Where Marketing Tools and Eventing Collide

Photo courtesy of Amanda Ko.

Photo courtesy of Amanda Ko.

I would like to begin by stating I love eventing. I’m a senior in college now, but almost eight years ago, I completed my first Beginner Novice course with a 5-year-old OTTB at Kent H.T. and completely caught the bug. I currently compete equitation in the IHSA during the school year, and event at Training over the summers with my draft cross whom I fondly refer to as “The Warhorse.”

So now that you know a little about me, I’ll get right to the point. I am in a Consumer Behavior class and was given an assignment to write about an issue that means something to me. I’m learning how to connect with, understand, and figure out what people value and think about in their day-to-day lives, and then using that knowledge effectively.

I started thinking about how eventing is continually losing viewership at the Olympics and in TV coverage overall. What can we do to improve this viewership and get the general
public to understand and appreciate our sport? I don’t have any answers yet, but I do have some ideas of how to start looking by using a few of the marketing tools I’ve learned.

Marketing is, quite simply, the attempt to convince people to agree with your point of view, so we can make use of these tools to gather information and take stock of the situation. The world is full of tiny cues that factor into whether you will like something and your willingness to try something new, or not. The way we can find useful information is to sift through the superficial feelings and figure out the deeper consequences of those mindsets.

The Laddering technique is one that connects seemingly trivial occurrences and attributes to core values held by the interviewee. These values give the researcher a baseline to target other people with those same values. They can pull out those values by focusing marketing efforts on reaching, and evoking, those emotions, and then directing the consumer towards a desired decision.

While ladder interviews can have great value, for this question I believe we would want to pick a “champion” of our cause: someone who is (or was) a non-rider, who was drawn into the sport and now has come to love it. An example of such a person could be the unsuspecting boyfriend, who is forced to meet his girlfriend’s horse one day, gets dragged along to events, and ends up loving the horses and working in a stable.

While “laddering” him, we would ask a series of questions that always leads back to the question, “why.” Why does he like the horses, why does he like the people, what does he mean he likes the competitive atmosphere? We use this interviewing technique to descend to the heart of what makes someone truly do what they do. Is it a sense of belonging? Perhaps it’s loyalty, but is it to the people or the horses? All these little questions can combine to form a list of values that can be invaluable when marketing.

For example, say we find that two of his values are a sense of community in the barn and camaraderie at competitions. You know those super intense Rolex advertisements that give us chills when we see the huge jumps and our heroes riding? Those commercials are targeted at us.

They probably do not work as well on our non-horsey neighbors who don’t understand that those fences are over five feet tall and oh, doesn’t the horse do all the work anyway? Maybe for these people, advertisements for the four-star Rolex shouldn’t be all about action, but about the back of the barn, “up before dawn and working past dusk” aspect of the sport. We could make it realistic and relatable to them.

Nobody’s minds will be changed by a commercial, but if it opens the conversation, then that’s a huge start towards improving awareness and education about what this sport really is, and why we love it so much.

While there are several other marketing techniques that I think could be very useful here, such as building a prototype around the ideal viewer, I think that if we were to start anywhere, it should be to find these champions and try to truly understand what they believe. Life is about perspective, and I feel like there are so many people trying to force others to follow their beliefs without stopping to question why they are disagreeing in the first place.

By exploring each other’s values, maybe we can discover a better approach to reaching outside of our horsecrazy bubble, and by doing so, perhaps we can start to change public opinion of our sport one person at a time.

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