A boating-themed ‘branded’ playlist West Marine’s experiment with Pandora radio

Posted on Written by Michael Sciulla

Michael SciullaLike many of my fellow baby boomers I like classic boats, classic cars and classic rock. That said, I am not a fan of classic technology or marketing tools that lack a digital component. But radio, which had gone the way of the sextant for many marketers, is being reborn, thanks to advances in digital technology.

Case in point. My second car is a British racing green 2003 Jaguar S-Type that I like to think evokes memories of a bygone era. I used to love to take it out for a spin, but haven’t done so until recently because its electronics are, to put it graciously, classic. No Bluetooth means no streaming radio, such as Pandora or Spotify, to amplify the experience. AM/FM radio and a CD player just don’t cut it these days.

That said, where there’s a will there’s a way. For a mere $22 I recently purchased a wireless Bluetooth FM transmitter by Anbero that has literally transformed my Jag’s sound system, allowing me to listen to streaming audio such as Pandora at the touch of a button. All I had to do was plug it into the lighter socket, turn on my smartphone, tune my radio to an unused station and voila! Great music burst from my Bose speakers! I liked it so much that I even bought one for my sister. That’s what I call brotherly love.

I particularly like Pandora because it allows me to listen to music tailored to my tastes free, with as few as four minutes of commercials an hour, as opposed to upwards of 18 minutes of commercials an hour that plague many traditional radio stations.

So when I received a press release from West Marine announcing that it had created a Waterlife station on Pandora filled with curated music that might remind me of being on the water while driving down the highway, my inner marketing light bulb went off.

According to West Marine, Waterlife invites water enthusiasts to tune in and spend their time listening to a selection of music that speaks to good times and having fun — whether you’re boating, sailing, fishing or paddling. The company’s goal is to “inspire an island state of mind, wherever people may be.”

Within minutes I was cruising to a playlist that included such classic gems as “Sail On, Sailor” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by The Beach Boys, “Come Monday” by Jimmy Buffett, “The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley, “Sail On” by The Commodores and “Pirate Flag” by Kenny Chesney.

Talk about a closed marketing platform that puts your business and whatever message you might want right between the ears of potential customers for extended periods of time!

West Marine’s messaging hits your eyeballs, as well. A click on its station brings you to a home page screen that invites you to “shop now.” A touch of the button delivers you to the company’s website, which — as I write this — features a 20 percent off coupon.

“What we’ve done is create an online community for their brand based on contextually relevant music that is connected to the West Marine website,” says Molly Bruno, Pandora’s manager of ad product strategy. Before developing its branded station, West Marine was just using Pandora spot advertising to drive sales to its website.

In fact, I had no idea just how much of my smartphone usage Pandora was consuming until I received a monthly smartphone report from T-Mobile telling me that I had spent more time on Pandora — using 91 MB — compared with 83 MB for Gmail, 31 MB for Firefox, 18 MB for Google Play and 12 MB for The New York Times.

It turns out that I’m not the only one listening. According to numbers Pandora supplied, the service has nearly 80 million active listeners a month listening to an average of 22 hours of music. These listeners account for 49 percent of the time spent listening to all streaming radio and 9.4 percent of the time spent listening to all radio (AM/FM, Sirius XM, etc.)

Launched in early May, West Marine’s Waterlife station is one of about 150 Pandora “branded stations” in which sponsors can create their own music playlists, decide how many commercials will be run and exclude any advertising that might be deemed competitive. “We use Pandora to build brand awareness, not so much as a targeting channel,” says Audrey Broxterman, divisional VP of integrated marketing for West Marine.

“We’re trying new things to see what works. We’re not spending our entire marketing budget on this effort. We’re just putting our toes on the water, so to speak. This experiment will run through the end of this year,” Broxterman says.

West Marine astonished many in the marine industry a few years back when it stopped exhibiting at boat shows. “It really hasn’t had an impact on us at all. It wasn’t very cost-effective,” she notes, adding that the company’s most cost-effective platforms are its website, email, direct mail and paid search.

“A good marketer knows what their customers respond to,” Broxterman says. What’s particularly intriguing for marketers is that Pandora says its service lets advertisers target audiences based on hundreds of criteria. I initially found this claim hard to fathom, seeing as how Pandora only asks for a listener’s email, gender, age and ZIP code when they sign up for the free service.

Pandora’s Bruno explains that the company works with a lot of third-party vendors to create third-party audience segments so it can leverage that information and pair it with registration data. There are a lot of data vendors out there, she notes, that are collecting information about all of us that allow us to create audience segments.

Audience segmentation is a process of dividing consumers into subgroups based on defined criteria such as demographics, psychographics, product usage, communications behaviors and media use. What this means is that given Pandora’s large customer base, West Marine should be able to target male sport fishermen in the Great Lakes, female sailors in the Chesapeake Bay and Hispanic trailer boaters on California’s inland lakes.

Although all of this is certainly intriguing from a marketing perspective, it probably does not come cheap, nor is it easy to judge the service’s metrics, especially in terms of a potential return on your investment. West Marine and Pandora refused to share any success metrics and/or campaign costs, so deciding whether this service is right for you is up to you.

For more information on what Pandora has to offer, go to www.Advertising.pandora.com. To see West Marine’s Waterlife station in action, go to www.Pandora.com/westmarine.

Michael Sciulla is president of Credibility & Company Communications, as well as vice president of the Marine Marketers of America and a member of the board of directors of both Boating Writers International and the Marine Marketers of America. During a 28-year career at BoatUS he built the association’s brand as membership grew from 30,000 to 650,000 and testified more than 30 times before a number of congressional committees.

This article originally appeared in the August 2016 issue.

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