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5 Marketing Lessons from a Gun Show – Part 2

March 24, 2014
Gunshow part2

Photo courtesy of Andrew Ballantyne

When I was about 12 years old, I started working at gun shows and I learned a lot about business and marketing from the gun dealers who sold their wares there. I wrote about my experience in the original 7 Marketing (and Entrepreneurship) Lessons from a Gun Show.

In Nashville, where I am, gun shows happen almost monthly. And because of that, I thought it was time to revisit the topic of “gun show marketing lessons” once again, with some additional marketing strategies I didn’t mention in the original post.

5 Marketing Lessons from a Gun Show

1. Start With a Hungry Crowd – A hungry crowd is your “secret weapon” when it comes to a successful business. For example, if you’ve got people who absolutely need to eat, it doesn’t matter if you have the best tasting food, the best quality food, the best prices, or the best service. People who are starving aren’t picky — they just need something to eat.

While your business might not service a literally “hungry” crowd, building it around enthusiasts who live, talk, and breathe what you’re doing will drastically increase your chances of business success. Gun shows are one such business and a great example of what marketing to a hungry crowd looks like.

2. “Under the Table” Deals – People love to think they’re getting something they shouldn’t, whether it’s a great deal or something not available to the general public.

At the gun shows I attended, there was plenty of “under the table” merchandise including White Power and Nazi items, firearm conversion kits, and controversial books with subjects ranging from how to kill somebody and get away with it to creating a new identity. While these are extreme examples, the concept is relevant for all businesses and will work for what you’re doing.

For great examples of this in a non-gun market, look at muscle and bodybuilding magazines. Almost all of them are full of ads for “barely legal” and “banned” substances that promise users better results than they’d be able to get from their local health food and nutrition stores.

What information or products can you sell that isn’t available anywhere else? How can you jack up the perceived intensity and excitement to make customers feel they’re getting something special?

3. Fear Sells – The sad reality of humans is that we respond to fear and cure over twice as much as we do prevention. In other words, as far as marketing is concerned, we’re rather get sick and take a pill than do something to keep us from getting sick in the first place.

Because of human nature, gun shows are full of fear-based marketing that talks about things we’re scared of — terrorists, gun-snatching politicians, and lack of personal safety for non-armed individuals.

Fox News sells all three of these examples.

Church sells the concept of Satan and Hell.

Bitcoin and Gold dealers sell the belief that the US Dollar is losing value and will eventually be worthless.

Is this the way you want to run your business? Maybe not, but know that it’s very powerful and it’s possible to use it to motivate people for something positive. Even if you have a higher vision for what you’re doing than to sell fear, know that you may get better results for your business as well as the customers it serves by bringing that vision down a notch and approaching people where there are now. Only after you’ve connected with them will you be able to bring them to a higher level.

4. Us vs. Them“You’re the real Americans.” That’s the message of the gun show.

And everybody else is out to get us.

Almost every company uses this at some time or another. There’s Macintosh and then there’s everybody else. There’s the people who go to a specific church, with a specific set of believes, and everybody else.

You’re either with us or against us. And if you’re not with us, you’re….

  • …going to hell.
  • …cheap.
  • …stupid.
  • …a communist.
  • …a wimp.

People want to belong to something and like black and white rules. Give it to them.

5. Limited Time — A weekend gun show only gives you three days to buy. If you don’t purchase within that time, you’re out of luck because, like duty-free goods at an airport, you can’t go to a traditional store for these type of deals.

But gun shows add the element of fear to this, which make buyers especially responsive…

“It’s only a matter of time before the government shuts us down…”

This is powerful! Remember Fen-Phen? Once it was found to be unsafe, and was in the process of being taken off the market, customers rushed stores to get the last remaining supplies.

How can you use this in your business? Release your products and services for a limited time and, when you take them off the market, take them off the market for good.

Scary? Yes. But once you get known as a company that does this, like Disney, you will see big results.

Final Thoughts

If you have an opportunity to go to one of these events, even you’re like me and have absolutely no interest in guns, I highly recommend it. The firearms industry in the US alone has an economic impact of $31.8 billion so there is something to learn from it when it comes to business and marketing.

ABOUT THIS SERIES: Every Monday, I analyze the good, bad, and ugly about the marketing behind a common business or famous personality. See other posts in this series here and, if you have a request for something (or someone) you’d like me to analyze for this series, contact me via Twitter.

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