One of the main points of marketing failure usually is the complexity. A bunch of random marketing ideas to a half a dozen marketing channels is a disaster waiting to happen. (Photo: iStock)

As of this year’s SHOT Show, I was pleasantly surprised that most of the manufacturers were offering digital press kits online. Finally, at least a few in the industry on the retail side are pushing out some fairly decent targeted emails tailored to customers preferences.

I even see many small retailers using social media as their primary marketing engines. Even with all those bits and pieces of marketing goodness, in general the sporting goods industry is far behind almost every other industry from a marketing perspective.

Build A Better, Simpler Marketing Strategy

After talking to more than a hundred manufacturers and firearms dealers around the country this year, most have admitted they are pretty terrible at marketing. The problem has not been the drive of those companies, it has been their strategy and execution. One of the main points of marketing failure usually is the complexity.

The usual strategy I hear sounds like the following statement phrased in myriad ways: “Yeah so we did Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, have a website and some email, but I cannot remember the last time we did any updates to any of it. It didn’t seem like it worked for us.”

Tony Arnold is an awarded Chief Marketing Officer and marketing strategy thought leader with more than 20 years database marketing experience in global Fortune level corporates such as Sears, IBM and HP.

A bunch of random marketing ideas to a half a dozen marketing channels is a disaster waiting to happen. To be considered current, social media, for example, requires a much higher number of posts than most companies are prepared to commit to — one post per week is probably not going to make your dealership a hot social media account to follow.

A simple Instagram-only or email-only marketing plan executed and maintained well can perform far better than a complex program to a bunch of different marketing channels that are rarely updated. Many businesses need to be reminded that five marketing channels usually take five times as much effort as just one. One person managing multiple marketing programs will likely get overloaded quickly to a point of failure. Focusing that same person on just one ongoing marketing program will likely drive success and a sales uplift.

Picking which channel to focus on can be a tough decision and needs to be targeted to the type of customers you have or want in the store. For example, a dealer may have a customer base of old, cheap, price-conscious customers and now wants to target younger, higher-income customers. Switching to a different type of social media advertising may help the dealer accomplish that goal.

My consistent recommendation is usually email, because everyone has an email account from the young and old to the rich and poor. If your store is a rural-targeted firearms dealer, your best marketing may be sending out promotions via good old fashioned direct mail or often inexpensive print advertising in rural targeted print publications.

For whatever reason, Instagram has been a really hot social media for the firearms industry. Firearms dealers who want to put effort into social media posts should heavily consider Instagram. Whatever you choose, plan out a year of promotions and do not just wing it each week.

Today’s Marketing Technology Rocks

Manually managing marketing will make you go insane and fail… really, the ridiculously low monthly fees for today’s marketing services are so worth it. Using the marketing technologies allow one person to do a lot of marketing for not a lot of money. Most email solutions companies such as MailChimp and Constant Contact offer plenty of plans for less than $40 a month.

For managing one or even many social marketing programs, social media management software providers such as HopperHQ, HootSuite or Cision can help your part-time marketing person actually manage fairly sophisticated social media marketing promotion event calendars successfully. For dealers wanting to send good old fashioned direct mail, PFL Mail can even find customers in your area who might be firearms buyers and send your promotion on your behalf — no mailing or stamp licking required.

Email providers make things very easy and will give you a customer sign up form for your site, handle all the unsubscribes automatically and all you need to do is keep feeding new customers and promotions into the program. These are shockingly simple systems to use which can have major impacts to retail foot traffic.

Starter: Customer Marketing Database

I cannot emphasize enough that dealers must create, curate, maintain and drive new customers to add themselves to a marketing and promotions database.

Use monthly prize drawing boxes to get customers opting into promotional emails. Make sure you note by entering or supplying the email that they are subscribing to your promotional emails. Use an old computer, laptop or iPad as a promotion sign up kiosk, and have the customers add themselves to the list.

How frequently to send to a customer an email is the difference between the customer unsubscribing and them sticking around for more promotions. Marketing industry best practices suggest sending emails to customers no more than once a week unless the average customer is shopping in your store more than once a week. Regardless of the deal or promotion, most customers begin to get tired of too much promotional email from beyond once a week from anyone.

Dealers must create, curate, maintain and drive new customers to add themselves to a marketing and promotions database. A box will do to get customers to add themselves to your promotions and get a chance at winning something. (Photo: iStock)

Pretend You Are The Customer

The best most complex customer promotional campaigns take into consideration the customer’s past purchase behavior, in store experiences, event participation, interests, income and other demographics to deliver a precise offer for the customer at that point in time. In my world of precision marketing, we can regularly predict within a margin of a few weeks when you will replace your car, kitchen appliances, electronics, carpet, change girlfriends or re-fi your home.

For the dealer with a one-person marketing department, the suggestion is to pretend you are the customer and ask yourself, if you had received all these other ads, would you want the offer you are about ready to send. A plain old calendar is a spectacularly powerful planning tool and used in planning in every large marketing departments. Print off a calendar for a year and plan out week by week some promotions you can commit to and keep mixing up the promotions to keep it interesting throughout the year.

About once a quarter I plan a mystery promotion that could easily be a nice item your distributor had on clearance. An example of a promotions mix could be Week 1 — Firearms deal 1, Week 2 — Ammo deal 1, Week 3 — Accessories, Week 4 — Firearms deal 2, Week 5 — Mystery Deal, Week 6 — Ammo deal 2. If you find some of the promotions are bombing, drop them off the calendar and replace them with another idea. For a small dealer, focusing on just one to three products per email promotion is plenty and it allows you to buy deeper for better discounts on those products.

Commit And Keep Tuning

Committing to a full year is critical, and making the tuning adjustments as you determine what works drives success. Every other industry is leveraging email to drive double digit sales increases, so if email is not working for you, you have not found the right message for your customers.

Marketing is a lot of work, but once you find the formula that your customers respond to, the sales increases deliver a big reward. From experience, it can easily take six months of trial and error to find the right message, the right number of emails customers want per month, with just the right offers that sends them into the store. Create a simple marketing strategy, keep it simple, use the technology, plan your promotions over a year before starting, and keep tuning until you hit the right mix — the rewards can be huge.

About the Author

Tony Arnold is an awarded Chief Marketing Officer and marketing strategy thought leader with more than 20 years database marketing experience in global Fortune level corporates such as Sears, IBM and HP. Over his career, Arnold was an Inc Magazine Web Strategy Award Winner, launched the second e-commerce site in history, developed the largest retail CRM system processing 25B customer contacts yearly and has developed, created and managed database marketing systems that have generated approximately $57B in revenue over his career.