In marketing, what was no longer is. As a result, an equine or equestrian business owner may struggle just to keep up with modern marketing practices, in addition to staying on top of what’s essentially already a seven-day-a-week business.
Basic marketing principles haven’t changed, but the applications have. Marketers (read: you) employ an assortment of strategies to guide how, when, and where product information is presented. Your goal is to persuade consumers to buy a particular brand or product: your horses and/or your services. Furthermore, successful marketing strategies create a desire for a product.
A marketer, therefore, needs to understand consumer likes and dislikes. In addition, you must know what information will convince consumers to buy your product, and whom consumers perceive as a credible source of information—which will hopefully include you.
The global economy isn’t exactly flourishing, but armed with the knowledge that “only the strong survive,” why not view this challenging period as an opportunity?
Don’t sweep your marketing objectives out with yesterday’s shavings. Jackie McFarland, owner of EquestriSol marketing (www. EquestriSol.com, “Marketing Solutions for the Equestrian Soul”), says there’s no time like the present.
“If you don’t invest in your business and its prosperity—maybe you’re being more cautious this year—remember that people still need to know you’re there. Find a balance in what you choose to do and how you choose to do it, staying ‘in the mix’ and continuing to market.”
Tip: Even though revenues may be smaller now, keep the big picture clearly in mind, she says.
The American Marketing Association (AMA), in a recent newsletter, affirms that “consumers may be changing, but the changes will be more subtle than dramatic. Marketers do need to be aware and adapt.”
You may not do things the way you used to, but you still need to do them. AMA cites Suzanne Fogel, marketing chair at DePaul University and a specialist in consumer behavior, who predicts that as the economy normalizes, consumers will be only as conservative in their spending as their present situation requires.
“I hope that consumers will be more value-conscious, but I fear that they won’t,” Fogel says. That’s great news in the horse business, which has historically attracted higher-income demographics and justifiably acquired its reputation as “the sport of kings.” If hope springs eternal, say economists, keep the faith, as all things are cyclical—including the economy’s downturn.
Minding the Mix
Traditional (a.k.a. industrial or mass marketing) tools are now complemented by accessible upstarts like social media. Make them all pieces of your marketing puzzle. Start with your brand (and we don’t mean the identifying symbol etched into a horse’s hindquarters.) Think like a Fortune 500 company.
First, is your logo—your look—working for you? Do your website, business cards, stationery and other collateral feature a logo that’s easy on the eyes, professional and clean?
“If you haven’t really looked at what you’ve done in the past,” says McFarland, “perhaps it’s time to change and update your logo completely or use nice font treatments.”
You’re a horse person, so chances are you’re not a great advertising guru or website designer. Assuming you have a website—you do, don’t you?—ensure content is current, that it’s interesting and fun, and that you update the site regularly so it’s always fresh. Consider making an offer, something of added value you put forward to the website visitor: two lessons for the price of one, say.
If you need help, it’s easy to locate many competent, reasonable marketing firms, graphic designers and copywriters. You’ll also want to consider e-mail blasts, e-newsletters, e-zines and even blogs on your site, so ask your pro to guide you through the possibilities.
Same goes for social networking and the spontaneous, strategic use of sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, along with video sharing on YouTube. They can be major time drains if you don’t know how to adeptly and carefully use them, differentiating “personal” from “professional” with care. You’ve already witnessed the power of unbridled opinion on various equestrian forums where nothing (including your reputation) is sacred, so tread carefully.
If social media sites feel overwhelming, go slowly. We suggest either buying a book to familiarize yourself with techniques or surfing Google to read articles on astute use of new technology. Paid Webinars by experts are also available that teach these basics for nominal fees. If you don’t embrace these opportunities, you’re missing all those teens who use these sites heavily.
Get It Together
A creative brainstorming session is an ideal way to move forward, says McFarland. Assemble a roundtable idea exchange with people whose opinions you respect. It’s the methodology used by powerful advertising agencies and it will work for you, too.
Now’s a super time to innovate, McFarland says: “You may not be as busy as you once were, but your brain still works.”
So, what’s your message? (Yes, you can have more than one.) You also really can write your own marketing plan, “so take time,” says McFarland, “to understand how it all works together. Hindsight is not a good marketing tool.”
Think like a pro media buyer and plan ahead. If you’re running a camp, don’t market two months out—start at six, when parents begin to contemplate upcoming time off for young charges.
Consider the size and consistency of your ad buys, and promote your uniqueness over other businesses. Deals abound, so consider an upgrade from a business-card-sized ad to a quarter-page, and remember: Anyone can use a photo of a horse jumping. Decide what makes you you, and say it. Then compare costs between national and regional publications and association newsletters. Remember that repetition works wonders.
Promotional merchandise, McFarland says, helps communicate your message long after the reader’s eyes have scanned an ad and turned the next page. A branded pen, hat or mug sticks around. Another useful item is a tote bag with your barn’s name.
PR Goes Far
Even if you’re not a professional public relations counselor, you can implement effective PR 101 by determining what’s special about your business, says the EquestriSol marketer.
“Perhaps this is your 15th year of camp: Who was at camp when you first began, and what are they doing now?” asks McFarland. A rider who’s achieved equestrian notoriety or made a name in another field is great fodder for a human interest story pitched to your local paper or magazine in the form of a well-written press release. Keep media relations opportunities top-of-mind, for you may have more interesting stories in your barn.
Don’t know how to write a press release? Plenty of samples exist online. You can also pitch a story to your local newspaper, or hire a marketing agency or copywriter if the budget allows. Also, investigate “advertorial” in local publications. You pay to have an article written about your business, which delivers a softer-sell approach than an actual ad.
Consider sponsorships, but always weigh just how much bang you’ll get for your buck. You’ll want banner or signage visibility, an ad in the program, announcements, and the opportunity to network at VIP events if the sponsorship is for a larger horse show.
Whatever you choose as your marketing plan, give it time, and believe in your product and what you’re doing to effectively promote it. In the interim, don’t panic. Richard Honack, a senior marketing lecturer at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, told the AMA publication that economic constraints might change consumer behavior in the short term but once those constraints disappear, consumer desire resumes its role as the guiding principle behind many purchase decisions.
“We might become more careful shoppers, but we’ll remain shoppers,” he said, and was echoed by Margot Bogue, senior vice president and associate director of brand planning at Cramer-Krasselt, who said that when the economy returns to normal, “people are going to go out and buy new things, but I think they’ll have a new level of scrutiny and view of value.”
You have built it, and yes, if you market smartly, they will come.