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Marketing Retention

This guide will show some best practices for using marketing to retain hunters, anglers, and target shooters. Customer retention is key to R3 success. If you can’t keep your customer (license buyer) then you are not sustaining a business model that will last long term. Below are some strategies regarding how to leverage that data, and retain your hunters/anglers/shooters every year, and reduce churn.

Background and Benchmarks

It’s important to start with available data so that you know what trends exist and to identify who your audience is as well as setting benchmarks and goals. If state fish and wildlife agencies are not part of the regional/national data dashboard effort, they should join as it is the easiest tool out there to compare your state to regional and national trends.

Keeping a previously acquired customer has been shown to not only typically cost less in terms of marketing, but has also been shown to result in higher-value purchases. According to Invespcro, increasing customer retention rates by 5% can increase profits by 25% to 95%. In addition, the average repeat buyer spends 33% more than a new customer. When combined with lowering the cost of marketing efforts, the higher spending of return customers can result in a greater ROI for a company in the long term.

Retained customers are also shown to gain value over time, as Annexcloud reports that the typical return customer will spend 67% more by their third year of buying from a business than in their first six months. This means that long-term customer retention, not simply enticing a second purchase, will yield results that increase in profitability over time.

As discussed by Optimove, the specific value of a retained customer can be determined by collecting data regarding total purchases, retention marketing expenses, customer acquisition costs and the general overhead of the efforts made to retain customers. Determining the price of your business’ customer retention efforts can help you optimize your retention marketing and balance your budget regarding both acquisition and retention efforts.

It costs 5 times the money to recruit a customer than to retain a customer in business.

The probability of selling to an existing customer is upwards of 50% while a new prospect is as low as 5% and a similar target audience prospect ~20%

New Customers – Ideally you need to replace at least those people who are aging out of the sport which happens at a different age for hunting/fishing/shooting. To identify some goals for new customers look at churn, new customers each of the past 3 or more years, and people who are aging out to get a good idea of a goal that would keep you moving in a positive trend.

Lapsed customers – People that used to have a license are lapsed customers. This is a group that you should be engaging with often. They are ripe for moving back into retained customers.

From recent Southwick Associates report on Consumer Segmentations:

Overall fishing participation is relatively stable from year to year, annually hovering around 33 million people over the age of 16, easily giving the impression that anglers are consistently taking part in the sport. Looking below the surface, however, the pool of individual anglers actually fluctuates greatly—about the same number of people join and leave the angling population each year. Not surprisingly, the study showed those most likely to come and go are female anglers, those between the ages of 18 and 24 years, and residents of urban communities.

Other highlights include:

  • Die-hard anglers are a small group: Out of the pool of roughly 33 million people who fish each year, only four percent of the licensed anglers purchase a fishing license every year (10 out of 10 years). The largest proportion of anglers—49 percent—purchases a license only one out of 10 years. Almost as many—47 percent—purchase a license in more than one year but lapse in between purchases.
  • Participation fluctuates greatly year-to-year: Close to half of all licensed anglers (46%) do not renew their licenses in any given year. The typical angler buys a license about three out of every 10 years throughout their fishing lifetime. For resident license holders, 41 percent do not renew, while 63 percent of non-residents do not renew.
  • “R3” numbers: Retained anglers, those who purchased a license in a given year and the previous one, are about 52 percent of the angling population. Recruited anglers, those who bought a license in a given year but not in at least five of the preceding years, are about 28 percent. The number of reactivated anglers is about 18 percent, with two percent of records unidentifiable. These are anglers who bought a license in a given year and at least one of the previous five years, but not the immediately preceding year.
  • Female anglers lapse more: In recent years, the growing number of female anglers has received a great deal of attention, but the churn rate for women is still about 13 percent higher than the rate for men.
  • Younger anglers lapse more: Annual churn rates are lowest, about 39 percent, among the 55-64 age group and are highest, about 55 percent, among anglers 18-24 years of age.
  • Urban residents lapse more: The churn rate among residents of urban communities, who make up about 10 percent of the angling population, is about 13 percent higher than those anglers living in rural communities and about seven percent higher than those living in suburban communities.
  • Hunters, regardless of generation, are primarily male. Millennials can claim a higher percentage of women hunters than the other generational groups—but those female hunters discontinue hunting at a higher rate than Millennial male hunters.
  • Education attainment is similar among Millennials, Gen X (35- to-50-year olds), Baby Boomers and the Silent generation (70 and older). With similar education levels, Millennials will have the same, if not greater, buying power than the generations they will be replacing.
  • Hunting members of the Millennial generation are slightly more ethnically diverse than the other generations. With the gradually changing face of America, it is critical for the hunting and shooting sports to diversify their messages and products if they are to accommodate new participants.
  • The Baby Boomer generation, age 51 to 69, has provided the highest level of participation among hunters over the last 25 years, but these hunters are aging and, more and more, facing obstacles that prevent them from going afield.
  • Though similarities between Millennials and older generations are many, it is the differences, perhaps, that provide the keys to increased recruitment of 18- to 34-year olds.

