Lifestyle Marketing in Rural America
OUTdrive Episode 46 with Shawn Wozniak
In this episode of OUTdrive, Cliff visits with Shawn Wozniak about lifestyle marketing in rural America. Shawn is MEC Outdoors manager at Mayville Engineering Company and is passionate about the outdoors and living the rural lifestyle. He understands the MEC Outdoors customer because he is one himself and he lives a similar lifestyle every day.
MEC Outdoors has been a leading manufacturer of shotshell reloaders since entering the market in 1955 and has since expanded to include clay target machines and metallic reloaders. Through every stage of business growth and development, the company has remained committed to providing the highest quality products and services for professionals and hobby enthusiasts alike.
Keep reading to learn more as Cliff and Shawn discuss how MEC Outdoors effectively reaches customers through lifestyle marketing with a grassroots approach, the value of sharing interests and passions with customers and growing a business with complementary products. They also discuss effectively reaching the next generation and the effects of COVID-19 on the supply chain and marketing.
Living your Customers’ Persona
Having a passion for your brand’s products and industry makes marketing to customers much more enjoyable, natural and ultimately more effective. Shawn is an effective member of the MEC Outdoors team because he is an outdoor enthusiast himself. This enables him to develop a stronger understanding of the company’s audience and develop a strategic marketing plan that effectively reaches and connects with customers. Lifestyle marketing plays an important role in this strategic marketing plan. Shawn expands on how the team uses a lifestyle marketing approach to effectively reach customers.
“If you’re trying to promote or sell a product, you want your customer to envision themselves utilizing it,” says Shawn. “If they can get that message, just out of a picture, and basically say, ‘I want to be that guy,’ or, ‘I want to be in that position or in that area,’ if they can actually put themselves there, it’s going to turn to a sale.”
Developing assets that enable a customer to envision themselves using a product is an effective tactic to connect with customers around the world. However, Shawn and his team prefer to take a grassroots approach and get products in the hands of customers whenever possible. He explains the power of hands-on storytelling and the role it played in marketing the MEC Marksman®.
“A picture can be one thing, a video can be another, but hands on? That tells the story,” says Shawn. “Being able to ask questions, answer them right away and get direct feedback is vital, so we attended shoots specific to the precision side of shooting and obtain feedback.”
A grassroots approach enables customers to get their hands on new or existing products and fully experience their features and benefits, leading to increased sales. Industry events also allow customers to connect with each other and share products through word-of-mouth, a vital part of the marketing process.
“Our best way to communicate is with customers communicating with each other,” says Shawn. “A lot of people say, ‘I’m coming up, I need a new press. What do you have? And why?’ and if we’re able to get in that conversation and be a talking point, we have a potential sale.”
MEC Outdoors connects with customers through industry events and strategic messaging and assets, but shared passions and interests are what set the foundation. Shawn and the MEC Outdoors team can provide a better customer experience because they share a passion for the outdoors and shooting sports with their customers.
“I’m actually utilizing the product, and we’re kind of speaking the same language,” says Shawn. “Being able to relate to the customer on a different level creates a better customer experience. Plus, the customer knows that we’re reliable and knowledgeable, and they know that we’ll take care of them.”
MEC Outdoors has evolved, but the team remains committed to providing the highest quality of products and customer service possible every step of the way. They continue to find new ways to connect with customers and share personal experiences to relate with customers at a deeper level. As times change, technology has increased opportunities and challenges along the way.
Effectively Reaching the Next Generation of Customers
Reaching the next generation of customers involves significant use of technology as many customers turn to social media or the internet when considering a new purchase. Technology allows for new opportunities, but integrating traditional marketing strategies with digital remains a powerful way to reach different demographics of your audience.
“We still do our standard print, based on the demographics of our customers, but there’s a new age of customer coming in. And that feeds back to their phone, their tablet and social. We’re trying to develop and make sure that our message and our content is visible.”
It is important to reach customers through their preferred channels, but digital marketing can prove challenging at times. Shawn explains that being in a unique industry presents challenges, specifically on social media platforms where content can be censored. Adding to his point, Cliff mentions that it’s more important than ever to distribute content on channels your brand controls.
“I think content marketing is such an important part of any business’s marketing program today because you control it and you’re the one that creates it or curates it,” says Cliff. “You can basically say what you want to. You control the message, you control where it is, and look for different and creative ways of distributing it. Keep it on your website to draw people back for information. And you know, when people are out there searching for the things that you offer, they find you and hopefully make a sale out of it.”
Reaching the next generation of customers requires innovation and adapting to new trends, but brands should also remain attentive to proven traditional marketing methods that work for their customers.
Growing a Business with Complementary Products
MEC Outdoors entered the marketplace as a specialist in shotshell reloaders and continues to demonstrate its expertise today. Over the years, the company has grown to offer complementary products to create a full-circle experience for buyers.
“Within the last six years, we brought in a clay target machine business, and that compliments the shotshell side so much,” says Shawn. “You’re basically taking your reloads, taking it to our machine, shooting, and then going back to your reloading room. So it’s almost full circle in that aspect.”
In addition to clay target machines, the company has also expanded to offer its Metallic reloader line, featuring the MEC Marksman® single stage reloading press, as well as a variety of accessory products. MEC Outdoors capitalized on areas of opportunity and navigated uncertainties along the way, but has continued to find success. Expanding product or service offerings means new customers and new ways to communicate, but if you continue to adapt and grow, you can achieve sustainable growth.
Implications of COVID on the Supply Chain and Marketing
MEC Outdoors also faced uncertainty from the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it has had on the supply chain and marketing efforts. Shawn shares that due to more free time and travel restrictions, the company actually benefited from the pandemic.
“We’ve actually had an influx since March of 2020,” says Shawn. “The reason behind that is based on lockdowns, people had time to reload again. So they were digging out their presses or buying new presses, just because they couldn’t do anything outside. They were cooped up and shooting as a hobby and reloading as a hobby. They actually had the time to sit down again and do it.”
In addition to those returning to their hobby, many others became new gun owners or picked up the hobby for the first time, contributing to a shortage in the supply chain.
“Last year alone, there were an additional 6.2 million gun owners added,” says Shawn. “If you think about it, if every new gun owner took 100 rounds, that’s a lot of ammunition for the OEMs to feed that pipeline. And we’re seeing it right now where the supply is not filling the demand just based on the amount of new shooters coming to the market.”
The company is also feeling the effects of COVID-19 in the manufacturing aspect of raw materials. Steel mills stalled or stopped production last year because of the pandemic. Although the shutdowns didn’t last as long as expected, it’s difficult to return to normal production with such a dramatic increase in demand. This challenge also affects other areas, such as the clay target side of the business.
“We did launch our high-capacity machine this year, but it’s just really tough in a market with the ammo shortage,” says Shawn. “If there’s no ammunition, that means no targets are getting thrown, which means machines aren’t breaking down. So there’s a little bit of impact on a clay target business.”
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted several areas of MEC Outdoors, they are positioned for continued success and will continue to deliver the highest quality products and customer service. Innovative new products are a strategic aspect of business growth, but connecting with customers on a personal level is what really sets MEC Outdoors apart from the competition.
Learn more about effective lifestyle marketing in rural America and gain additional insight from Cliff and Shawn in this episode of OUTdrive.
Visit www.mecoutdoors.com to learn more about the MEC Outdoors story and explore their innovative reloader and clay target products!