You finally convinced your brand’s leadership to give your team a budget to drive sales through social media like the rest of retail industry. Better late than never, right?
And, being the seasoned marketing veteran that you are, you know your efforts won’t go far without Facebook advertising.
You wrote some clever copy, created an eye-catching graphic, and allocated a respectable budget for your first campaign. You’re set to take the digital world by storm.
Except, there’s one tiny, little problem.
Facebook’s advertising policy specifically prohibits the promotion of firearms and ammunition.
Facebook ads are still allowed to promote gun blogs or groups connecting gun enthusiasts, but if an ad directly (or indirectly) links to a landing page where guns can be purchased, your ad campaign is a no-go.
But, that’s okay – you can always advertise on Google, right?
Unfortunately, no. Since 2014, Google AdWords has also banned the sale of “dangerous products or services,” which includes – you guessed it – firearms and ammunition.
So, does this mean your digital marketing plan is a done deal?
Not a chance!
Here are five clever ways to advertise your firearms online without the use of Facebook Advertising or Google AdWords.
1. Blog for SEO
Search engine optimization (SEO) describes the process which allows customers to easily find your website using search engines like Google or Bing.
In other words, when customers type “gun retailers near me” into their search engines, SEO is the special sauce that places your website at the top of the list.
We won’t get into the nitty gritty details of how SEO works, but a simple way to get your website found is to regularly publish helpful blogs related to your products.
[For more info on how to get started with SEO, read our blog post, 3 Pillars of White Hat SEO Success.]
For instance, by typing “gun how to” into Moz’s free Keyword Explorer, we can learn that a few popular search terms related to firearms are:
- How to shoot a pistol (851 – 1.7k searches per month)
- How to disassemble a gun (11-50 searches per month)
- Best gun for target practice (11-50 searches per month)
All of these are great blog topics, but we would encourage you to start with “best gun for target practice” as it’s an opportunity to be helpful while promoting current products in your store.
The more helpful your posts are – meaning, the more words, pictures, and videos are included – the easier it is for your posts to rank higher on search engine results pages and get shared on social media by firearm enthusiasts.
And, here’s a fun fact for you: the average Google page one search result contains 1,890 words.
2. Targeted Email Marketing
Got a flash sale on Smith & Wesson pistols? Offering a military discount on Remington shotguns?
Although often seen as “old school” by some, email marketing is still a digital marketer’s best – and most effective – friend.
In fact, according to Monetate, email marketing drives more conversions than any other marketing channel, including search and social. With that in mind, email marketing should take up a pretty large chunk of your digital marketing strategy.
Before you hit “Send” on that next email, beware of falling prey to every rookie marketer’s first mistake – the dreadful newsletter “blast.”
Although sending a one-size-fits-all newsletter seems easy and cost-effective, you’re essentially leaving bags of money on the table.
Don’t believe us?
Here are some more fun facts for you: personalized emails deliver 6X higher transaction rates and marketers have seen a 760 percent increase in email revenue from segmented campaigns.
In other words, when sending an email, always remember the cardinal rule of marketing: those who sell to everyone sell to no one.
Be sure your list is segmented according to your customers’ interests and that your emails are tailored to fit your customer’s needs.
A simple way to get started is to add interest checkboxes to your sign-up form according to your store’s basic categories and interest areas. When customers join your email list, they should be able to choose whether they want emails related to hunting, law enforcement, competitive shooting, etc.
As you gain more confidence in your email marketing skills, you’ll want to further segment your list according to customer behavior.
For example, a customer who only purchases discounted firearms should not get the same email as a customer who never purchases discounted products.
For more information on how to get started with behavioral email targeting, read Hubspot’s comprehensive guide here.
3. Influencer Marketing
Influencer marketing refers to developing relationships with online personalities who have large followings and use their clout to spread the word about your products. 92 percent of customers trust word-of-mouth advertising, even if the customer doesn’t know the individual personally.
As ad blockers continue to become more prevalent, influencer marketing is fastly growing in popularity as an effective tool for digital marketing.
“But wait!” you say. “I don’t have a $1M budget to pay Jerry Miculek to promote my products!”
And, that’s okay. Thanks to the Internet, it’s now easier for lesser-known individuals to build a niche, yet significant audience and become influencers in their own right.
Instead of reaching out to the hottest names in the firearms industry, try reaching out to lesser known individuals like Reginald Kaigler (also known as Demcad) who has 59,491 YouTube followers or Jack Spirko (the host of The Survival Podcast) who has 112,350 Facebook likes.
By sponsoring a blog post, podcast episode, or YouTube video, you can quickly and easily reach a large and engaged audience of raving fans.
4. Affiliate Marketing and Digital Media Buying
Sure, Facebook and Google may have turned their backs on the firearms industry, but there are still other advertising marketplaces available online.
Affiliate marketing presents an opportunity for firearm retailers to reach their target audience at an affordable price.
By creating your own affiliate program, you can reward webmasters based on performance (i.e. sales) rather than paying a fixed rate. Many of them will also be happy to trade product for the promotion, which lessens the strain on your marketing budget.
Similarly, digital media buying is another alternative for reaching potential customers.
The trick is to make sure your target markets are well-defined, your creative is well-designed, and your links are thoroughly tracked. (For more info on how to track your links, read Search Engine Watch’s how-to guide here.)
One piece of advice: never throw money blindly towards an ad placement. Always track and analyze your ad conversions and adjust your strategy accordingly.
A couple of helpful companies to look at are AvantLink, who specializes in affiliate marketing for online merchants, and Armalot, who specializes in digital ad placements on nationally-recognized firearm websites.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way!
5. Social Media Marketing
Facebook may not allow firearm retailers to use paid advertising to promote their products, but – for now – there are no restrictions against organic social posts from FFL licensed retailers.
With 1.65 billion active users spending an average of 50 minutes per day on Facebook, retailers would be foolish not to take advantage.
As with any marketing tool, be sure to know your target audience – and your competitors – like the back of your hand to ensure your message sticks.
Focus on creating eye-catching, shareable content to persuade your customers to pay attention. Video is your always your best friend for increasing engagement on social channels.
And, most important, always track your efforts so you can analyze your results and adjust your strategy accordingly.
It’s unfortunate Google and Facebook have declared a war on firearms, but savvy marketers will continue to stay three steps ahead by testing innovative ideas.