Know Your State’s Stats & Goals

Set internal goals for your state for churn based on where you are now and what improvements you would like to see short term and long term. The lower the churn the better.

Target Audiences

Strategies for retention can be based on many different groups. There is not a one size fits all message regarding fishing/hunting/shooting. You must customize your message based on different target groups to be the most effective.

Use the data you have in your license system to target different groups of people. Agencies have very powerful demographic data that can be used to segment people into groups of customers.

For example, you cannot create one type of message and expect it to resonate with all women around the world. The good news is, most brands know this already and split their messaging into buckets like “new mothers” and “single mid-20’s urbanite”, but even that level of targeting can often be too broad. A new mom in a small town in rural Kansas is going to have different expectations, experiences, and needs than a new mom in downtown San Francisco.

Narrow your marketing demographic to be as specific as you can possibly get, then think through the needs, desires, and triggers of that further defined target. Develop content and messages that speak to this more refined audience.

In the Ernst and Young Groundbreakers report, E&Y uncovered that women reinvest 90% of their income into their families and communities, compared to men, who reinvest only 30-40%. On top of that, 81% of millennials say they want companies to be good corporate citizens. Combined, both statistics present a compelling argument for brands to consider partnering with or championing a cause to create appealing marketing to a female demographic.

Talk about how you give back to the community, work to make life better, and uplift the world around you. Share messaging that promotes how supporting your brand means supporting your work. By fostering this emotional connection, you can instill a feeling that by purchasing from your brand, your customer is, in fact, an active part in helping your company do good in their community and world.

Targeting Millennials:

Members of the so-called Millennial generation, that is 18- to 34-year olds, are a vital factor in the future of hunting. Their collective 80 million members represent the most populous single age segment in American history. To connect with Millennials:

  • Focus on the adventure of getting outdoors to hunt/fish/shoot.
  • Recognize the appeal of attaining their own meat. Produce publications and enhance your website to point out the merits of game meat, provide game-care instruction and supply recipes.
  • Promote hunting as a social activity to be done with family and friends, not as an individual endeavor occurring far into the most extreme corners of the wilderness.
  • Emphasize hunting as a tradition, to reinforce it as a “can’t miss annual activity.”
  • Millennials are mobile, and many are new to your state. Provide information on the how, when, and where of hunting in your state aimed at newcomers to your area and to hunting.
  • Provide a discount to first-time hunting-license buyers. A revolutionary idea, perhaps, but the research shows that they make less money than the other generations of hunters, and this promotion can help get a newbie’s foot in the door.
  • Target colleges, universities, and community colleges to reach this audience.

Targeting Older Audiences

Unlike millennials who thrive on a heightened sense of drama, baby boomers just want to know how your product or service is going to improve the quality of their life. That might be old school, but it’s what they want. Older audiences need different messages and approaches, such as:

  • Promoting that they take the next generation outdoors.
  • Using larger fonts and calls to action.
  • Maintaining trust in the agency or organization.
  • Avoiding using teenage jargon, trendy language, and internet slang, emojis, etc.
  • Using old school channels of communication.

Targeting Female Audiences

Reach out to women and provide them with the support to retain them. Women-only hunter education classes, women’s seminars and hands-on learning programs, women’s hunts and a column or features specifically for women in agency-produced publications and video productions are just some of ways to help meet their needs and fan their interest. Messaging to promote to female audiences includes:

  • Social aspects.
  • Family focus.
  • Community focus.

Good things to mention for any audience:

Challenge experienced, veteran hunters/anglers/shooters to invite and mentor a new hunter. For states with apprentice licenses, take a beginner into the field with you. Find out more about opportunities in your state via the

Collect Good Data

With the regulatory requirements of data collection, agency license systems have so much data to mine and apply for customer retention. When asking for additional data of customers at the point-of-sale, it is important to consider if:

  • Information is mandatory (such as email)?
  • Can you categorize information strategically (such as phone numbers as landline or cell)?
  • Ensure you use marketing communications affirmations/terms of use.

