Q&A: Greg Summers on creating the great outdoors experience
Greg Summers is the Laboratory Director for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, where he's worked for almost 40 years. With a long and distinguished track record, he has a unique perspective on natural resources management and has witnessed evolutionary and revolutionary changes in his field. In the following interview, Summers shares his perspectives.
SAS®: Conservation agencies like yours are under significant pressures that seem to have emerged rapidly over the past 10 years. How do you view the situation – and what do you think the causes are?
GS: The overarching focus of our department is to balance the needs of conservation and sportsmen. Our mission is to enhance sport-fish populations and make them accessible to people in larger volumes and sizes. Our core “customer,” if you will, is the person who buys an annual fishing license to fish for sport and pleasure. For decades, we – and similar agencies in other states – enjoyed steady and growing demand for licenses. However, over the past 10 years, that demand has slackened significantly, which has presented some strategic challenges to our mission. After some analysis, we found that, on an annual basis, 40-50 percent of license holders were not renewing the following year. We had assumed a 80-90 percent renewal rate.
We dug further and found that there was a big drop-off in license holders in the 20-to-28-year-old demographic – which we assumed correlated with people getting married and starting families. Then we saw that our most loyal customers were in the 35-to-45 age bracket.
SAS has been so helpful to us. It helps us confidently manage these huge volumes of data and make sense of it to drive policy changes and base our marketing decisions on what the customer wants – not what we think they want.
SAS: What do you think are the causes of that erosion in demand?
GS: I believe there are numerous causes. Perhaps the most fundamental reason is simply that the US culture continues to change and evolve. It's not a 1900 agrarian society. We're increasingly an urban, industrialized society. Fishing is no longer a sustenance activity – it's a leisure activity, and it competes with other demands for free time. The fact is, we need to "change the face of fishing" to a more compatible leisure activity.
SAS: So, how did your agency attack the challenge?
GS: Well, for us, it’s revolved around creating a 360-degree view of the customer. But, honestly, this is a cultural shift for us. Marketing was virtually unheard of in natural resources agencies. You didn’t need to – license sales were always increasing. Now, it’s different. We’re focused on slowing the churn rates.
We have had some real success with SAS® Enterprise Miner™ to help us segment our markets by demographics and geospatial dimensions, proximity to a water body, urban versus rural addresses, household income, and more. We probably have 200-300 variables for each person in our data warehouse. We’re taking that data from a lot of different sources and using SAS® Data Integration Studio, which has been very valuable in bringing together all of these disparate data types. We use these tools to build predictive models of our customer segments and apply some of the classic “corporate marketing” principles to our agency. Our model is being used in several other states, and it’s having a positive effect on our ROI. We market to more of the right people, and we use the results to refine the models.
SAS: What has that done to your agency's culture?
GS: Once our license sales started to flatten, we realized that we weren’t doing everything we could to address all of our customer base. The fact is, most natural-resources agencies target their programs toward about 15 percent of their customers – the avid sportsmen who purchase licenses year-in and year-out. That’s no longer enough. With SAS, we can go after the other 85 percent and respond to what motivates them. We’re finding they’re equally interested in the aesthetically pleasing destinations, feeling safe in their environment, enjoying time with their families, so now we’re emphasizing those parts of the fishing experience.
SAS: What are some of the lessons you can share with your peers?
GS: First – in developing your strategy, keep in mind that there’s no magic bullet or one-size-fits-all answer to improving license sales. Market segmentation in one region of the country may yield very different results in another region. The other major lesson is that you have to constantly monitor your results to refine and improve your models. Make sure you apply what you learn into your future campaigns. And finally, be patient. Changes and improvements are usually very localized and segmented. Micro-targeting appears to be the way forward to affecting that churn rate.
That's one reason SAS has been so helpful to us. It helps us confidently manage these huge volumes of data and make sense of it to drive policy changes and base our marketing decisions on what the customer wants – not what we think they want.
- Responding to shifting demand patterns for fishing licenses.
- Gaining 360-degree view of customers to reduce churn and increase renewals.
Created sophisticated models that segment markets by demographics and geospatial dimensions for positive ROI. The models are now used in other states.