Nonprofits, Gun Makers are Aiming at the Same Target


Nonprofits and gun makers are polar opposites in many ways, but not in marketing. That's what I learned from this Wall Street Journal article on the new CEO of Smith & Wesson, a gun manufacturer since 1852.

Like the nonprofit industry, the gun industry is in the midst of a revolution - and an upheaval because of the deadly shootings in Newtown last month. Prior to December 14, gun makers were evolving in a similar way with an emphasis on women, Millennials, consumer product marketing and now, crisis management.

The future is female. Smith & Wesson has gotten the memo on the marketing power of women. It turns out that women are interested in a lot of things, including guns. According to one study, gun store owners had seen a 75% increase in female customers. The dramatic increase in women gun users may have been the motivation behind a pink gun to support breast cancer causes.

Millennials are packing. Much is made of how Millennials - men and women born after 1980 - want to work for socially responsible companies and dedicate themselves to a larger cause. They also want to be armed. The product of a violent, video game culture, Millennials are "very interested in firearms," according to the CEO of Smith & Wesson.

Learning from consumer product marketers. Nonprofits are taking marketing cues from consumer product companies by increasing marketing research and evolving with consumer tastes. They aren't the only ones. Smith & Wesson is moving away from the Dirty Harry pistols they are known for and making smaller, lighter pistols that can fit in a pocket or purse. Nonprofits and businesses are working hard to give stakeholders what they want.

Addressing controversy. Gun makers have a new challenge post-Newtown: to prove to the American people that guns are safe and can be kept away from dangerous and unstable men and women. Their ability to deal with controversy and adapt are key. It's a lesson that gun makers and nonprofits are learning together.

After several marketing disasters, including one embarrassing partnership with fast food giant Kentucky Fried Chicken, Komen for the Cure joined with the New York Attorney General's Office last fall to create new cause marketing standards. These new guidelines will give consumers better information and a clearer understanding of how their donations are supporting breast cancer causes. Komen is trying to be part of the solution.

Sadly, gun makers have more than chicken grease on their hands. Smith & Wesson and others will have to adjust their sights. Nonprofits should watch and learn. To hit their target they'll need all the help they can get.