Analyze Your Audience

With so much data at hand, there are many opportunities to analyze the data and identify target segments or personas of your audience. Some areas to consider:

  • Are there personas such as generic national ones which you may take and make them specific STATE level personas?
  • Should you treat resident versus nonresident customers differently? In general, nonresidents are not retained at the same rate as residents, and as such may require different approaches to market and engage them.
  • Can you leverage data dashboards to keep track of trends and compare your performance from the state to regional and national level?

Create and Curate Content

Creating and curating content is a key strategy to keeping customers engaged and retained as participants long term. Here are some ideas for content to keep your customers coming back:

  • Tell the story of how license dollars contribute to conservation.
  • Leverage content such as educational tutorials and stories from third parties (brands, NGOs, etc).
  • Leverage partners to amplify the message of how important it is to purchase your license every year.
  • Create a Mail Bag or similar newsletter, etc. – Post questions customers submitted throughout a month with answers in text or video format.
  • Use PSAs to encourage the purchase of licenses.
  • Celebrate current customers and connect with long-time, lifetime license holders.
  • Utilize outdoor writers in your state for resources and content.
  • Make blogs/listicles/advertorials about why people should want to purchase licenses. These can be directed at non-consumptive groups too.
  • Put verbiage in website, regulation books, magazines, license sales process, press releases, emails, printed materials, PowerPoints, and any other place you can about the importance of buying a license.
  • Develop elevator speech to share with all employees about the importance of buying a license every year and train all agency staff to share that information at every available opportunity.
  • Develop videos about what your agency does with license fees to share constantly throughout the year.
  • Develop infographics/info about license buying and federal funds.

how it works

cycle of success

Marketing Your Access Areas

People repeatedly want to know where to go hunting, fishing or target shooting. Make easy-to-find maps with directions, amenities, etc., and promote any areas. The number one thing repeatedly that people want to know from a state fish and wildlife agency is “where can I go?” so make it easy to find an answer.

Digital Retention Tactics

It’s important to use all digital retention tactics available out there and leverage them to market to people who are soon to be lapsed. You may do so by:

  • Making email address collection mandatory and using people’s emails wisely.
  • Collecting cell phone numbers and text customers. This is an accepted way to communicate about very important matters.
  • Using video production to capture their attention.
  • Using social influencers to amplify the message.
  • Placing targeted video emails.
  • Developing brand partnerships to provide educational tutorials, gear, stories.
  • Adopting marketing automation for scalable, continued engagement.

Use all the tactics listed in the infographic below, preferably created for demographic groups (personas or general target markets):


Social Influencers

Social influencers can be a powerful retention tool as well as recruitment and reactivation for hunting/fishing/shooting. To do this, organizations partner with people on social media with large (minimum over 2,500) numbers of followers and get them to highlight fishing/hunting/shooting in their content. Not all successful influencer campaigns revolve around Snapchatters with 10 million followers and bloggers that were featured on national news or travel shows. You can leverage influencers in and out of your state and those that have large following or micro-influencers. Not only are influencers great for awareness, but they can also highlight many different facets of things like finding places to go.

Influencer marketing isn’t effective because of the the size of an audience. It’s effective because influencer marketing by its nature fosters more trust and credibility than traditional advertising. In fact, 76% of individuals surveyed say that they’re more likely to trust content shared by “normal” people than content shared by brands.

This is good for targeting women to retain them. We’re not just talking Mommy Bloggers here. Women dominate the influencer marketing space and account for over 80% of ad posts. In most cases, female influencers tend to attract an audience of other women, which makes them ideal channels for brands to use in marketing to a female demographic.

Loyalty Programs

These programs when done right can certainly have an impact on retention. Whether it is reward certificates for firsts or trophy animals, agencies and organizations can build goodwill with the public through strategic efforts such as:

  • Firsts Certificates.
  • Angler Recognition programs.
  • Thank yous!
  • Brand collaborations are a great way to build loyalty and say thank you for purchasing a license. Member-only discounts or opportunities are good win-win ways for agencies to work with brands, retailers, or other partners who could give perks to license buyers.
  • Challenges/Trails – Many states do bass slams, fishing trails, or other types of challenges in order to keep people fishing/hunting/shooting and turn them into super users.

Resource Appendix – Supporting Content