were looking at the e-commerce space in general and thinking about inspiration for the type of experience, the creative experience that we wanted to develop, we looked well outside of our existing industry for inspiration.

Jonathan Stephens

Many retailers look to their own industry: what is my competitor doing? I need to copy them so I can take their sales. The key question that this misses is “what if your competitor is doing it wrong?” AudioAdvice looked into similar price ranges, but in different markets (like high-end men’s apparel) to learn how they connect with their customers.

For example, sound can be highly subjective: how can you tell a customer what type of sound a $4k turntable will produce?

AudioAdvice leveraged their trust, established with their expertise and validated through their high-end show rooms.

Takeaway: get inspiration from other industries that sell the same priced items as you do.

Communicating your value proposition.

In order to survive, AudioAdvice has embraced the fact that they must compete with other large marketplaces (all eyes on you, Amazon). Yes, no one likes that they offer such fast shipping, or are so quick to take that mismade, way-too-large shirt back. But, they do.

From the very beginning, AudioAdvice knew that they would not “give someone a reason to come to our website, learn about our product and then ultimately end up leaving to go buy on Amazon or another marketplace.” For them, “that was table steaks from the very beginning.”

And then, AudioAdvice built upon the experience that consumers expect.

They built a quiz:

  • They took many of the questions that their salespeople have honed in on through the years, in-store.
  • These questions were improved through other market research.
  • Only 5 questions.

    Think Steve Jobs: “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Their salespeople continue to see the answers to these questions and are the ones directly reaching out to customers. This makes answering questions very simple.

Their value proposition is highlighted in the name of the company, AudioAdvice.

Part of executing on this proposition is that they employ the best in the industry—many of their people have 10, 20 or 30 years of experience, and they can guide anyone through the process of what to get.

These experts connect with customers via phone, chat and email, six days a week. In other words, if inspiration strikes you (or you win the lottery) and you wish to build out a home theater, you won’t have to wait long to talk with some really smart people.

This value proposition gives peace of mind as buyers know their investment will work to the maximum potential.

It would be unfortunate, to say the least, to purchase a Ferrari and find out that it was in Eco mode—but you didn’t know that. It would be similarly disappointing to pay a large sum for a high-performance audio system and to only have it play sound at 50% of its potential. AudioAdvice owns the entire customer journey, and this makes for very happy customers.

As we talked about earlier, AudioAdvice took ideas from Zappos (which doesn’t sell audio equipment, BTW), and have focused on second-to-none customer service.

Takeaway: do you communicate your value proposition front and center?

And, of course, is this value proposition actually compelling. Audio Advice has one that is. And you can, too.

Note: even if you are in the same space as AudioAdvice, I can almost guarantee your value proposition will be different. Every company has their “moat” that only they can create.

Content is king

AudioAdvice well fits this concept: provide advice about audio through content.

They knew that, and have doubled-down to be effective here.

Because they create helpful and informative content, their YouTube channel had 7 million minutes watched in 2019! This pace is rapidly accelerating.

But how do you know what to create?

Jonathan says that they take a “test-driven approach”. But, also, content is identified through reactive and proactive methodologies.


AudioAdvice tries different formats: short, medium and long. Live and recorded. You name it, they’ve tried it. All of which, they measure to see what works and what doesn’t—then they rinse and repeat.

Through all of this, they are very careful to put out high-quality content that is actually informative (not sales pitches). Yes, it is expensive. It would be one of the first things investors would want to trim back, because it doesn’t have a direct and traceable return on investment. But this has been a major driver to their business.

Reactive content

AudioAdvice creates videos and content based on questions that their sales team fields (remember, ensure that the web/marketing team and the sales team are well-connected can pay dividends). Are customers asking questions about a particular product? They write a review on that product. Are customers trying to learn which product is better? They create a buying guide.

The side benefit of this is that this content is very helpful as a reference for the sales team.

Proactive content

You create proactive content when a new product is about to be released. Or, when you hear of a major change. For example, AudioAdvice created a video regarding a Sonos update: as to who this update will affect.

But, every single piece of content created has a goal. These goals will vary, but having the goals allows them to measure whether or not this was successful—which will help guide future content investment.

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