Selling To Millennials And Generation Z

By Mark Kakkuri

Firearms sales and marketing has two sides — the seller and the buyer. And while you rightly often focus on your part as seller (strategy and tactics employed to generate leads and garner sales from a buyer) it’s good to study and take in the viewpoints, presuppositions and worldview of your buyers. Especially if they’re what social and demographic experts refer to as millennials and Generation Z.

You’ve no doubt heard these terms and know a bit about their relation to other generations, including Generation X, baby boomers and so forth. We generally categorize them with these names and birth years:

  • Silent Generation (Before 1945)
  • Baby Boomers (1946–1964)
  • Generation X (1965–1980)
  • Millennials/Generation Y (1981–Mid ’90s)
  • Generation Z (Mid ’90s–2012)

There are other generations and some overlap each other, but this is a generably agreed upon categorization. The key thing to keep in mind is if you’re not a millennial or  Gen Zer, brushing up on how these two groups think and act as consumers may be necessary. The bottom line is it’s probably very different from how you think and act as a consumer. As such, your sales and marketing tactics need to accommodate them — or you run the risk of losing them as potential customers.

Plenty of research and data is available on these generations (too much for any one article to accommodate) but a few key points will suffice for how to consider sales and marketing efforts in the firearms industry.

Tap Into Buying Power
First, understand millenials and Gen Z grew up in a vastly changing technological world: Gen Z has always had the internet and mobile phones. While it obviously increases the importance of digital marketing, it also means the digital marketing tactics and messaging you’ll use to reach them will need to be flexible and adaptable. Perhaps most importantly, whether reaching out to them online via a website or social media, you’ll likely be connecting to them through a mobile device.

Second, these kids have significant buying power. Some researchers peg Gen Z spending in 2020 at $44 billion. Moreover, they’ll make up about 40% of the population by next year as well. Now, that’s good to know, but keep in mind most Gen Zers have not yet turned 18, let alone 21, so this limits some of their ability to spend in firearms/shooting markets where age restrictions keep them out of reach of many of the industry’s goods and/or activities. As for the millenials, they’re already spending about $600 billion each year and in 2020 researchers predict they’ll hit $1.4 trillion in retail spending.

Knowing Gen Z and millenials have significant buying power, let’s get back to the first point about their use of technology in their retail research and decisions. Let’s focus specifically on the millennials because they’re the group with actual near-term buying power for this industry. From some of the best available research available today, marketing to this group will be different — but not so different — from the tactics you used to market to Gen X and even the boomers.

Some interesting points about millennials, Gen X and the boomers:

  • Over half look for the “cheapest return option.”
  • Almost half practice “showrooming” — looking at goods in a local retail store and then shopping online for the lowest price.
  • Over a third will buy online if a local store is closed.
  • Almost 90% claimed real-time product availability data would affect where they would shop.

They’re Online, But Not Exclusively
Other findings about millenials, some of which may surprise you: They’re not exclusive online shoppers. In fact, many prefer brick-and-mortar stores so they can touch and feel a product they’re considering before they buy. They may end up buying online so the challenge for brick-and-mortar retailers is to make the in-store experience as compelling and worthwhile as possible. 

Further, they can actually be loyal shoppers. The key is the whole “experience” — treating them right from online to store. Almost all millennials want to be actively courted by the brands they’re considering; emailed or mailed coupons and text messages are very effective with this group.

Finally, as for social media, when they “Like” a retailer it’s not necessarily because they like the retailer. They may, but they’re truly after the coupons and deals that may come with the like. Their like can count positively for your business, sure, but if you want sales, your brand needs to become a part of their conversation. In other words, you want millennials talking positively online about your business, store, products or services.

More On Social Media Use
Mentioning the proper understanding of “Likes” and getting into millennial conversations may seem to suggest the importance of Facebook, but this social media platform is actually on the out with this particular generation. They’re moving on to Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Reddit and Pinterest. Of course, other social media outlets will be created and some of the current ones will go away. So plan on constant evolution in social media as well as a need for ongoing research to determine what will work to reach customers.

You’ve likely heard about the demand for video and its subsequent importance as a marketing tool. Millennials generally prefer to get their information via video (“I looked it up on YouTube”) while Gen Z desires a live stream of video from whatever resource they’re accessing. Either way, video is important. 

Stay Engaged
According to researchers, retailers need to be aware of, participate in and improve in six key areas for reaching the next generations of shoppers:

  1. Deliver a consistent cross-channel experience.
  2. Offer personalized interactions.
  3. Connect shopping.
  4. Integrate merchandising
  5. Provide flexible fulfillment options.
  6. Develop capabilities and enriched services to make shopping experiences better, faster and more memorable.

Considering how to market to millennials? It will likely require significant changes on your part and may even sound overwhelming. The key is to start doing something, even on a small scale and advance in incremental steps.

Shifting Your Approach
If you’ve realized the need to make some changes right away, consider the following steps:

  1. Keep your website up to date and branded the same as your physical store.
  2. Be active on at least two social media channels (e.g., Facebook [to reach a broader demographic] and one other channel).
  3. Don’t just post content on social media — engage with the readers who click and comment.
  4. Invite a handful of millenials and Gen Zers to your store to provide some insights on how they think and act when they’re shopping. Pay a small fee or otherwise make it worth their while. And, obviously, listen to what they have to say! 

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Mark Kakkuri is the online editor for FMG Publications, a member of Generation X and father to three millennials and one Gen Zer.

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