Does your shooting range have a brand? If you’re serious about running a successful business of any kind or any size, your brand is all important. Shooting ranges are no exception.
Some other questions: Just what is a brand, and why does it matter? How can you establish and/or improve your brand – really make it better and more memorable?
With shooting ranges specifically in mind, let’s take a look at branding. Let’s define branding (it’s not complex, but it is much more than just having a name, logo, caps and T-shirts) and make the case for paying regular attention to this often-ignored aspect of running a shooting range. Then we’ll outline six hands-on strategies for improving your brand, which is always a sound long-term investment in your business
Your shooting range has a name, and probably a logo to go with it. Branding, however, goes much deeper than that.
Author, entrepreneur and marketer Seth Godin offers one of the best definitions of the word “brand”: “A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose [your range] over another. If the consumer … doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.”
Branding is your image: The mood you create at your range; the customer service you provide; the way you and your employees talk to and treat customers; the little-and big-things you do for clients.
If a shooter’s brand experience at your range is poor, he or she won’t return to spend their money with you again. That in itself is enough reason to pay attention to your brand and make it stronger. How do you do it?
Establishing and improving your brand
Fortunately, it doesn’t take a big monetary investment to establish or improve a brand. Most of the activities revolve around knowing who you are, identifying what unique value you provide to shooters and then delivering on those promises when customers come to your range. Here are six steps toward branding success:
1. Know your look
Though we’ve played up the aspects of branding that extend beyond having a good logo, it would be a mistake to underplay the importance of your logo, name and “look.” A consistent, identifiable look across website, signage, collateral, store décor, promotional items and anything else related to your range is essential as the first step to establishing your brand identity.
Here are some examples from the shooting world. A swish R and green typography say Remington. A red eagle with an R says Ruger. A blue elongated C says Colt.
Chances are, your current logo is just fine. Don’t change it without good reason. In fact, if you’ve been using it a while, most brand experts would say leave it the way it is, because it already relates to your identity.
What’s more important is to nail down your look. Do you have a set of rules for how your logo and brand image are used? Has a designer identified the proper colors to use? You should pick out typefaces for literature (both digital and print) and maintain consistency. Review all materials and make sure they maintain your branding.
It may be worth a small investment to pay a designer for a day or two of time to establish branding consistency, the end result being brand guidance for your range.
Establishing your look and making sure it’s consistent across materials is hard work. Make someone responsible for reviewing and approving all material before publishing in print, online or for in-store messaging and signage. If you’re a larger business, this falls in the realm of “Marketing.” If you’re a smaller operation, the owner or general manager is probably the responsible party.
2. Know your purpose
Identifying your purpose is more challenging, because it takes extensive thought, soul-searching and insight. Before you can be a brand, you have to know what you do for customers that’s different and better. How are you going to make their shooting lives better? And what sets you apart from other ranges?
This purpose or vision statement becomes the basis for your branding and marketing messaging. Here are some examples:
- The [City] Area’s Family Friendly Shooting Range
- Providing Shooters in the [City] Area a Safe, Fun Place to Shoot
- A Range Dedicated to Pursuit of the Shotgun Sports
- A Year-Round Indoor Range for the Serious Handgunner
- [City] Area’s Longest-Running and Most-Trusted Range
Your purpose must be a vision that all employees can rally around. It’s who you are, what you do, why you are in business–and the reason customers make return visits.
Employees and customers alike need to know your purpose.
3. Establish your uniques
In his book Traction, Get a Grip on Your Business, Gino Wickman advocates for every business to identify the “Three Uniques” that make it special, identify its strongest points (advantages) and set it apart from competitors. These statements become rallying points for establishing and promoting your brand identity.
Three is the right number of uniques to identify and use. Three makes you really home in on what is important and makes the uniques easy for employees to remember and use to guide their work. Three is also an easy number of ideas for consumers to buy into from your marketing efforts.
Here is an example of what a range’s three unique might be:
- Cleanest and most shooting lanes in the [City] Area
- Largest gun selection and retail shop
- Best and most knowledgeable staff — averaging 17 years shooting experience
Put your uniques in simple, straightforward terms that set you apart and make you different – and better – than the other places shooters can go.
4. Create a culture
Your look, purpose and uniques combine to form the basis of your culture. Employees know who the range wants to be and can portray that vision to customers.
A shooting range is an experience-intensive business. Customers are coming in, expecting efficiency and enjoyment, plus maybe a little companionship, friendship and gun talk from staff. Interacting with employees such as cashiers, safety managers on the range, retail store clerks – anyone with whom a customer comes in contact– is critical to a great customer experience.
One way to reward carrying out your culture is to observe employees in action, then award a monthly Brand Excellence Award (or similar name) given to the employee who portrayed your brand best during that period of time. The reward doesn’t have to be big – maybe a gift card – but recognizing employees that represent the brand helps other employees model and repeat the desirable actions.
5. Create a guarantee
Every business needs a guarantee. It’s a must for good branding: For first-time buyers to try you, and for return customers to feel good about coming back, you have to let them know you stand behind your product and service.
A plain and simple guarantee is best. State your guarantee in the customer’s terms. Here is a powerful example:
● 100 percent satisfaction with your shooting experience or your money back
Simple, straightforward, clearly filled with value: A bold guarantee creates long-time clients.
6. Get your social media going
So you’ve got your brand image chugging: The look and feel is right. Employees are buying in. Customers believe it. Now it’s time to promote it.
In the digital age in which we live, an active social media presence is key for presenting and continually confirming your brand image. It’s where you talk about yourself and show your customers some “love,” too. Social media must make people feel good about your brand.
For shooting ranges, two social media platforms make the most sense.
Facebook. These days, anybody can set up a Facebook account for their business and easily maintain it. Consider building up quickly to doing three posts per week.
What do you post? The sky’s the limit: First-time customers trying your range. A great score at the skeet range. The results of Wednesday night’s league. An upcoming conceal-and-carry class. A birthday on the staff. News from the gun world.
The best bet is to mix up posts between the promotional and the for-fun. Ask for engagement (for instance, comments) specifically. Use pictures, as Facebook is a highly visual medium; images attract eyes to your posts.
Twitter. Twitter is another social media account to utilize. Twitter is for short, newsy posts and updates, often with links. Tweets are limited to 140 characters. Inform people about news from the gun world and Second Amendment rights, link them to offers at your range and include some opinion and commentary: Be your brand and talk to customers.
The idea of branding is a simple one: Know who you are; create that image; then live it. Branding is your look, yes – colors and logo and signs and collateral and such. Branding however, is also a frame of mind, an approach … your image.
Be clear. Stay consistent. Work at it constantly. Those are the keys to giving your range a brand it can rely on for success.