Hitting the Target with Inbound Content

What would you think if I said there is a similarity between sporting clays shooting and inbound content? Do what? At least in my mind there is. Guess I’m a special kind of crazy. You see, I’m both a copywriter in the outdoor industry and a certified sporting clays instructor. There is a natural fit and it all has to do with the fundamentals.

You may know what sporting clays is. Let me provide a definition for inbound content. According to HubSpot it is, “an approach focused on attracting customers through interactions that are relevant and helpful — not interruptive. With inbound marketing, potential customers find you through channels like blogs, search engines, and social media.”

Did you play any sports in high school or college? If you did there was one thing the coach pounded into your head. You probably are thinking of it right now. FOCUS ON THE FUNDAMENTALS! How many times did we hear that? There are three fundamentals (not including safety) we focus on with sporting clays clients that are consistent with inbound content.

Body Position – In sporting clays you must stand and position your body to have a full range of motion: Feet shoulder width apart, square up facing your break point, and weight slightly forward. With targets coming from multiple directions across the course you must move to the target with your shotgun. Restrict your body movement and you miss targets. Marketing content is the same. You don’t write or share what you are interested in, but you must move your content to meet the needs of your target audience. Notice how I used that word target multiple times?

Sharing posts on Facebook that informs the audience about something of interest will engage them. Simply posting your latest sale items or promoting your business is a turn off. Does your business have a blog? When was the last time you wrote an interesting post totally unrelated to your business? Most of my blogs have nothing to do with copywriting but about other topics interesting to the hunting and shooting community. That is my target audience. Position your social media content to move to the target.

Gun Alignment – There are three points of gun contact with your body: hands, shoulder, and cheek. If any one of these three is off then you will not have proper gun alignment with the flight of the target and shoot above or below the clay. Likewise, trying to cover all methods of inbound marketing will also cause you to waste effort and possibly miss the target. Find those media your target audience uses the most. Those are your points of contact that align your content with your audience.

Facebook is the most used social medium so you HAVE to be there. What next? Are you trying to appeal to a younger market? Video on You Tube is a fast emerging market. As we’ve seen with President Trump, Twitter is a great way to instantly contact thousands of people. Find those 2 – 3 key points of contact and use them aggressively. Don’t spread yourself thin. That said, don’t be afraid to adjust those points of contact to align with the audience.

Focus – Even if you do the first two right, but don’t focus your eyes on the target you will miss the mark. We train and encourage clients to “focus small” or on the leading edge of the target as it flies. Here’s an analogy that most can connect with. If you have ever played a sport like baseball, tennis, or soccer do you focus on the ball when you hit it or the bat, racquet, or your foot? Of course the answer is the ball. So why would you look at the gun barrel when shooting a moving clay target? The answer is clear. It should also be clear that with inbound content you have to focus small on a specific audience.

And believe me, they are moving just as fast as a clay target. You can’t appeal to everyone out there. When we had a gun store we did not try to appeal to the “value” shopper. Someone looking for the lowest price will not be a loyal customer. Think about the ideal customer you want to appeal to and then develop your content to engage them. Guess what? They typically socialize with like-minded people and will share that content with them which expands your customer base. That’s how social media works.

So there you have it: Position, Alignment, and Focus. Didn’t think I could pull it off connecting sporting clays with inbound content did you? Many of the fundamentals in life are the same.

Building Lifelong Hunters

I recently read an article lamenting the impact that a loss of hunters will have on wildlife habitat and wildlife numbers in general. It is true in that we owe what we have in wildlife populations to hunter’s contributions through Pittman-Robertson Act funds, license sales, and conservation groups. And if hunter numbers decline so will the revenue from all of those sources. So the obvious answer is: we need to recruit more hunters!

The NSSF released a report in 2012, Hunting in America: An Economic Force for Conservation. The report is based on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service data from a survey they collect every five years about hunter activity. When you look at the data hunter numbers have actually remained stable just under 16 million over the reporting years. The number of youth under 16 hunting has also remained fairly stable. The problem is: How do we retain those young hunters?

It’s not just a matter of getting them in the woods and fields. It’s about getting them out there under the right circumstances. In my previous life owning a small gun store, many parents came in wanting to get their kid a first gun. You would think they would be looking for a .22 rifle or small gauge shotgun. Nope, they were looking for a centerfire rifle to take the kid deer hunting. I even had one father want to buy a .270 for his eleven year old son. What is wrong with this picture?

You don’t continue the hunting tradition and build lifelong hunters by waking a kid up at 4 a.m., riding him or her to a tree stand on an ATV, and then having them sit there playing games on an iPad waiting for deer to walk in to a bait site. You build future hunters by starting them out in the woods hunting squirrels, field edges for rabbits, or sitting in a duck blind. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying taking a kid deer hunting is wrong. In my opinion it’s not the best experience in building a hunting tradition.

