By Taylor Smithfield
It may surprise you to learn millennials have officially become the most avid group of bowhunters — a title their parents, the boomer generation, used to hold. Their attraction to the sport can be traced to both coordinated and uncoordinated efforts: school- and community-based programs, increases in positive representations of archery by Hollywood and the emerging trend of hipster nonconformism. That last catalyst — the one that looks like a typo — may be the greatest recruiting tool of all. But before we dive into that wormy can, let’s discuss the more obvious boons to bowhunting.
Thanks to coordinated recruitment efforts, programs like the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP), Explore Bowhunting and Explore Bowfishing, have boosted Oklahoma’s archery purchase rates to the highest in the U.S., with archers buying new bows every two to three years. Participation in archery has simply become more accessible:
• NASP (introduced in 2004) is in 550 schools.
• Explore Bowhunting (introduced in 2011) is in 300 schools.
• Hunter Education (introduced in 2011) is in 300 schools.
• Fishing in the Schools (introduced in 2012) is in 300 schools.
• Explore Bowfishing (introduced in 2013) is in 300 schools.
• Scholastic Shooting Sports (introduced in 2014) is in 155 schools.
Hollywood has also shaped the landscape of bowhunting with the release of The Hunger Games trilogy, The Avengers movies, TV series “Arrow” and Disney’s Brave, all of which came out in 2012, in an accidental but nonetheless successful pro-archery campaign. It also didn’t hurt that NBC reported archery was the most watched sport in the 2012 Olympics.
States surveyed: Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. Source: Archery Trade Association (ATA) March 2017 Survey.
This growth is also reflected in the ATA’s most recent survey report, which president and CEO Jay McAninch says reveals startling differences between baby boomers (age 50-plus) and millennials (18 to 34). Let’s take stock of the data they gathered (see above chart).
Based on the numbers presented in the chart, McAninch concludes, “Millennials are bowhunting’s future. We must quickly learn how to market to them, recruit them into bowhunting and retain them as our sport’s core for the next few decades.”
“Hank The Hipster”
Although this paints an encouraging picture for the virility of bowhunting, it only tells half the story. Here’s where the plot twists: Enter nonconforming hipsters and left-leaning urbanites, here to reclassify bowhunting as “green,” “forest-to-table,” “sustainable” and “niche.” In ways no one could have predicted, bowhunting is quickly becoming the sport of young, hip millennials eager to plunk down some change for quality gear and gadgets.
The ATA, “hip” to this emerging trend, released a campaign called “Meet Your Newest Customer” at last year’s trade show. “Hank the Hipster,” reads the headline, next to a photo of a khaki-clad 30-something smoking a pipe outside of a cabin.
“Gear includes: skinny jeans, black-rimmed glasses, $195 handmade pocketknife,” the text continues. “Morning routine: premium, organic coffee. What’s on DVR: Nothing. Streams with Hulu.” In a statement truly summing up the millennial movement, Hank is quoted saying, “My wife and I are serious about sustainable living and eating local food. I tried the whole vegan thing, but fell off the wagon. If I’m gonna be a meat eater, I want to hunt and fill the freezer myself. I bought a chicken coop last year and now, this year, a recurve.”
However, millennials aren’t members of the threadbare flannel club. They have more expendable income than previous generations, and are more likely to invest in gear and gadgets that complement their authentic lifestyle. Typically, this group shies away from products prioritizing function over form, but are also not willing to sacrifice function for form. Well-crafted brand stories that embody their aspirational, sustainable lifestyles are alluring as well. They’re concerned with their impact on the environment and their culpability in animal cruelty within the food industry concerns them.
They juggle thriving multi-channel social lives and far prefer text messages over email or phone calls. Social media is integral to their lifestyles, therefore physical appearance and health are huge priorities. But because they value authenticity, they don’t desire the mere appearance of health; it has to be real to them. They love gadgets, especially when they connect and simplify their lives. However, they do appreciate and idealize an unplugged existence, a reaction to over-indulging for far too long as the internet age’s guinea pigs.
Vintage, handmade, natural, organic, craftsman — these are terms you’ll find plastered on creative and minimalistic packaging. There’s a desire to return back to basics, to dust off nostalgia, to repurpose and makeover old into new. Millennials are your DIYers, vinyl aficionados, entrepreneurs, gardeners and crafters. Many are well-read, self-educated and shop and eat locally. They want more say in their lives and the world and are willing to spend a significant amount of time and effort (and money) in being heard and making an impact.
Hipster Hanks aren’t always sporting vintage glasses, puffing pipes, wearing Pantagonia, rummaging through aisles of vintage vinyl, however. Remember, they reject mainstream, so as trends gain popularity, they lose that honest, authentic quality. It’s up to brands to keep their products and experiences fresh and unique, so they don’t become passé or cheap.
Custom, Quality, Creative
Now that we’ve crafted a decent prototype of the millennial generation, do your marketing strategies acknowledge this type of customer? If you want to bag a millennial, you’ll have to be smart — wise to their preferences. Remember three words: custom, quality, creative. Millennial bowhunters will be looking for custom products with exceptional style — something they’re proud to wield or wear — that also photographs well on Instagram.
Likewise, they want legitimate quality. They’ll likely come into your store prepared with brand names and a list of product pros and cons harvested from the internet. They’re more likely to purchase if online reviews stand behind the brand.
Lastly, the more creative and innovative, the better. You’ll have the most luck selling products that impress or inspire; whatever stands out against oversaturated consumerism and connects with them emotionally or mentally (“I can really see myself hunting with this compound.” Or “That storage system is so compact and clever!”)
Marketing should feel unique and fresh. Avoid pandering and being kitschy or pedantic. Less is more. If millennials feel like you’re trying too hard, you’ve lost them. Talk smart, use educated humor, be subtly cool. They can spot phony from miles away. Appearances always, always, always matter. But remember, they don’t necessarily want shiny and new. An old, rusty storefront can be repurposed and reclassified as vintage or homegrown. Story-driven, content marketing is king. (Refer to August’s Outdoor Marketplace, “Content Is King.”) Anything experiential, even if it’s implied, is wildly attractive.
Let The Brainstorming Begin
In light of this exciting trend in bowhunting, the ATA’s Retail Council, whose aim is to represent and support archery retailers since their formation in 1995, met this past May to exchange ideas on increasing archery sales and sport interest. To better facilitate the exchange of ideas amongst retailers, the ATA plans to launch an interactive forum called ATA Connect.
“We want retailers to chime in with ideas on what works at their stores, what doesn’t, and why,” said Retail Council Member Wayne Piersol, vice president of NABA and owner of Archery Only in Newark, Calif. “How much do you charge for labor? What’s selling this year in your area? Are the same products selling in Pennsylvania, California and Michigan? They can help each other a lot.”
Which begs the question, have you properly invested in the kinds of products and advertisements that would attract a younger, hipper audience? We’d love for you to share your experiences so other dealers can benefit.