In the Field

Finding a Personal Connection with the Outdoors

by Bryan Bjerke

Growing up, my dad was a farmer, not a hunter or fisherman. Since our tractors didn’t have cabs, his idea of being outdoors was cultivating corn or baling hay. One of my brothers was a hunter, but it just never appealed to me at the time. I had a BB gun but limited my hunting to tin cans and one dining room picture window (that one didn’t end well for me). It wasn’t until high school, when several of my buddies who loved fishing and hunting and thought I should too, that I began to make a connection. They always wondered why I, a healthy farm boy, didn’t take part in all that the great outdoors has to offer. So I took them up on their deal.

I went duck hunting, fishing, pheasant hunting and spent some quality time with pals. I grew to understand and appreciate what makes a good part of the great outdoors experience so great. My personal experiences helped shape my perception. It’s more important than ever for the outdoor industry to find and share experiences that can encourage some much-needed support and enthusiasm. Because the trends in participation of outdoor sports could use it.

Decline in Participation

An article, “A Closer Look at the Decline in Hunter Participation” on the website, outlined the causes and effects of this decline.

“Just about every mainstream media source that takes the time to write an article on hunting seems to delve into the demise of hunting. Yes, the number of hunters in the United States is declining. In 1970, over 40 million Americans purchased hunting licenses. Today, the number is 12.6 million. This trend is likely to continue. Almost 50 percent of hunters are over age 47. The steep decline can be attributed to a number of causes including habitat loss, rising costs, complicated regulations, other forms of entertainment, societal changes, demographic changes and the mass media.”

In this digital atmosphere, it can be easy to keep our eyes buried on the screen in front of us and get distracted by a multitude of options. It should be the same when it comes to bringing attention to outdoor brands and activities. If it’s just words on a screen or an attractive logo, it’s a cold start to what should be a warm invitation. The challenge is to create emotional connections with the readers, viewers, Tweeters and Facebookers. When you can immerse a person in stories about real people and their experiences, the chances of engaging with that person go up dramatically.

Intimate Connections

One of the greatest challenges brands face is to create an emotional connection with their audience—something that’s difficult to achieve with even the most exquisitely designed communications or marketing materials. The place where you connect online, where you can have meaningful conversations with customers, should feel comfortable. It’s where they can learn through personal stories and experiences.

It’s important that you put yourself in the mind of the consumer, especially the consumer who is connecting with you through their mobile device, but may not have a direct connection to hunting or fishing. It can be a very direct one-to-one connection because it’s just that person, their mobile device and your story. But it can also be a setting that is full of distractions—crowds, airports, restaurants, workouts, etc.—which is even more reason to tell compelling, personal, relevant stories.

Those stories should be a mix of experts and enthusiasts, as well as people like me, who have come to appreciate hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation through connecting with those experts and enthusiasts. Research shows that no source is more trusted than our peers, especially when those peers have relatable, easily understood connections to the product or brand and lifestyle. It’s also important for the people with the most intimate connection to your product or brand to share their experiences and enthusiasm.

We can provide intimate stories and new, meaningful links to a greater audience. Tell good stories about interesting outdoor enthusiasts and their activities, supplemented with compelling visuals. Add to that mix stories that are relatable to people who learned about the joys of hunting and fishing without ever touching a gun or a rod and reel. They may be ready to at least listen and read, or head out to a field or stream. Give us a chance because we have a story to share.