It’s Media Day at the Range at SHOT SHOW 2018 and I am not attending. It feels strange because Range Day is a normal staple of my SHOT SHOW agenda. As I woke up this morning, with the plastic reality that is Vegas looming over me, I was reminded that my favorite event in product marketing had already passed. Magpul Week. As my Inbox continues to get hammered by poorly written press releases touting products that are out of touch with reality, with impersonal invitations to see the same products as last year, I’m less than excited. However I remain hopeful.
Why? Because Magpul will save the Gun Industry.
Too often, individuals peer into the firearms business and curse how stale it has become, how it lacks any “real innovation” and that it will eventually become the manufacturing equivalent of Idiocracy.
And there Magpul sits, quietly in the corner, watching, analyzing, testing, perfecting their craft and marketing their products with calculated confidence.
You see, the folks that focus on lack of innovation fail to see that vision that Magpul is putting forth. Hell, they put it directly on their site. Their Mission Statement (if anyone took the time to read it) would silence most detractors as it systematically dismantles their arguments.
As Duane Liptak, Executive Vice President of Magpul Industries has said, (and I completely paraphrase from social media memory since I can’t find the exact post – bad journalist!)
“We don’t just make your favorite products, we make your favorite products better.”
That simple hat-tip to the legendary BASF marketing gem makes you realize that Magpul does not see itself confined to any one facet of the sporting goods world.
So this year, in the week prior to SHOT, the Magpul team yet again raised the bar by releasing several new or updated products. The well produced week-long campaign it is a testament to their year long planning and the hard work put in by their Product Management teams.
Here’s the “in case you missed it” quick list:
PRO 700 Precision Chassis: https://www.magpul.com/products/pro-700
Suppressor Cover: https://www.magpul.com/products/suppressor-cover-5-5
MS1 QDM Sling: https://www.magpul.com/products/ms1-qdm-sling
MS4 QDM Sling: https://www.magpul.com/products/ms4-qdm-sling
A whole line of Apparel for Spring 2018: https://www.magpul.com/spring18
PMAG 10 GL9: https://www.magpul.com/products/pmag-10-gl9-glock17
Among my favorites was the PRO 700 Chassis. I’ve been slowly getting into long range precision and amidst the tidal wave of 6.5 Creedmoor options (and yeah, I have a 6.5 bolt gun) I have my heart set on building a Remington 700 short action based gun in .308. I know I want a Defiance Deviant action. I already have a PROOF barrel. I’ve been looking at a chassis system so that I can easily swap my action for photos. I had narrowed my search to the Cadex Defence, Kinetic Research Group, and Accuracy International systems, all of which are well into the $1000+ range. Yeah, that’s a lot for a basic tactical .308 stock but hey it’s my money. Go be poor somewhere else. With the advent of the PRO 700, I have the chance to have everything that I want in a chassis for a lower price than its similar competitors.
In what I thought was honestly surprising, the chassis was met with equal parts support and disdain. I am not here to be a tastemaker or to tell you what your opinion should be, but the detractors fail to see the significance of the PRO 700. These were not some mouth breathing “muh Creed” faux long range shooters. A lot of them were seasoned PRS shooters that failed to see what it was exactly that Magpul was pushing: a critically-analyzed chassis that addressed some major market gaps from its competitors, including price.
Bear with me for a moment and let’s take a stroll down the memory aisles of SHOT. When Magpul introduced its apparel line, they were immediately criticized for wandering into a territory where they were not welcome. “You make plastic things…stick with plastic things.” By wandering into the battlefield dominated by giants like Arc’Teryx, The North Face, Patagonia, Kuhl, and others Magpul was considered some version of Walter Mitty imagining himself as a clothing magnate. However, if you know anything about Magpul, you’ll know that that particular launch was a way to test the waters of market acceptance. With a significant amount of time since the initial line and countless lessons learned, Magpul’s 2018 line has matured providing the perfect mix of function and casual aesthetic.
Remember though, we’re not here to talk about specific products. There are plenty of places doing that all over the Interweb. Let’s get back to the point at hand.
As the feedback on the PRO 700 began to build, one of my friends Duke Krieger made a statement on social media that was a perfect summation of my assertion:
“Magpul is like the Space Program, and God bless them for it. Sometimes you just build something because it’s hard and a challenge, and it will be awesome if you -correction; WHEN you pull it off. Because it’s necessary. Make that chassis; find a dozen, two dozen new solutions, make improvements, and see a host of new product ideas. …but then internet complains about price…because creativity and originality is as rare a commodity now as ever. You make the $1K rifle body, so we can have the $25 magwell. You make a lunar lander so we can have microwaves and digital cameras and cable TV in our phones. …only fools destined to be conquered don’t see this and complain.”
And there it is.
Personally, I prefer a visual comparison, best represented by this quick scene from “The Devil Wears Prada” where Meryl Streep’s Anna Wintour-esque character Miranda Priestly drops knowledge Napalm on Anne Hathaway’s limited view of the fashion industry. As you watch the clip, replace Streep with Liptak, and Hathaway for 99% of the gun buying public.
