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Digital vs Trade Show Marketing: Statistics show digital is King

Are American Hunters Likely to Book Online?

The idea to write an article like this started many months ago. As marketers we have for a long time assumed that hunters are moving more to the internet for research and bookings after being stuck at trade shows for a long time. This logical assumption came from many factors such as the younger tech-comfortable generations growing older, and the ease that the internet has brought to our lives.

However, we could not write an article on this subject without facts and figures. And no such data existed at the time. Thus, we started the process of collecting this data and, for now, decided to focus on the U.S market only.

With our clients we have found that the majority of African Outfitters are of the opinion that most bookings will be from tradeshows or physical interactions; and therefor they haven’t invested any decent amount into digital marketing. We knew this wasn’t true as technology is being embraced by more and more hunters every day.

We expected this study to show that the number of Americans willing to book their African hunt online would roughly be equal to those who want to book at shows only.

We then decided to run a couple of tests, studies and conduct research from official U.S government sources – and the results was not at all what we expected!

We are going to throw around a lot of numbers so be sure to grab yourself something to drink and strap in 😁🤠 

Key takeaways:

  • The future of hunting is not all doom and gloom as many popular sources report. Although there are issues which we will address in another article the hunting industry is fine and has great growth potential into the future.
  • The amount of people who go to tradeshows to book an African hunt is small. In fact, it is the smallest percentage of all respondents of the study.
  • The number of hunters who would book online is in a vast majority.
  • Although the younger generation is a smaller group of hunters than the middle ages, it makes perfect sense. Patience is key, but also Outfitters’ way of thinking needs to change to adapt for the new generation of clients.
  • Although Fish & Wildlife have reported a decline in the general number of hunters, the one statistic that very few sources report on is that the amount of money spent on hunting activities has increased substantially.
  • Outfitters who act now and take a lead in the digital arena will save tens of thousands down the road.

Our study methodology:

KCSS conducted a study with the sole purpose of finding out how many Americans would hunt in Africa, how many of those would book their African Hunt online, and how many would hunt in Africa but would only book at tradeshows or physical interaction.

We joined several hunting communities and groups across the web. These communities where on Facebook, Google+ and online forums, and ranged from Whitetail specific, Archery Specific, American hunting in general and many other interests. We then asked these communities very clearly, would you hunt in Africa, and if yes, would you book online. They where then presented with three options:

  1. No, I would not hunt in Africa.
  2. Yes, I would hunt in Africa but will not book online.
  3. Yes, I would hunt in Africa and will book online.

Some went on to comment on these polls and even track down my email to discuss it further which provided even more insight into the thought process of the general American hunter. These discussions had two main points:

  1. Some will not book their first hunt online due the uncertainty of Africa, but after their first hunt would happily book a second, third or fourth online.
  2. Some will not hunt in Africa due to security, and cost.

On both points we will elaborate later in this article.

A maximum margin of error of 10% can be accepted for the findings.

What we found:

We expected that the number of Americans who would book online would be roughly the same amount who would only book at tradeshows or in person. What we found was nothing like we expected.

Pie chart showing how Americans book a hunt to Africa

The results showed that almost half of all American hunters would be completely comfortable with booking their hunt online, coming in at 49%. A mere 22% of American hunters said that they would only book in person, whether this be via an agent, a tradeshow or a house-party. A surprising 29% of Americans indicated that they have no interest in hunting in Africa.

Not what you expected? Join the club!

It seems that our assumption all these years where 100% correct. More and more people are becoming very comfortable with booking online. We just didn’t think it was such an overwhelming percentage.

What also surprised us was the number of American hunters who stated that they would not hunt in Africa at all.Breaking these findings up and taking each category on its own also presented some interesting data:

Those who would only book in-person:

Our pre-study assumption was that those who are only willing to book in person would be the older generations (50+). Our studies however showed that there is absolutely no correlation between those booking only in person, and the age of these people.

