The 7 Deadly Sins of Gun Store Advertising

It’s important to get the word out about your shop, but it’s easy to throw a lot of money away on bad marketing. Here are a few things to avoid when you decide to take the advertising plunge.

The 7 Deadly Sins of Gun Store Advertising

“Advertising is based on one thing, happiness. And you know what happiness is? It’s the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is OK. You are OK.”

Sometimes, TV does offer some nuggets of useful information. That line, from Mad Men’s advertising guru Don Draper, does have a hint of truth.

Advertising isn’t about making people buy something they don’t want — it’s about reinforcing an existing desire. It’s about providing information and education that will make them feel good about something they want to do anyway. It’s about helping them feel confident about a decision they’d like to make. It’s a form of affirmation that all humans crave. When making a decision, we want reinforcement that it’s a good one.

That’s why it’s off target to think of advertising as a clever way to force a new buying action. The seed for a purchase decision has to be planted first.

Recognition of this truth is a guiding beacon for the development of a good advertising strategy. The cleverest pro-gun Super Bowl ad isn’t going to convince the local chapter president of The Brady Campaign to run out and buy a rifle. However, an advertisement for family-friendly shooting instruction might encourage that mom or dad who’s been thinking about home defense to stop by the store.

Advertising isn’t a silver bullet. It won’t send flocks of new customers to your business. It isn’t an effective last-ditch effort to drive profitability into the black. It’s just one more tool in a customer acquisition strategy, no different than providing superior knowledge, excellent service, great prices and a relevant selection of inventory.

What mistakes might you be making that waste advertising dollars or limit effectiveness?

1.) Putting Too Much Faith In Advertising

Since we’re talking about what advertising can and can’t do, let’s start with putting too much faith in advertising alone.

Helping a customer reach a buying decision is a complicated thing. While the numbers vary based on product and price level, there’s a marketing rule of thumb that says it takes five impressions to lead to a sale.

In a direct sales model, where feet on the street meet clients to take orders, you can think of that as five sales visits or telephone calls. In an indirect world like retail, those five impressions might be a combination of word of mouth, in-store interactions, radio or TV advertisements or articles in trade publications. It would be a rare event indeed for someone who has never heard of a shotgun to respond to an advertisement for 20 percent off the latest Clay Smoker 2000 by making an immediate purchase, right?

The point here is to think of advertising as one of those “touch points.” For example, if a single mom who’s already considering how to protect her family hears an ad for your business, she’s now gotten two positive impressions. The first is her own existing thought and the second comes from your advertisement. If your store specializes in teaching self-defense concepts to new gun owners, that mom might have heard a word-of-mouth recommendation from a friend who has taken your class. That’s three touches. Perhaps one of your salespeople posts self-defense tips on your Facebook page. If your prospective customer sees that, you’ve got yet another positive interaction.

Obviously, the five-touch model is a rule of thumb and not an exact formula. The takeaway is that you need to think of all the ways you can create exposures or interactions with prospective customers.

On the downside, this multiple-touch concept makes your advertisement investment decision harder. Generally speaking, it’s nearly impossible to attribute directly any given sale to an advertisement. Yes, you can run a coupon or special, but customers who buy have almost certainly had other exposures to the product or service in question. It just happened to be the ad that provided them enough comfort to take the buying plunge.

As an example, I get coupons all the time for house painting. My house could certainly use a painting, but I don’t respond to those coupons because painting my house is not on my radar. However, if I see an ad for a stainless steel brass tumbler, I just might respond. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that a coupon or special “caused” a sale!

2.) Spending Too Little

Now that I’ve painted a picture of how advertising isn’t the silver bullet solution that we would like, you might be tempted to avoid it altogether. However, remember the value of a good advertisement as one of the required sales touch points. Perhaps the right level of advertising is the most cost-effective way to expand your touch-point reach. Assuming you’re already investing in strategies and tactics that generate word of mouth, referrals and curb appeal, advertising can serve as a great way to supplement these other investments. You just have to do it right.

According to Media Dynamics, the average adult is exposed to somewhere in the neighborhood of 360 advertisements per day from all sources. Of these, perhaps 150 are “noticed” according to the study. It’s important to note that “noticing” and “paying attention” are not necessarily the same thing. With the bombardment of imagery, sound and video every day, one has to work pretty hard to rise above the clutter and get attention.

A clever ad that gets “noticed” isn’t enough. Repeated exposure to your message is required to have any hope of sticking in a potential customer’s mind. If you’re going to advertise, you’ve got to do it constantly and consistently, week in and week out. Yes, it’s OK and desirable to take short breaks in the schedule to avoid customer exposure burnout.

