Wildlife people suck at marketing

How big is your marketing budget?

Do you even have a marketing budget?

If you're like me, "marketing" was barely even part of your vocabulary while you were slaving away working on your wildlife biology degree. We went to school for the science. To do right by the land. To improve water quality and create habitat.

What the hell does marketing have to do with any of that?

More than you probably think.

Think about it. Here in Iowa practically all of the land - like 97% of it - is privately owned. How much difference are we going to make without the help of that 97%? In the big picture, on the landscape scale, our work has to involve private land.

So it begs the questions, how are you going to reach that 97%?

Go door to door? Put on some landowner workshops? Maybe a press release here and there announcing those workshops and maybe the occasional food plot seed giveaway?

Actually, yes. For the most part, that's exactly how the majority of us that work in private lands promote our services. I was as guilty as the next person of this "low hanging fruit" approach back when I worked in private lands).

Now compare that approach to how a private company would advertise. Think about it for a second. What's different between our marketing efforts (or lack thereof) and that of private industry? Tons. Most notably the sheer amount of effort and resources they dedicate to marketing.

Wall of ads

See what I'm getting at?

Simply put, we suck at marketing.

And justifiably so. As I said before, we didn't go to school to learn about ad campaigns, social media promotions or press kits. If we had any training in the art of marketing, it likely was little more than a one-off lesson on a Friday when we were probably out hunting or fishing anyway.

Marketing is Taboo

It also doesn't help that, in our industry, spending resources on marketing is generally frowned upon.

How can you justify spending taxpayer dollars or donations on advertising? That's not delivering on mission! Get out there and spend those hard-earned resources on putting acres in the ground.

Sound familiar?

But that way of thinking just doesn't jive with the way the real world works.

You want to deliver more acres? You want to reach more landowners? You want to start affecting real change among a populace that is increasingly less connected to the landscape?

You better start marketing!

How to market without knowing much about marketing

First, figure out what you want to accomplish. What specifically would help you better deliver on your mission? Do you just need more landowner contacts? Do you want to generate more calls to your office or more visits to your organization's website? Simple ads in the local paper or paid posts on social media may be enough.

Oh, and a side note about social media. These days, social media is not optional.

But there's only so much you can say in a tweet or a Facebook post. Even if you do include good pictures (remember, goldfish have longer attention spans). Do you need landowners to be more receptive to applying conservation practices on their lands? Do you need to change the collective psyche of the general populace? (Nothing like shooting for the moon, right?!) That may require a longer term approach. Consider a blog, a newsletter, or a regular column in the newspaper or a regular talk on a local radio station.

Or learn to make videos.

Yes, videos. And no, I'm not talking full-production, absurdly expensive versions. I'm talking YouTube videos. Or some video clips posted to social media. Simple, easy, effective.

The business world is seeing the importance of video. And considering just how prevalent video is becoming on the web, you probably should too.

Not sure where to start, Sunny Lenarduzzi on YouTube has a ton of vids on the subject of video marketing. Like this one:

The great thing about the internet age is there's a lot of venues for information. You don't have to be an expert marketer to start getting your message out. You just need to take the time to produce and publish the content. Get to writing. Or get to scripting and then turn on the video camera.

How much should I invest in marketing?

That's the million (or billion) dollar question. And one that I don't have an answer to. I'm not a marketing pro (obviously!). But the US Small Business Administration suggests that small businesses invest about seven percent of revenue in marketing efforts.

For the likes of us though, that's a complicated calculation. What do we count as revenue? Just the money we bring in from, say, planting services? My guess is that many of you reading this don't even have actual revenue streams. You may simply have a meager operational budget provided by whatever government or nonprofit entity you work for. And it's probably a small percentage of the organization's overall revenue.

So where do you start?

I wish I could tell you. I'm still trying to figure that out myself. But my suggestion is this: start small. Maximize use of free methods of advertising. Find out what works and do your best to actually quantify the returns. Then use those results to develop a marketing budget request based on estimated ROI on whatever that amount is. That way, you're budgeting against expected (and measurable) outcomes and you're not just blindly shooting in the dark (which, to me the non-marketing-pro, is what marketing feels like most of the time).

Then, just as with wildlife management, you can adapt your future strategies based on the realized outcomes.

Now get out there and sell some habitat!