Commentary and follow up questions revealed that there are three main reasons keeping people in this group from booking online:

  1. They are not comfortable with the security in Africa and wish to meet the outfitters in person for added peace of mind.
  2. They wish to discuss the Safari in great depths and often try to get a better deal out of it
    1. This group also includes people who said they would only book at trade shows because they can get a donated hunt for a massive discount.
  3. They feel this is how it has always been done. They like the idea of African outfitters putting their best foot forward and being able to walk the halls and compare each outfit.

Those who would book online:

Our pre-study assumption was that those who are willing to book online are completely comfortable with trusting and shopping on the internet, mostly the sub-35-year old’s.

Although generally correct, those who indicated they would happily book online was rather equally distributed across al ages. The only group who seemed to be uncomfortable with online booking where those 60 and older, as only 4% of online hunt bookers where 60 and up.

Pie chart showing age of Americans who book African hunts online

This however, intrigued us to investigate further. Here is our thought process:

It seems that the younger a respondent is, the more likely they are to book online. The question then becomes whether this is sustainable. Are the younger generations of America still hunting?

If we are willing to bet that online marketing is the new way forward, and that it will grow past its current dominance of 49%, we need to make sure the numbers are there for growth if we want to invest into this channel.

We have read many articles indicating a decline in hunters in the States. It is very easy to assume these articles are correct, but we want to bring you the facts, not something we assumed to be true from a magazine. We thus went ahead and dived into statistics from the general U.S census, as well as studies by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

We found that although the statistics (Which is widely used and quoted) indicates that the hunting population between the ages of 18-29 is smaller than that of ages 30-39, other factors need to be considered as well.The most important factor for us was also the most obvious one. When we put it on a chart, our suspicions where confirmed:

Line Chart comparing the age of American hunters to the Income

We need to consider the cost of hunting. If you do not have the funds available for the expensive sport of hunting, how can you partake in it. When comparing the median income of an age group to the number of hunters, we see an almost exact correlation – up to a point where general health becomes a factor.

It is also clear that the current 35-40 year-old group is a bit of an anomaly. Every stat we find, this group seems to spike slightly above all other ages in terms of the number of hunters per capita.

In addition to this, a statistic that I have never seen anywhere, yet is the very next paragraph in the same report compiled by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; is that over the last 5-years the average U.S. expenditure on hunt related services (such as Taxidermy) has increased by 27%, and hunt-trip related expenditures (such as paying guides) has increased by 15%.

Putting all of this together and considering the massive social pressure our young people face in the workplace, we are confident that hunting will remain a tremendously popular activity in the States. (More on this in a bit)

In saying that, we can safely assume that the current percentage of American hunters willing to book online (49%) will grow as the younger population become financially stable and acquires free time for hunting abroad.

Those who would not hunt in Africa:

A surprisingly large amount of people (29%) reported they would not even consider hunting in Africa. This is an even larger number than those who said they would hunt in Africa but would only book in person (22%).

This was interesting, and we tried to get these people to share their reasons. The majority responded with either:

  • It is too expensive
  • It is very unsafe
  • To a lesser extent, they simply are not interested.

To this we can only say that we as Africans have dropped the ball. These misconceptions can only be blamed on poor marketing.

From personal experience I know that many Americans are surprised when you talk to them at a trade show and give them prices. “That’s cheaper than my trip to Canada next year, even with the plane ticket!”

The aspect of safety could have come from many places. From the stereotypes about Africa, to the very real commentary high-placed Government officials have sent into the world. However, that is exactly what marketing is, managing the message.Many have not done so convincingly.

What does this all mean?

Putting all this together a few conclusions can be made.


The Trade Show Conclusion:

Just to recap, 29% of American hunters won’t hunt in Africa. 22% Would only book in-person. 49% Would book online.

  • When you as an African outfitter attend tradeshows, you need to know that automatically 29% of the people in the showroom is not even looking at you. They are not interested in any African hunt.
  • Further you need to know that, even if we assume in favor of trade shows, at least 50% of those willing to book online will not book at these shows. (That is assuming all who book online attend the shows. We know this is not so, when we look at the number of American hunters vs the number of show attendees). That is 24.5%.

