By Taylor Smithfield
“Buffalo Bill Applauds the Banisher of Burglar Fear,” a 1910 Savage Arms advertisement boldly states. An illustration of the 10-shot pocket automatic “fires” dramatically into the text.
“Today,” the ad quotes Buffalo Bill himself, “I took [my] old revolver and the Savage Automatic out and fired each fifty times, making, to my surprise, a much better score with the Savage than I could with my old pet gun.”
“When the most famous shot living frankly says that the Savage Automatic outshot his old pet revolver, what does that prove?” the next line asks the reader.
W. F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody was one of Savage Arm’s earliest spokesmen. Although the use of spokespeople seems to be a more recent trend in history, companies have actually been using this influential tactic to sell products for centuries. In the 1760s, Wedgwood heavily relied upon royal endorsements to market and sell their pottery and chinaware. (“If it’s good enough for the queen, it’s good enough for me!”)
When you think of spokespeople, what faces pop into your mind? Hilarious William Shatner for Priceline.com, or inspiring Michael Jordan for Nike or maybe quirky Tina Fey for American Express? Leveraging the power of celebrity clout, brand ambassadors can make truly valuable connections with audiences. Their influence is an impressive testament to both word-of-mouth marketing and the power of human connections.
The Genuine Article
With the rise of social media, companies are capitalizing on a new trend, a spin-off of the spokesperson — the “brand influencer.” While many brand influencers are celebrities, in recent years, “regular” people have found internet fame thanks to their ability to reach thousands or millions of viewers via platforms like Instagram and YouTube. What often starts as a blog side project or a product review YouTube channel can quickly turn into a social empire with thousands of followers.
This exposure and influence is a powerful tool for brands to capitalize on. One company sends a popular Instagramer new clothes from their latest line to model. She wears them proudly in several photos as she casually goes throughout her day (linking to the brand’s online store, of course). Another company sends new golf clubs to a YouTuber who tests them out onscreen, praising their quality and durability. Viewers don’t realize they’re being advertised to, but the result is the same nonetheless. The company gains more followers and exposure, and so does the brand influencer — making the relationship a win-win.
The genius of the brand influencer is they’re more low-key than a spokesperson. Audiences relate to them because they’re “regular” people. They don’t push. They don’t tout products in a scripted commercial, rather they casually and seamlessly integrate them into their lifestyles, so viewers can imagine themselves adopting the same products into their lives. Influencers utilize their own personal accounts on a variety of platforms such as Instagram, YouTube, Twitter or Snapchat, instead of the brand’s official account, so they come across as more genuine. Plus, they have the freedom to model or use the products in a more personal and creative capacity, which allows them to remain true to themselves.
A Range Of Influencers
However, brand influencers don’t all operate the same. Some might sign an official contract with a company, while others may happily endorse a brand out of pure loyalty, with no formal agreement on the books. Influencers can also exist in many different markets, and the firearms industry is no exception.
Instagram user “@fourguysguns” has an impressive 76.1K followers and over 40K YouTube subscribers. The account is run by, you guessed it, four guys reviewing firearms. They daily post Instagram photos of themselves slinging lead or hitting the range. Their YouTube account displays professionally-edited video reviews, SHOT Show recaps and how-to videos. Occasionally, FourGuysGuns posts photos taken at their local range, the Altair Gun Club in Naples, Fla.
“One of the many reasons I like @altairgunclub is their staff,” FourGuysGuns captions a photo of a range employee looking straight into the camera (including a link to the range’s own Instagram page). “Everyone from the guys mending fences to the front office is or was a trigger puller at some point, some place in their life. Everybody works and everyone takes pride in the facility. Even if it’s only once … you should get there.” Another photo is a dramatic shot of a camo-clad, bearded shooter at Altair’s 1,600m range. With FourGuysGun’s influence, Altair is not only the place to be, but it’s filled with the kind of faces you want to be around.
For more inspiration, check out Sootch00, who posts a steady stream of YouTube reviews, survival tips, and a short series titled “Why I Own a Gun” (reasons being: “daughter’s boyfriend” and “night at the movies”). He has 60.5K followers on Instagram and more than 520K subscribers on YouTube.
You really can’t put a price on the power of influence. Google Trends data from 2014–2016 shows “influencer marketing” is on its way to becoming just as effective as video advertising. In fact, a study by Schlesinger Associates reports 84 percent of marketing professionals worldwide expected to launch at least one campaign involving an influencer by summer of last year. Eighty-one percent of marketers who had already begun working with influencers said the strategy was effective.
Essentially, it’s a perfect time to think about the way influencer marketing could benefit your gun store. While it may seem like this trending tactic belongs to big brand machines, you could utilize the power of an influencer in a similar manner to how FourGuysGuns does with Altair Gun Club. Maybe a current customer’s face popped into your head while reading this article, someone who is loyal to your gun store or range and either already has a social media presence or could build one. Maybe you or a current employee could start posting photos and videos reviewing firearms, offering valuable tips and tricks, so customers can regularly see your face and interact with you in the comments section.
Influencers predominately utilize Instagram (and sometimes use it as a springboard to their other social accounts or blogs) because it’s visually-based (you can only post photos or videos, with captions of course). This means feeds are largely text- and clutter-free, more likely to grab a viewer’s attention. If your gun shop or range doesn’t currently have an Instagram account, now is a great time to think about registering one. Instagram recently launched Instagram Stories (15-second video clips that disappear within 24 hours) and Instagram Live (similar to Facebook Live, you can record video in real-time for followers to watch). There are a slew of influencers who connect with their audience on a daily basis utilizing these tools.
Content With Your Content
People are more likely to trust a person over an entity. Influencers can essentially become a company’s brand personified. Whether or not you find a designated individual to tell the world about your gun store, you can still rely on human interactions to influence customers. It may be as simple as recording yourself for a one-minute Facebook or Instagram video about a new shipment of concealed carries or tips for magazine change drills.
While influencer marketing does leverage specific personalities, there’s a sister marketing tactic to consider. You may have heard of the term “content marketing” before. It’s essentially the sharing of content that doesn’t explicitly promote a brand but simply creates interest. Very similar to influencer marketing, right? However, the key word here is “sharing.” Content is given away for free even though it’s valuable (think free webinars, PDF books, blogs or how-to videos).
Content marketing is a successful way to connect relationally with your audience because they feel like you’re putting them first and considering their needs. Not only does sharing your wealth of knowledge create relationships, but it breaks down barriers between newer shooters and your gun store. The more information you arm them with from the comfort of their own home, the more comfortable they will feel about walking into your gun store later on.