I know it’s “old school”, but it’s time to return to the old days. It all has to do with activity and the inquisitive nature of youth. Anyone who has children knows they can’t be still. Why not take advantage of that? A slow walk through the woods keeps them moving. It also gives an adult the chance to explain things they see. What kind of animal track is that? More importantly, which kind of trees attract squirrels? Why are ducks attracted to flooded timber? Not only that, there is more action. Action, whether it is in an oak/hickory stand or mallards gliding through flooded timber is the answer. Tell me this: Which is better to develop a future hunter, a kid shooting one deer sitting in a tree stand or three squirrels walking through the woods? To me the answer is obvious.

I place part of the blame for this culture to “kill a deer” on state game management agencies. As it is with most things you have to follow the money. In a state with large deer populations which attract non-resident hunters, there is more revenue from license fees for large game than small game. When is the last time you saw a state game agency promote its squirrel or upland bird hunting opportunities? I didn’t think so.

Large outdoor retailers and TV shows are also culprits. Look through any retailer catalog and there is an abundance of camo youth deer hunting clothing and gear. Try to find a pair of brush pants for a 10 year old. Have you ever watched a TV show with a kid on his or her first rabbit hunt? Neither have I.

Delta Waterfowl also had a recent article about the impact of the decline in duck hunters, even while duck populations increase. To build a lifelong hunter, and prevent a decline in hunter numbers, we have to start promoting the hunting experience that gives youth plenty of action and appeals to their inquisitive nature. That is the challenge because it takes a greater investment in time by the hunting mentor. It is not a “one and done” that a lot of parents look for in a deer hunting experience. It requires many days in the field to build a hunter.

Paper Hulls

We were at the truck unloading our equipment to shoot a round of sporting clays. One of the guys was dumping shells in his vest when my friend asked, “Are those paper shells you’re shooting?” “Sure are”, was the reply.  Expecting something to do with shot velocity or pattern density, he then asked, “You don’t see those much.  Why do you use them?” The fellow smiled wryly and gave a short reply, “I like the smell.” I also smiled, because I had a box of paper shells that day for the same reason. Sometimes when I shoot clays, I’ll pull a fired hull out of my vest while waiting my turn to shoot and smell it. In fact, I’ve started hand loading for an old Damascus twist shotgun I’ve got. Yep, I’m using paper hulls. It immediately transports me to a different world at a different time, that of my youth.

Scientist call it the “Proustian effect”, something that evokes a vivid memory with a distinctive odor. It’s really one of the few ways we have of using our sense of smell to enjoy our outdoor experiences. Let’s face it; if we could smell grouse, quail and other game birds we wouldn’t need bird dogs. And the world would be worse for it. Nope, the Creator, in his infinite wisdom, got that one right. I’ve heard folks say they can smell a deer. It’s got to be happenstance, not using that smell to pursue game. No, a hunter’s sense of smell is used for remembrance.

Paper hulls. I can’t explain the difference in smell between paper and plastic hulls. It’s just different. What is important are the memories the smell evokes. My first shotgun was a little J.C. Higgins .410 single barrel and my first box of shells was 3” #6 paper hulls from Sears. That should give you an idea of about how old I am. When I smell paper hulls after they are just shot, I remember a patient father teaching his burr-headed 10 year old son how to look for squirrels in the crook of a tree. That is after he made me recite the ten rules of gun safety from memory before I could shoot my new gun; something for which I don’t need the smell to remember.

I’m reminded of hunting rabbits with Uncle Jim in a foot of snow after a freak winter storm in Alabama. This was before weather radar (again a hint at my age). It was a couple of days after Christmas and I had just gotten the little .410 from Santa Claus. After safety training, Uncle Jim invited me to go hunting with him at another uncle’s farm. We awakened the first morning to a surprisingly beautiful blanket of 12 inches of fresh fallen snow.There was no way out and nothing to do but hunt. We would hunt in the morning, eat lunch while our clothes dried by the gas stove and go back out in the afternoon, for four days straight.

 

There are other smells that evoke memories. Usually they are smells beyond description. Some evoke bad memories. One day during a post 9/11 anniversary news shows a reporter who was at the World Trade Center clean up said the one thing he would never forget was the smell. I hope I never have to smell again the mixture of jet fuel, oil, hydraulic fluid and human remains. If you’ve ever been at the scene of a catastrophic aircraft crash you know the smell. I have and I know. I suspect it is something post-event psychological counseling for crash rescue crews can’t remove. Although I can’t delete that smell from my hard drive, I like to focus on “good” scents. Paper hulls do that for me.

What smells evoke good memories from your outdoor experience? What brings back your sporting youth? Is it the smell of coffee boiling and bacon frying at a campsite by the lake? Do you remember the smell of your Dad’s tackle box?  If you’re smiling right now you know the smell. The old metal tackle box with melted rubber worms and a tangle of Jitterbugs, Lazy Ike’s, and Hullapoppers. There was a metal stringer in the bottom with a knife, jar of pork skins, loose split shot and other junk that found its way to the bottom. Oh, and don’t forget the rubber frog that every father had but no one as I remember ever caught a fish with one of the darn things.

