Q&A with Azimut Yacht marketing director Francesco Ansalone

Posted on Written by Reagan Haynes
Azimut's new marketing strategy emphasizes its Italian heritage. The Azimut 80 is shown here.

Azimut’s new marketing strategy emphasizes its Italian heritage. The Azimut 80 is shown here.

Azimut Yachts is relying on a new “Made in Italy” marketing strategy that invokes the country’s long history of art and beauty, but Azimut is more than just a beautiful creation, says marketing director Francesco Ansalone.

The brand is emphasizing its Italian craftsmanship in combination with the most modern shipbuilding tools available, Ansalone says. The marketing campaign invokes not just the yacht but the yachting experience, which is what customers today are looking for.

Azimut Yachts marketing director Francesco Ansalone.

Azimut Yachts marketing director Francesco Ansalone.

Ansalone, who turned 43 in January, previously was with the Ferretti Group and was its marketing manager from 2004 to 2007. After subsequently spending 18 months structuring the Azimut Benetti Group’s strategic marketing department, he took full responsibility of all marketing and communication related to the Azimut Yachts brand. In January of 2011 he added the Benetti and Atlantis brands to his list of responsibilities and took charge of corporate communications for the group.

Before Ansalone worked for Ferretti, he spent two years as a senior business analyst at the Rome branch of McKinsey & Co.

Soundings Trade Only associate editor Reagan Haynes and executive editor Chris Landry spoke with Ansalone on separate occasions to ask him about the company’s marketing strategy, how the industry is growing and changing after the recession and to discuss what’s on the horizon.

Q: What prompted Azimut to launch a new marketing strategy?

A: In 2012 the management of Azimut Yachts, facing an evolving market, decided to make significant changes to the corporate structure to maintain global leadership.

The beacon that has guided this choice was the decision to focus on the main characteristics of the Azimut brand — first, being an Italian company with Italian ownership, Italian craftsmen and Italian design. Under this strategy it was decided to concentrate the yacht production in Avigliana, headquarters and main production site of Azimut Yachts, and move along with a series of investments for reaching the best possible production in Avigliana and the launch of new models.

“Made in Italy” will be our message to the public. We are carrying out this message through a new advertising campaign called “Being Italian.” We want to get across the point that our Italian heritage brings uniqueness to our products. Being Italian, therefore, signifies proudly exhibiting the cultural roots of the most beautiful country in the world.

Q: How does that marketing emphasis on “Made in Italy” translate for the buyers of Azimut yachts?

A: When you buy a boat, you also buy an experience. A boat is something that from the external standpoint must be something beautiful and something the customer wants to be recognized for. When they buy something designed by Italian designers and [an Italian] company, they perfectly well know all the history we have in art and beauty, and reflected also in the products.

Concentrating yacht production in Avigliana is part of the new strategy.

Concentrating yacht production in Avigliana is part of the new strategy.

The greatest thing about Azimut to me is that we continue this tradition and ask people to work with their hands, using the most modern and up-to-date tools that our industry knows. So the customer knows that they are going to the most modern craftsmanship in the world.

When you go to a museum in Italy, they take care of their exhibits to make sure what you’re experiencing and staring at is perfect. All around must be perfect. I don’t know how I can explain this. It’s a fundamental. Steve Jobs said in his biography that he learned a lot from Italian culture — this extreme [dedication] to seek beauty, combined with functionality.

If you look at the smallest details in our yachts, like leathers, like marble, like furniture, everything is done, as I told you before, with a craftsman mentality so that it is something beautiful by itself, but the company is also behind him to provide the best technology tools and ask him to guarantee to the customer the level of quality.

So it’s not all the result of an artist, but it is the result of a very well-prepared worker.

Q: What was the reaction of people at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show to the new marketing and five different collections?

Azimut prides itself on Italian craftsmanship and attention to detail.

Azimut prides itself on Italian craftsmanship and attention to detail.

A: The Azimut Yachts brand is based on collections since 2010, and clients already know them. In addition, the advertising campaign “Being Italian,” where all of the fleet was presented, helped a lot and gave evidence of the main values of our brand and through five different types of products we can satisfy the different needs of our customers.

The goal is twofold: to offer a boat that perfectly meets the needs of the client and to assure the client of the best technical assistance. In the United States we are represented by MarineMax, which is the more important dealer in the country, and our office in Fort Lauderdale has a warehouse with spare parts for more than $1 million.

Q: Can you talk about the high-end part of the market and what those buyers want from their yachts today?

A: There are two aspects that to me must be taken into account while explaining the purchase of a yacht, and in particular, of an Azimut Yacht — there is the emotional side and an operational side.

The emotional side is what you project in owning a yacht. Your freedom, the possibility to spend time with your close friends, the beauty of spending time in a fantastic atmosphere is the emotional side.