We can thus conclude, being very biased in favor of trade shows, that if every single hunter in America attended your tradeshow, at best only 46.5% of them would even consider looking at you.  

Important notes based on reasonable further assumptions:

  • We know that not all 49% of American hunters who book online will attend shows. More likely the above 46.5% can be decreased by at least a further 20%, leaving us with a more realistic potential client reach of only 26.5%.
  • We know that many show attendees are looking to book a donated auction hunt, and not your standard package.
  • We know that attending trade shows is extremely expensive.
  • You need to do the math and determine if your cost vs reward justifies attending the shows. Are the massive costs of tradeshows worth it considering you will realistically reach a maximum of only 26.5% of potential clients?
  • We are of the opinion that when done right it is. But you will have to work with analytics only available to you through advanced digital techniques to concentrate on shows where your company is well known and featured.
    • We have also always been huge fans of private get-togethers as a supplement for trade shows.

The Digital Marketing Conclusion:

With digital marketing you have at least 49% of American hunters as potential clients. Compare that to trade shows where you have a realistic maximum of 26.5%. Then, having a look at the cost of digital marketing vs these shows, we consider it a no-brainer.

Digital marketing has the potential to literally double or even triple your potential new client reach yet costs less than a third of what a show tour would. Put simply, with digital marketing either your marketing costs will drop exponentially, or if you decide to keep the current budget, your client leads will skyrocket.

Keeping that in mind, consider the following: When you remove the 29% (Those Americans who will not hunt in Africa at all) from the equation, then those that would book online grow from 49%, to a staggering 69%. Again, put simply, if you only count hunters who want to hunt in Africa, then 69% of them are willing to book online.

Further considering that with digital marketing you can focus your marketing down to the finest of metrics and comparing that to the practice of fishing for random clients at a trade show, how can you not embrace digital?

What we mean by focused digital marketing: We can target all your ads to a very specific group of people. For example, you can market to Men who live in Texas, between the ages of 30-45, who support the Republican party, who went to University, who now practice as Lawyers, who love to travel the world, who is a member of the NRA, who shows interest in hunting. This allows you to focus on a very focused set of people for all your marketing efforts.

The budget conclusion:

Ask yourself this. If 69% of American hunters who shows interest in hunting in Africa can be reached for less than a third of the cost of a trade show, yet that same expensive trade show realistically only reaches a maximum of 26.5% of American hunters, why would you keep investing so much into them? Why not focus on the more affordable two-thirds?

Well, the answer up until now was that you didn’t know. Nor did we. I mean, we assumed. But now for the first time ever the African hunting industry has facts and figures to back op their marketing budgets.

The fact of it is that the world has turned digital. Everything we do has become quicker and easier. For a long time, the hunting industry was lagging the rest of the world when it comes to this tech, but it has finally changed!Those outfitters who act now will have an early advantage that, in the digital world, saves you literal tens of thousands down the road.

So, what now?

We are not saying you need to quit trade shows. I mean, if you do, power to you! But if you’re not quite there yet and the idea of not doing shows anymore seems a bit scary, don’t stop. But you need to focus and use statistics to do it right. If you don’t know how to do that, stay tuned, we’ll be writing about it soon.

Another aspect that stood out to us was that of the age of hunters. If outfitters wish to attract more of these younger hunters, they would need to adapt. For example: it has become a common practice for the younger generations to work “permanently” but to do so while on the road. With the power of the internet, this has become possible. I mean, right now I am sitting in Pongola, next week Rustenburg, then two weeks from now Mozambique, followed by a trip down to Cape Town. All this while not missing a heartbeat and being in constant communication with my team. To them, it is as if I’m not even gone. Outfitters need to adapt to this and provide the younger generations proper internet connectivity. Yes, hunting is about escaping, and many traditional outfitters would argue that they want to keep that atmosphere. What we would suggest then is have internet available everywhere, except around the fireplace.If you are a hunting outfitter, and you are serious about growing your company, you absolutely must invest heavily into digital marketing and digital channels. If you don’t, you will miss out on amazing opportunities to reach the vast majority of current American hunters, and the growing number of up and coming hunters.

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