I’m not proposing that you spend large sums of money. What I am saying is that you’re better off not advertising if you can’t do it on a regular basis. As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. As our advertising guru Don Draper once said, “Even though success is a reality, its effects are temporary.”

3.) Spending Too Much

More than anything else, effective advertising requires consistency. Blowing a pile of cash on an expensive TV spot that eats up your marketing budget is liable to end in disappointment. A single, or even a few advertisement exposures to prospective customers are unlikely to generate any additional traffic, no matter how extravagant they are.

While some advertising types, like television commercials, sound sexy and tempting, don’t fall into the trap of trying to look like something you’re not. While a television ad might make your business feel like it’s reached the big leagues, it won’t help you if you don’t have the budget to sustain a profitable campaign. Consistency and continuity take precedence over sizzle. If your budget only allows for $100 per week in local Google advertisements, then stick with that.

As a rule of thumb, think about spending 5 percent or more of your gross revenues on marketing in total. Large companies can approach 15 percent of gross revenue for their overall marketing budgets, but they don’t have the same margin pressures as retail establishments. To be specific, that 5 percent is for all forms of marketing, not just advertising. That includes website fees, promotional events, and brochures, to name a few examples.

4.) Be Yourself

Mad Men’s Don Draper can help us here too. In his words, “Success comes from standing out, not fitting in.” Remember, the purpose of advertising is to help reinforce a positive belief that a customer already has. Rely on sincerity and don’t try to create advertising that presents your business as something it’s not. By being authentic, you’ll actually stand out.

Be yourself. We all laugh at hokey local commercials. Small businesses don’t have the funds for extravagant audiovisual productions, so don’t try to compete on that level. Instead of sinking your advertising budget into fancy productions, save that money for ad placement.

I’ll bet some of your local market commercials are burned into your brain as you read this. Whether it’s for a car dealership or more likely a personal injury law firm, I’ll bet you know a couple of jingles. Heck, I know that if I ever need help with my windows, I’ll call Window World. I feel like I know Brad and Amanda personally. I even know that their little girl is named Emerson. That’s because I see their very authentic, and low-budget, advertisements all the time.

5.) Not Taking Advantage Of Free Advertising

Advertising doesn’t necessarily imply buying expensive TV and radio spots. It simply means getting the word out, and there are many ways to do that, even without writing big checks.

The never-ending popularity of social media can be an effective platform on which you can “advertise.” I put that in quotes because it’s a lousy way to promote in-your-face, sales-heavy messages. If you use it right, to build relationships with potential customers, it’s a great way to generate very meaningful advertising impressions.

Consider the proven social media success model of giving away free advice. That can be as simple as a short paragraph and photo talking about your shooting tip of the day. Quality advice content will help grow the number of followers, and they’ll start to trust your business as a thoughtful advisor.

6.) Selling Sex

Sex may sell, but not here. According to a National Shooting Sports Foundation report, “female engagement in target shooting grew 60 percent to 5.4 million participants between 2001 and 2013, and was up 85 percent for hunting to 3.3 million participants during that same period.” The same report found that women gun owners spend $870 per year on guns and an additional $405 on related accessories. Don’t insult all those potential customers with cheesy ads and scantily dressed models.

A woman I know took a concealed carry class at the largest gun retail store in her town. During the fingerprinting process, one of the store’s associates expressed a desire to capture her toe prints as he had a “foot fetish.” Needless to say, she’s never been back. More importantly, she’s relayed the story to dozens of other women, who also aren’t likely to shop at that establishment.

If you’re going to use video or photo models in your advertising, choose them based on your desired customer base. Selling guns to parents for family protection? Then use a “family” of models in your marketing communications.

7.) Dropping The Ball

When you advertise something, you’ve got to make sure all your people and processes are ready. Have you ever responded to an ad, gone to the store and found the sales staff to be clueless about the deal? That can easily come across as an incompetence issue, or in the worst case, an integrity issue. Make sure your team knows what you are advertising, the products involved, pricing, and when any promotions stop and start.

Also, don’t forget to coordinate with your buyer to make sure plenty of stock is available. I recall buying a gun at an Academy Sports grand opening. They were offering three boxes of ammo at special prices with every new gun. This was a big deal at the time because the store opened right in the middle of the great ammo shortage of 2013. They did a masterful job of setting aside ammunition, even .22LR, so that every customer who bought a gun did, in fact, get the ammo they needed. They even had a dedicated associate that walked customers through the process of choosing their ammo and reserved enough stock to satisfy all the orders. It was a brilliantly executed advertising and follow-through strategy that could have been performed by virtually any retailer.

The most important strategy for effective advertising is to recognize it for what it really is, an additional way to tell people about your business. Done right, it will help new prospective customers see the values that you and your staff bring to the table. As Don Draper once said, “You are the product. You feeling something. That’s what sells.”



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