From the other side, buying a yacht implies spending or investing lots of money, so they want to be guaranteed from one side they are safe on board. They also want to be sure their investment, mainly the value of the boat if they want to sell the boat, will be guaranteed to be as maximum as possible.

They also know that [if] Azimut is building a boat for the United States, Europe, China, Brazil, etc., some customization or modification must be done to create more suitable and more interesting products we are building for that market. So we are also capable of adapting our technology, our ideas, our design to give the best solution to the customer everywhere in the world.

Azimut adapts its technology and design to the needs of customers worldwide.

Azimut adapts its technology and design to the needs of customers worldwide.

It means we’re able to design for the Chinese market. We incorporate the mahjong room, or karaoke room, or other things that are particularly specific to the Chinese market. For the United States market there is an important requirement in making the galley more convenient, an aspect of interaction between the owner and his guests, while in Europe there is a stronger requirement for formality, or for privacy. The galley is a place for the crew. To me, these are the three aspects that represent the success of a product like Azimut.

Q: Can you tell me about the Dragon Lifestyle yacht that is geared to the Chinese market? Are there any other themed models from Azimut?

A: To provide our Asian, and in particular Chinese clientele with the best boating experience, we have devised made-to-measure concepts and styles for this market: The result was the Azimut Dragon China project.

This single, coherent project follows the logic of the various models’ characteristics and has been designed to satisfy specific local requirements. The main focus of the designers was to create a convivial, sociable atmosphere, interpreting the various aspects involved so that the philosophy of “being together” could be turned into tangible, functional solutions.

The spaces were therefore organized to revolve around the large areas for games, karaoke and the large dining room. Attention was then paid to the level of privacy and service on board, with crew areas kept apart and independent from the rest of the yacht.

All yachts sold outside Western Europe need to be adapted to the local market. For example, in Russia, the interiors are more complex. But there are no other specific themes like the Dragon China lifestyle model.

Q: Immediately after the economic disaster, many North American buyers did not want to spend a lot of money for items like yachts. Now we hear the opposite is true and that the wealthy are less worried about how people perceive their wealth. What do you see in the American market and around the world? Have buyers changed post-recession?

A: We saw that people moved away from yachting for a while. It was considered something they could do with their current products. They didn’t need to quickly change the yachts they had anymore. But once the situation was cleared, once some economies were going back to good levels in countries like the United States, Brazil, Russia or the U.K., people began going back to yachting.

I honestly think it was a different state [of mind] that they had in the period between 2004 and 2008. Previous to the economic disaster, to use your words, yachting was just showing off. Now it’s an opportunity to spend high-quality time with family, friends, and now people are more conscious and expert about what do they really want and what do they really need.

So I think they are coming back to yachting more for an inner satisfaction. Ultimately there is always something regarding the ego and the sex-symbol effect, but for us, we think they are more interested in what the yachting experience represents — contact with nature, the sea, intimate experience with oneself and relatives or close friends.

Q: Has that shift in the essence of why people are buying yachts changed how Azimut approaches marketing or product design or other aspects of the yachting experience?

A: Well, you are aware that Azimut Yachts is part of the Azimut Benetti Group. So one of the key elements of the structure of Benetti Group is represented by Yachtique. It’s a division, or let’s say a business line, that was founded in 2008 to create and develop all of those services that could increase the quality of the experience of yachting for the customer.

So crew management, crew training, yacht management, brokerage, chartering, sales — there are lots of new innovations not only in products, but also in service, and now our new [way of] marketing to the customer. So this is one of the examples that the Azimut Benetti group researched and developed to find something that could increase the value of the experience to the customer.

We are still working on this because you can never stop increasing the way you serve and satisfy customers. Yachtique was one service company that worked to increase the experience by creating new services.

Ours is a “glocal” approach. We want to bring our values all over the world, reaching the maximum number of markets, but keeping a local profile that makes each client feeling like the client and not just a client. To do this we need to be present on the market very locally, speaking the same language, reading the same newspaper, eating the same food — in other words, having the same culture.

That is the reason we have an organization based on local dealers — a network of 138 sales and service offices operating in 68 countries — with all of them coordinated by single area managers that are the link between the local markets and the headquarters.

For instance, in Fort Lauderdale we have a service company in the United States that is always capable of giving the most common spare parts needed. Being close to the customer is, in general, the best solution you can provide.

We have the same for Brazil. We have a facility there just dedicated to the Brazilian market. We are opening some key service points on the Brazilian coast. People want to experience yachts to the maximum, so we want to ensure during the holidays that everything is more than perfect. These are semidisplacement yachts for people who are no longer interested in traveling from Miami to Fort Lauderdale or Key West in the fastest way possible, but who are more interested in voyaging. They are not spending their time at top speed, but really, more in close contact with the rhythm of the sea and with nature. These things are important trends happening.

Q: I hear that Brazil was a bit soft in 2013, compared to prior years. What have you seen?

