How an iconic fishing brand used technology to catch a new generation of anglers
Recreational fishing has been a popular outdoor activity for decades. Since 1932, Zebco has been an iconic brand for the sport, designing some of the most popular rods and reels seen outside to this day. However, over the past two years, the brand saw an urgent need to transform their business to address an industry-wide problem: attracting a younger generation of anglers.
In recent years, publications in the U.S. and abroad addressed fishing’s declining popularity and the sport’s need to appeal to a wider range of demographic groups. For years, Zebco saw this threat but did not realize the magnitude of these risks. While the company still held the highest awareness in the fishing category, their business had hit a 20-year low.
Recognizing this urgency, Zebco leaned heavily on technology to help them shift their brand image and business model to become more consumer-centric. Within a short amount of time, Zebco successfully repositioned their brand to a growing consumer base. This was so successful that in 2019, AdWeek and the Wall Street Journal specifically called out the company for improving perception of the entire fishing experience.
How did they turn things around so quickly?
Understanding what consumers really want
Zebco quickly realized that in order to transform their brand, they needed a better understanding of their consumers. But they severely lacked the consumer insights and technology needed to guide their decision-making process. Up until this point, Zebco’s leaders had two choices: 1) rely on a handful of macro-level summary findings, or 2) spend hours manipulating raw data to find additional insights. This meant that their leaders often ended up relying on their own intuition to make significant decisions, which rarely led to breakthrough results.
As a first step, Zebco invested in Qualtrics to uncover their brand’s strengths and weaknesses with millennials and Gen Z.
“We learned right away that we had to recast fishing as the easy, accessible, and social pastime that it is and evolve how younger outdoor enthusiasts perceive the activity,” said Dave Johns, Zebco’s VP of Consumer Experience. “For example, if you look back at fishing ads, it’s no surprise they don’t resonate with younger generations. So, we reimagined what fishing looks like today for this new generation.”
As Zebco strategized their brand relaunch, they tested critical elements through Qualtrics. These consumer learnings, for example, drove the redesigns of:
Zebco’s biggest breakthrough moment came when their Brand team implemented Qualtrics’ Brand Tracker. With 18 customized filters, the brand tracker dashboard showed Zebco how to respond quickly to consumer, competitive, and market trends across their marketing and product teams. Zebco received immediate and detailed analyses on high-growth opportunities, such as targeting specific clusters of underserved demographic groups or targeting segments with different products.
Letting results speak for themselves
Equipped with these new consumer and market insights, Zebco relaunched its brand last year. Within the first year alone, the company experienced:
- Over 6% increased revenue, reversing a negative trend over the past several years.
- Margins improved over 10%, delivering the largest annual growth in over 15 years.
- Brand awareness, favorability, and purchase intent grew by over 20-30% and exceeded all KPI goals.
- Significantly improved brand perception of being a leader in fishing rods and reels and helping make fishing easy.
- Significantly impacted Zebco’s success with retail partners.
Adapting through COVID-19
Every business has adapted differently to COVID-19, including keeping a constant pulse on consumers and their evolving consumer expectations. Zebco leveraged their consumer insights from their brand relaunch to help consumers when COVID-19 hit.
Johns shared, “Due to our deep consumer learnings, we had already identified primary growth segments who were open to the idea of fishing, but were not yet participating. We had just launched a new campaign to reach these consumers, and we actually found that this current environment created a situation where they have embraced us more quickly than we expected.”
Zebco presented this campaign as a different way for families to enjoy time together outdoors while safely social distancing from others to ensure it was aligned with professional medical recommendations. In fact, a few months ago Dr. Anthony Fauci recommended a number of outdoor activities such as running, walking, and even fishing. Johns said, “A number of states have also encouraged fishing and even waived fishing license requirements to make fishing easier to participate in during this challenging time.”
At the same time, Zebco has closely monitored evolving conditions and adjusted their marketing efforts so not to advertise in locations with active shelter-in-place orders.
As every brand continues to see how economic conditions unfold, Zebco will continue to keep a constant pulse on their consumers to ensure that their company is responding appropriately.
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