Besides paper hulls, other smells bring back some fond memories. A cool, crisp autumn morning has a smell of its own. Add heavy dew and decaying leaves and it may bring back memories of a favorite grouse covert and an old friend who’s not here to enjoy it anymore. Throw in a dog wet from the morning dew, the barely perceptible sound of a bell cutting through the woods ahead, and you can start to daydream. Add a fresh shot paper hull and it’s Nirvana on earth.

Fresh cut hay fields remind me of hot summer days slinging heavy hay bales on a moving trailer (not so good a memory). But they also remind me of opening day of dove season in Alabama with Uncle Jim. Hot days with a hot gun from shooting wildly at every dove that came by, and Uncle Jim’s deep guttural laugh at a teenager’s impatience and lack of shooting skill.

But of all the smells that bring back memories of growing up in the outdoors, paper hulls mean the most. It wraps all of my early hunting experiences into one. Now in my sunset years, with Dad and Uncle Jim gone, I search for those things to reconnect me to my youth. Paper hulls do that. With paper hulls so hard to find, I shepard my resources wisely.

A newspaper article several years ago reported the increase in scented candle sales in the U.S. You can find them in most stores now. We’ve got a few in our house. In this fast-paced, self-indulgent, hectic world of ours, folks buy fragrances that remind them of other times, and burn them around the house to provide a more relaxing atmosphere. Aromatherapy of sorts. If a cinnamon scented candle can bring back memories of Grandma’s kitchen, maybe someone should develop a series of scented candles for those of us who hunt and fish. Let’s see, I believe “Outdoor cooking” would go in the kitchen, maybe “Grouse covert” would be for the living room. And of course there would be a special place in the den for one labeled “Paper Hull”.

How to Stop the Transfer of Public Lands – My Take

Let me wade into the pool of everyone commenting on the issue of transferring federal lands to the states. I’ll say upfront that I am against it. I’ve not heard any conservation group speaking out for the move, and rightfully so. Most hunters and other outdoor enthusiast spend some of their time on federal land. All I’m hearing from any of these groups is “call your Congressman” and “attend public meetings” opposition. But what I’m not hearing from any of the major conservation organizations speaking out against it is: WHY is Congress considering this? That's the elephant in the room.  When I worked in corporate quality improvement one of the first things we did when addressing a problem was root cause analysis; or WHY is this happening? A little background.

Background & Context

If you hunt, or enjoy the outdoors, you are probably aware of the movement in Congress to transfer ownership of federal lands to the states with HR 621. The bill, introduced by Representative Chaffetz of Utah, was withdrawn a month ago and was immediately followed by another bill to eliminate federal land law enforcement and turn that function over to the states. The House in early January also passed a budget provision to make it easier to sell public lands. These efforts have caused the justifiable uproar.

To answer the WHY, it's important to establish context.

  • The federal government is the nation’s largest landowner, with a total of 2 billion acres nationwide
  • Those land holding include 47 percent of the western states
  • The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages over 247 million acres, 1/8 of our total land mass

Answering the WHY

So here is my take on the WHY Congress is doing this. Among the cries of “keep public land public” and “public lands belong to the public”, the federal land managers are not listening to the public. We are frustrated by a federal bureacracy that no longer manages the land for public use. Particularly for some of its primary users, hunters and ranchers. Federal land managers simply wrap themselves in the cloak of bureacracy developed by environmental groups.They have lost their focus on the original original multiple-use mission to conform with environmental groups' agendas. Examples?

  • In my home state of North Carolina, the Pisgah/Nantahala National Forest comprise 1 million acres. The goal for young forest growth for wildlife is 10-15%. During recent public meetings it was revealed that only 1% falls in that category. Every effort for two decades to do projects is met with procedural appeals and legal action by environmental groups. As of today, there are no active timber sales on either forest. Let that sink in: 1 million acres with no timber active timber sale.

If conservation and sportsmen’s groups want to stop this movement, they need to address the WHY. It is not enough to scream “keep public lands public”, we must push for changes to public land management policy. We are being shut out of the public land management equation. Hunters and anglers contribute more money to wildlife management on those lands than any groups in this nation. It is time to take back our public land management and return it to the purpose envisioned by President Teddy Roosevelt when he established the first public lands over a century ago.

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There is hope. The new Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture, Zinke and Purdue, are sportsmen. They should be sympathetic to the pleas of sportsmen who share their common pursuit. We must regain our preeminent role and let our voices be heard. We will no longer let environmentalists’ policies rule our public lands. We are also the public. I think the move to sell off federal lands will go away if the federal government manages the land as originally intended. Do you agree?