FORT LAUDERDALE - Believing that boat shows are the only way to reach a mass of potential customers might be outdated in the age of the Internet and social media.
Expanding on the article "Reinventing the Boat Show," which ran in the June issue of Soundings Trade Only, Michael Sciulla, vice president of the Marine Marketers of America, took his thoughts to the group's LinkedIn page and posted the following questions:
"Those who claim that a traditional boat show is the only way to get 40,000 to 50,000 people to look at product are missing the boat. Boat owners can be targeted and touched much cheaper on the Internet. Besides, no exhibitor really sees tens of thousands of quality prospects at a boat show," he wrote. "They may pass by, but very few buy. The fading allure of boat shows is symptomatic of the problems facing the entire boating industry. While there are certainly some forward thinkers, the industry as a whole has failed to keep pace with changing consumer interests.
"Boat sales peaked in 1989," he added. "It's time to reinvent, before interest in boating sinks any lower and another entire generation is lost. Perhaps what we need is an all-industry forum - beyond the usual suspects - that could not only generate new ideas, but get everyone rowing in the same direction?"
These thoughts led to the MMA's presentation Thursday, "Boat Shows 3.0: Beyond Booths and Berths," which took place at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.
Sciulla contends that it's time for the industry as a whole to give serious thought to working together to create a national database of past, current and potential customers. Database marketing could be used to bring more qualified consumers to boat shows, turn them into customers and grow boating.
A group of panelists discussed how the industry can cull information from lists and use it for targeted marketing and gave examples of other groups and associations that have banded together to grow their industries.
Cara Cohan, national accounts director of Advantage Mailing, told the audience that information is everywhere - you just need to look for it. The key is to target customers who are specifically looking for what you are selling. One of the best places to find potential customers is to look at your present and past customers and think about why they are your customers.
Work with companies that create targeted lists, she suggested, and identify those most likely to respond to your products.
Michael Peterman, CEO of VeraData, talked about more than 500 non-profits that banded together to share information and how it gave those who participated a more complete view of potential customers or, in their case, potential donors.
"There's a lot of value that can come from sharing data," he said.
Sciulla said many marine companies have scores of databases and lists of consumers, but some may be unaware of how to best take advantage of the information they have. If the industry works together, everyone can win, he said.
"We're either going to row together or sink separately," he added.
— Beth Rosenberg