Industry Insights

5 Marketing Insights from the NRA Annual Meeting

by Mark Smither

The 2016 NRA Annual Meeting may be over, but the marketing takeaways from this year’s event are just beginning. After walking the 10 acre exhibit floor of the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, I realized two important things: 1) I am woefully out of shape and 2) when you see over 800 firearm and outdoor brands all in one place, it’s easier to uncover some interesting trends.

Here are five marketing insights from this year’s NRA Annual Meeting.

  1. More exhibitors are creating and distributing their own social media content from the Annual Meeting floor. These days, no trade show booth is complete without a video camera, tripod and microphone pointed at a prospective customer or sales representative. The goal for most brands is to create content that captures the energy and excitement of the NRA Annual Meeting and share that experience with others on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. If prospective customers can’t make it to your booth, at least they can make it to your website.
  2. I also noticed more gender diversity at this year’s Annual Meeting. According to a recent NSSF study, women represent the fastest growing segment of the shooting sports. This growth is a result of the rising demand for self protection as well as the increased popularity of target shooting and hunting among women. Savvy brands are now marketing products specifically developed for women, such as Glock and Prois.
  3. Technology in the booths is becoming the norm. The NRA Annual Meeting has always been a very tactile experience where customers can grab hold of just about every variety of handgun, rifle or shotgun. But now, many brands are using technology, such as  virtual reality and game play, to provide customers with real-life simulations. This allows customers to interact with new products in a more relatable and realistic way.
  4. The quest for customer data extends beyond the Annual Meeting floor. On the first night of the Annual Meeting, I sat down to enjoy a bourbon and burger at a downtown Louisville restaurant. My waiter asked me if I wanted a chance to win a new Tikka T3x from Beretta. All I had to do was fill out the entry card (cleverly disguised as a drink coaster) and return it to the Beretta booth the next day. Beretta now has my email address and knows that I might be interested in a new rifle. Genius.
  5. People still want to connect with people. When you’re walking among 80,000 gun owners and outdoor enthusiasts, it’s remarkably easy to strike up a conversation with complete strangers. There is an unspoken bond, for sure. I noticed one older gentleman wearing an Aviano baseball cap—Aviano is an important U.S. Air Force base in northern Italy. I spent some time there a few years ago, so I asked the man about his connection to the base. Before I knew it, 30 minutes had passed and we ended up exchanging mailing addresses. These kinds of connections—and instant friendships—seem more common here than at any other trade show. The best brands understand the power of a good conversation.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s NRA Annual Meeting in Atlanta. It will be interesting to see what will change and what (I hope) will always stay the same.

Mark Smither at NRA