A: That’s correct. There are a couple of aspects that are important to understanding the Brazilian market.

The Brazilian market has been a very closed domestic market since 2009, 2010, so [they have] local producers for local customers. They have had very high import taxes on luxury products. If you buy a boat in Italy … just importing it almost doubles the price. And you are not considering importation insurance and all the other elements that are part of the final price.

In 2009 and 2010 the Brazilian economy became very solid. It was very interesting, and Azimut was a very well-known brand in Brazil, too, because there was a large agreement with a local manufacturer

We sold for three years in a row something like 115 to 120 boats in three years. So we got a certain level of market saturation. Now we are entering a new phase, where they need more time to buy a new boat to go to the next level of yachting. Take into consideration that Brazil doesn’t offer much infrastructure for megayachts. The maximum yachts that can be easily berthed in Brazil are up to 100 to 110 feet. They have no facilities for megayachts. So that delays the import of bigger models.

Last year, Azimut was at the Rio Boat Show with 10 yachts, and the Azimut Grande 100 was the biggest boat ever displayed there. Now they are understanding the importance of marinas, also in terms of economic impact, and they have some fantastic coastlines, so they’re working on new marinas and new solutions to move the boating industry forward. But it takes time.

Brazil has a boating culture, very similar to what you have in the United States or Europe. They know what they want and how to use the boat. They just want the proper quality.

Q: So that is a contrast to other emerging markets, such as in Asia?

A: Yes. In Asia they do not know what to do with the boat. To me, they are still looking at how to use the boat according to the culture, while in Brazil, they know.

In Brazil, we increase a lot of the external elements, like BBQ or fridge, because they spend a lot of time making parties with friends.

They need two or three more fridges than we offer in the United States or in Europe. In Brazil, they always want a very big BBQ on the transom, where they can cook on the platform for their family and friends, whereas Americans love to live inside the boat, with high air conditioning. I’m not saying it’s good or it’s bad. I’m just saying it’s a different way of living on the boat.

I think that in Brazil they put five or 10 boats next to one another, they open the side gateway and they go from one boat to the other, making a big party.

Q: Manufacturing in Brazil also gives a huge competitive advantage, too, because of the very high taxes, correct?

A: Correct. So you are more competitive pricewise and you have no competition because, compared to the others, the products are not too good in terms of quality.

Q: Is that because the yacht-building market in Brazil is so young?

A: It’s not that’s it’s young, but a lot more shipyards … have been in Chapter 11. Starting again, starting again, starting again, starting again — always.

Q: You have five collections. Are you finding that consumers are understanding the collections and what they are all about? Is there any confusion?

A: The Azimut Yachts brand is based on collections since 2010, and clients already know them. We have never faced problems from our clients understanding the collections. Since September, when Atlantis joined the other Azimut Collections, we have worked to emphasize this change in order to let the market be aware of it, and we will keep working on this communication flow. But as soon as the Atlantis models begin being built at Avigliana, everybody will have no doubts looking at them and will declare, “Wow! It’s an Azimut.”

Q: You mentioned staying close with customers around the world. Where do you see opportunities in regions we haven’t discussed? Are there other ways that you’re increasing your global presence?

A: Yes, continuously! Today we see a strong interest in boating virtually anywhere in the world. Even in Africa we are recording signals of interest for our products. We have decided to set up solid and long-lasting distribution models because we believe that the customer must be continuously followed — not only at the time of sale, as some believe. Only in this way can we now afford to explore new markets and at the same time keep our customers satisfied in traditional markets such as the United States and Europe.

Q: What percentage of your sales are from the United States? What area has the biggest growth?

A: The USA is our main market, representing around 35 percent of the total sales in 2012 and 2013.

The largest growth is coming from Russia, which is now a stable market where customers are becoming more and more mature yachtsmen. The Russians are an important reservoir of potential upgrades. The first “wave” of Russian clients was in the years 2005-08, and today many of them are ready and willing to change the boat, in general to a bigger one.

Q: What are the latest innovations for Azimut Yachts?

A: Azimut Yachts has a large R&D department and we are proud of the innovations we have brought to the market. We were the first ones to place a large window on the hull at the master cabin level, which was technically quite difficult, or the first ones to use hybrid propulsion.

Probably the Magellano is today the collection that more than any others includes the recent innovations from Azimut Yachts, with the Dual Mode hull created to let the Italian trawler navigate at an economical speed, as well as at over 20 knots to speed for fast transfers.

To belong to a group like Azimut Benetti helps in terms of innovation not only because we can have a large and well-organized R&D department, but also because the innovations brought on a boat can then be transferred, if appropriate, to other models and other types of product.

Q: What’s on the horizon for new yachts?

A: To continue to increase the quality and comfort level on board. We continue to invest in research and innovation because we want to maintain our leadership in the industry. Customers are becoming more demanding in terms of safety, comfort and performance, and these are the areas most important for our research.

This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue.

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