Still not clear?
Video is king to digital marketing and Magpul has no shortage of money. You would think that they would be producing sweeping epics akin to how (the now troubled) SilencerCo creates cinematic ads to hawk their products. In stark contrast Magpul takes a more grass roots approach and produces spot on short-form explainer videos. They are clear, concise, stylish, and predominantly deadpan with a tongue in cheek edginess that defies typical gundustry behavior.
Time after time the videos are well produced, relevant, and lacking any unnecessary glitz. Tell the story and get out. That’s Marketing. There are many companies that are producing great content these days, but most often I see them as highlight reels. Magpul never forgets to solve the problem for the consumer. Sling choices are confusing? Here, let us help.
Perhaps the best thing that I saw released (to reinforce this lengthy argument) is their latest vlog/journal/ad for the Spring 2018 apparel line via a trip to Wyoming for several Magpul employees.
The combination of Jake Blick’s stunning contemporary adventure photography with the company’s digital advertising and interactive web page immersed the reader into how we all want to live life – sucking the very marrow from it while laughing with friends. Just do cool shit. In a world of staged camping photos to garner likes on the Gram, these guys live the product. They immerse themselves in it. And that, folks, is the authenticity that cannot be replicated by any marketing trick.
There is no trick. Just be real.
In fact, I felt like I was reading Scott Brady’s Overland Journal and immediately connected to what Magpul was selling. A lifestyle. Not a chassis, or a magazine, or a trucker hat: a complete lifestyle.
You see, Magpul gets the essence of lifestyle brands. There will always be a place to market their products to military, law enforcement, and first responders, but as I’ve preached in the past, too much of the gun industry is unidimensional. The boring people only talk about guns because everything about them is related to guns. There’s nothing wrong with it, but we make fun of crossfitters and vegans for talking incessantly about their passion. Yeah, that same thing.
Magpul understands diversity and multidimensional lifestyles. Guns, overland adventuring, camping, skateboarding, hunting, music, racing – all similar in demographic and crossover potential.
They are the barometer for our industry, and if you have a better example, please let me know. They lead the charge of where this facet of sporting goods needs to go. We are at a generational shift, of which I am admittedly on the tail end, and it is time for Magpul to be seen as the benchmark mentor the smaller companies. Many businesses that I work with can take direct cues from the Magpul marketing playbook to improve their brand, even if you don’t have their budget.
Here are the critical points to consider when trying to emulate Magpul in your own business:
Understand that utilizing digital media is as much art as it is science. While some agencies will provide you with a template for a marketing process, savvy customers see right through attempts to relieve them of their money. They want a story. They want to feel connected to their products. Their time is valuable so don’t waste it with lengthy, self aggrandizing intros, fluff, or useless glitz. Get to the crux quickly, hit the story points, and beat it. Understanding the appeal of each particular platform and how best to utilize its base is essential. It never hurts to have internal brand ambassadors (or product managers) that are just as passionate about creating good products as they are about evangelizing them. Create engaging content whether that is photo or video or the written word. Foster interaction with your customer base, not through snarkiness, but with patience and understanding (even if you want to lambast them publicly).
It’s not about a logo or influencers with large followings. It’s about a message. It’s about connection. It’s about authenticity. It’s about attention to detail, taking time with craftsmanship and putting out quality. There is a reason Magpul products take time to come to market. As they state, “No wine before it’s time: One must recognize that it is impossible to avoid “Murphy,” and some products will just have to wait if they cannot meet the quality standards we have set for ourselves.”
BE BOLD AND RISKY
Remember those DVDs Magpul made with those guys that teach? That was all about doing something the business hadn’t seen before. The timing was perfect, sure, but the risk was large. It’s easy to follow industry trends, trying to capitalize on the hard work of others with similar products. It takes endless faith and confidence in your original ideas to buck the naysayers and drive forward. If what you release is not perfect, own it, learn from it, and make the next version better. Work with your customers and listen to their feedback. You may not agree with it, but acknowledge it. Innovation hates complacency.
BUT MOST OF ALL
There is nothing more important than this. Period. Do not be something you are not. Put every fiber of your being into the story of your product. Live it innately, don’t just see your product as a SKU. Understand how it solves a problem for the customer and shout that clear message from the mountaintop.
While many will criticize this entire article as a fluff piece or some hyperbolic ramblings of a fanboy, I still stand by my original argument. Magpul may not save the industry directly with their products, but if enough businesses pay attention, they will certainly save it with the example they set.
[Unless otherwise noted, all images in this article courtesy of Magpul.com]
Matt Stagliano is a photographer first, and firearms / outdoors enthusiast second. His work has appeared in countless magazines and online outlets such as RECOIL, SKILLSET, Guns & Ammo, Concealment, Breach Bang Clear, Ammoland, and others. He spends most of his time running Stonetree Creative, a full service portrait studio in Maine when he is not on assignment as Firelance Media. Learn more about Stonetree online or follow him on Instagram (@stonetreecreative). On Facebook here.