Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Who to Market to?

I’m writing this for anyone aspiring to become a paintball field owner or those relatively new to owning a paintball field. Those that have been running a paintball field for a while should already know who they want/should market to. Besides, giving advise to someone that has been running his/her own business for a while usually just gets the “who are you to tell me how to run my business” look. Which is totally fair. I think anyone investing his/her time and money in a business has the right to run it however they want. But for those just starting out and still have an open mind, here you go.

The title of this post is “Who to Market to?” but it could just as easily be, “Who to Listen to?”. Throughout my life I have always heard that a business has to listen to its customers. I think that falls under the category of common sense. Listening to your customers provides feedback and the information you need to run your business to your customer’s satisfaction. Satisfied customers tend to come back.

What prompted me to write this is a series of surveys that the Paintball Business Journal has released. Those of you who are not members of the paintball Business Journal will not have seen these. I am not going to copy and paste the series of surveys here. Anyone that is really interested can join up ands become a member. Anyway, the series shows the results of answers to questions posed to hundreds of players. Some of the surveys say that over 1,000 players were surveyed while the latest one says 300+. I’m not sure how the surveying is being done, but the interesting part to me is the fact that it is “paintball players” that are being surveyed. I’m assuming it’s not being done outside the gates of paintball fields asking random people who just finished playing paintball a series of questions. Since phone books don’t identify people as paintball players, I have to assume that the survey is being conducted on-line somehow, maybe through one of the paintball forums.

The answers to the questions in the surveys tend to verify that assumption for me. For instance, in the latest survey this question was posed, “What area of the game of paintball do you see as good for the game’s growth (pick one)?”

The following results were given:
Advancing technology: 20%
Scenario paintball: 43%
Rec-ball play: 7%
Tournament paintball: 3%
Corporate paintball: 1%
Paintball on TV: 6%
Pump games: 7%
Other: 13%

The results show me that the respondents were mostly regular players. New players would have no concept on how most of these categories would affect the game’s growth, if they even knew what they were.

Let’s analyze the question and the results here a bit. First the question. “What area of the game of paintball do you see as good for the game’s growth?” What is meant by, “good for the game’s growth”? I would have to assume that means what will attract more people to the game so that there is as large as possible net growth?
20% said advancing technology. OK, I could see advancing technology as being attractive to a fairly large part of the population. There are lots of gadget freaks out there that seem to thrive on the new and improved versions of almost anything.

43% said scenario paintball. That’s almost half of the respondents. Now to me, scenario paintball means larger games lasting hours or even multiple days with missions and role-playing involved. It’s definitely an area that has seen a fair amount of growth in the past few years. But scenario games takes a bit of commitment. It takes planning. Quite often road trips are involved. Most of the participants are quite involved in paintball already (there are relatively few new players or renters). Yet 43% (the largest portion of all the available categories) believe that scenario play is good for the game’s growth.
Now, I agree that scenario paintball is probably not bad for the game’s growth, but 43% of the respondents choosing scenario paintball compared to only 7% choosing rec-ball play is outlandish. Did the respondents not understand the question? How possibly, could scenario paintball, that new players probably don’t even know exists, be chosen as more than rec-ball play (over 6 times as often) as good for the game’s growth? Did the respondents really believe that scenario games, where most of the participants are already heavily involved in paintball, will do more for promoting growth than local rec-ball play? Over 6 times more?

So let’s go back to the original topic? Who should you, as a new field owner market to? If you go by the responses of a question like that, you might think that scenario play is by far the most important thing to concentrate on if you want your business to grow. But if you are going to concentrate on scenario play, you will have to concentrate most of your marketing towards people already involved in the game. Will that really help the game’s growth. If you are in a big enough market and you do not have others already concentrating on scenario play, it may very well be a good thing for your business. But if others in your area are reading these results and also decide they are going to grow their business by concentrating on scenario play, what will that do to your business?

To answer that question, let’s compare it to where we were a few years ago when many involved in paintball decided that speedball was the direction to take for paintball to grow. It was a similar decision process. Those involved in the game said that speedball was the way of the future. New players, or those not even playing yet, were not consulted. The players already involved in the game made the decision. Speedball was concentrated on as the paintball genre to market. Turned out new players for the most part didn’t like it and didn’t want to take part. They didn’t want to step onto fields occupied by heavily armed experienced payers. So what makes 43% of the respondents think that scenario game fields, occupied by heavily armed experienced players, will aid in the game’s growth?

The point of this article is to open the eyes of future and new paintball field owners. Make sure you understand the information and data that is being fed to you. Listen to your customers. Yes! But make sure you know who your customers are. If you are running a local recreational paintball field, you need to realize that you must be appealing to new players. Existing players are not going to sustain your business without the constant influx of new players. Existing player bases die off without new players replacing the exiting players.

By the way, the answer to another question in the series, “If you could change one thing at your local field it would be?, 40% of respondents said’ “Cheaper prices” (almost twice as many as the next category). We charge anywhere from $120 to $180/case for paintballs. We have one of the most heavily attended fields in Western Canada. I very, very rarely ever have anyone tell me our prices are too high. (Edit: Actually that's not true. I have lots of people on paintball forums tell me our prices are too high. These people however are not in my market, and will most likely never be anywhere near enough to our field to contemplate playing there anyway. They are almost always players that have the desire to shoot high volumes of paintballs as well - hence why they want/need lower prices)

I have a feeling the people surveyed are not the types of people I should be listening to and are the not the types of people I should be marketing to.

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