Post photos on Instagram, get brand ambassadors, do some collaborations and sales should come pouring in, right? Well maybe, up to a point. As the saying goes, “if it was easy everyone would be doing it”. And since it’s easy, that’s what every equestrian brand is doing.
While social media and the internet has made it easier to reach potential clients, it has also increased the level of competition. Elbow grease is no longer enough to cut through the noise. Without a clear marketing strategy and investment, you’re relying on a wish and a prayer to secure your future.
The first step is to create a marketing budget. Ideally, allocate 7-10 percent of gross revenue. For new businesses, that percentage should be higher since you have to spend more in marketing at the beginning to build brand awareness. Your budget can be increased or decreased throughout the year depending on your campaigns, but you should set a minimum amount that you can sustain every month.
Make sure you have enough margin. Even if you do it yourself, marketing is not free. You need to factor that cost into your pricing. Treat marketing like rent or payroll, a recurring expense. Otherwise, you’ll end up sacrificing and it will affect sales down the line.
You have a marketing budget. Now what? If figuring out how to spend it feels like a game of pin the tail on the donkey, here are some options with my thoughts on each one.
1. Marketing assets and content marketing: This includes your own photography, copy, videos, and any other material that you create for your own channels (website, social media, email, brochures), etc. Before you start amplifying your message with media, you need to invest in your own marketing first. I recommend that clients plan quarterly campaigns. For products, if you can’t do four, I suggest a minimum of two photo shoots. For riders and services, do one or two lifestyle shoots per year. Gather videos at the same time. If you have quarterly campaigns and the creative concepts planned out, you’ll gain efficiency (and save costs).
For professional riders, purchase those competition photos that show you killing it in the ring but also plan a professional photo shoot that reveals your human side. Make a point of taking nice images that highlight each of your sponsors (one image per sponsor, don’t cram 20 sponsors in one picture). In addition to posting the images on your own channel throughout the year, send them to your sponsors. You’ll earn serious bonus points.
2. Social media advertising: Social media is becoming increasingly a pay-to-play space for businesses. Facebook and Instagram advertising is something to consider as you’re able to target by location, demographic, interests, and even find ‘lookalikes’ of users who have visited your website. Billions of people use social media daily, so you’re inserting your brand in their routine. The drawback is that you’re competing for attention with Nike, the local pizzeria and cat videos.
3. Google and Adwords is another option, especially useful for products and services that people research online before making a purchasing decision. For example, hotels, local businesses, insurance, photography equipment, etc. Hermès clients aren’t going to randomly search ‘scarf’ and end up with an Hermès scarf. Brand building marketing would be more effective.
4. Equestrian media: I own a media company so I’m biased but no one offers quality equestrian sport content like equestrian media does. Therefore the quality of the audience is very high. Who reads equestrian publications? Horse people. As an equestrian brand, that’s where your potential clients all are. It’s much easier to get seen and stand out. There’s also a trust and connection with the audience in a specialized media that you won’t find on generic platforms.
5. Horse show advertising: You can advertise in show programs, sponsor a fence or put a banner in the ring. Prices can vary but visibility at a horse show allows you to reach a very targeted audience. For example, dressage competitors in Michigan. Beyond people who are there in person, many riders film their rides and post them online, so the reach can be exponential. If you make a banner to hang at a horse show, keep it simple so it can be seen from a distance. This type of advertising is more about brand-building than getting immediate sales.
6. Booth at events: This allows you to market your business and get sales. You can also make contacts, get feedback, see what is out there. I always say that nothing replaces human interaction. Also, no one is as passionate about your brand than you are. So anytime that you can go out there and press the flesh, you should. However, going to events is VERY costly. In addition to the booth cost, you have the cost of travel, food, hotels… as well as your time. If it’s an outdoor event, the weather plays a huge role.
Beyond providing a space (sometimes, in a terrible location), I find most events don’t do much to promote their vendors and make sure they’re successful. Go to any horse show website, click on the vendor tab. What do you find? Not a list of vendors with links to their websites, as you would expect, but rather an application form to become a vendor.
Unless the entire concept of your business requires you to be at horse shows, like a mobile unit tack shop following a circuit, I would be very selective and go to a few events because the costs can soar rapidly.
I didn’t go into rider sponsorships and influencer marketing in this article, but even if you’re giving away product instead of cash you should still factor in that cost in your overall marketing budget.