How do we market our products in the airgun industry? Is there more we can be doing, and what can we learn from other industries? Nick Robbins finds out
There’s legalese, management speak and the unique brand of cliché spouted by football managers, but often the most offensive language that I encounter is from the world of marketing. A phrase that makes me break out into a cold sweat is ‘key demographic’, possibly as its usage seems to increase an inordinate amount in the run-up to general elections. The memory of William Hague wearing a baseball cap on a log flume in an attempt to capture the youth vote – who his marketing team had decided were his key demographic – is indelibly etched onto the very fabric of my being.
Yet working on magazines also puts me square in the firing line of a large quantity of marketing spiel, in the form of press releases. I was recently forwarded the internal marketing materials of a major musical instrument manufacturer and was staggered at how detailed the picture of their ‘key demographic’ was. Not only were they interested in what music their ideal customer would listen to, but they also predicted where ‘Customer XX’ and ‘Customer XY’ would buy their clothes and what beer they would most likely be seen drinking. This was no rough age bracket and income band-type affair, it was an illustration of the modern consumer: from their jauntily angled hat (bought second-hand apparently) right down to their shoelaces (brightly coloured to signify their individuality, obviously).
These assumptions, made on the back of extensive market research and statistical analysis, no doubt, will form the core of the company’s advertising strategy and dictate the direction of their marketing advances. It’s not even important that these people make up the core of their sales – just that the public believes that these manufactured personas are the ‘key demographic’. It reflects the belief that the product’s image is as important as the product’s quality. As this company was competing in a particularly crowded section of the market, it had invested significant resource into its marketing department and placed a large importance on the non-pecuniary factors that influence a consumer’s buying decisions when faced with similar quality products at a similar price point.
One aspect that the marketing materials highlight is choosing endorsees. Getting the right people seen with your products is a powerful marketing tool. It happens in Airgun Shooter – adverts are littered with references to world and European champions shooting a certain type of pellet or using a certain airgun. But I haven’t yet seen a signature airgun. Would the market respond to a signature air rifle from Mat Manning, Ian Barnett or Nigel Allen? Certainly their respective books and magazines draw in plenty of readers, so if a given airgun company believed that their ideal customer was an Airgun Shooter or an Airgun Fieldcraft: A lifetime of hunting advice reader – and surely many of them do – why should they not think about marketing their next air rifle as a signature model?
Since I started working on Airgun Shooter over three years ago, the quest to define our ‘key demographic’ has continued unabated. The analytical tools and availability of data have increased in quality and quantity in this time – in no small part thanks to the growing move towards the digital medium for magazines. I wonder if any companies in the airgun sector have pored over the available data in as much detail as the MI company I talked about earlier had.
Who is the typical airgun buyer? Who is the typical air rifle, air pistol, .177, .22, break barrel, PCP, gas-ram, CO2, synthetic-stocked, wood-stocked, carbine buyer? I doubt too many firms in the airgun industry have the resources or inclination to launch into such a full-scale marketing exercise, but a little knowledge can go a long way.
What is in the name of a new product? Two pages of semantic discussion, discourse analysis and corpus research went into it in the example I read. Then what about the language you use in the your press release, in your adverts, in your sales spiel at game fairs or when you’re visiting stockists? Interestingly, the marketing materials will make their way to stockists in an edited form, making sure that the company’s message retains consistency from manufacturer to distributor to stockist.
The England cricket team came in for some stick recently when their 82-page Ashes cookbook was leaked to the press. The (Australian) press jumped on the story and mocked the micromanagement of the tour, and how every last detail needed to be perfect. Yet the theory was sound – the management felt that anything that could be controlled needed to be, and that diet was something that they could ensure was, in their opinion, correct. It was all geared towards achieving victory in the Ashes (ask me again in time for next month’s column how well that is going). So why should a product launch not be micro-managed in the same way? If you can control who the public sees holding your rifle (at least in the first instance), influence the language used in advertising and during sales pitches to describe it, and control the whole image around it – why wouldn’t you?
One part of the MI company’s advertising strategy was to place adverts in lifestyle publications that supported the image of their ideal customer. It’s an interesting idea, but does the airgun industry have enough data about its customers to draw any concrete conclusions – or are we taking pot-shots at 70 yards in a stiff breeze when it comes to marketing our products to airgunners?