I recently spoke with a local boat dealer and service yard about marketing and advertising plans. Inventory was low, and the yard was booked up for the foreseeable future. “You could send me all the leads in the world, but I don’t have anything to sell,” the dealer said.
Like many dealers and yards, this one has experienced unprecedented demand throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. To say that sales were brisk would be an understatement. Supply-chain issues for new boats, and the lack of available brokerage vessels, added to its inventory woes. The dealer was faced with a dilemma: How could the business justify the expense of marketing a product it could not sell?
This problem is not unique to this dealer. Inventory issues continue to have a ripple effect throughout the marine industry. The auto and RV industries have experienced similar challenges.
There is even an historical precedent worth noting. During World War II, Bell Telephone, Bell & Howell, General Motors, Cadbury and many other companies advertised products that were unavailable. Orchestrated by the federal government’s War Advertising Council, these advertising campaigns existed because companies were incentivized through tax deductions to participate. The government essentially paid for as much as 80 percent of a company’s advertising bills to advertise products that consumers could not use or buy.
Of course, we are not in the same situation that America faced during World War II, and you can’t expect tax breaks from the government to fund your marketing initiatives. However, you can implement similar tactics to improve marketing effectiveness and position your business for success. These campaigns helped to keep these brands in the public consciousness and positioned their products well for a postwar boom. Many economic experts suggest we have a post-Covid boom coming our way, too.
Content is King
You can create content now to establish a relationship with your target audience that will last well beyond the pandemic. Content marketing is not a new concept. The earliest example I can cite originates in the early 1900s, with the advent of the
Michelin Guide. The Michelin brothers created the guide to sell tires. With fewer than 3,000 cars on the streets of Paris, they used the guide to increase demand for cars by highlighting area attractions and restaurants. More cars and more driving equaled more tire sales. This campaign evolved into the Michelin star rating that restaurants around the world covet today.
Similarly, you can leverage your experience and expertise to create articles that will resonate with qualified consumers for your products. Examples might include posting articles on your website that list questions every buyer should ask his broker; common mistakes when buying or selling a boat; how to conduct a sea trial; common boat finance questions; and maintenance, winterization and spring commissioning guides.
After you publish these types of articles to your website, you can use your ad buy to drive traffic from relevant marine media brands, targeted pay-per-click and paid social campaigns. Even with a small budget, you can easily grow your email lists by gating the content behind a lead capture form.
The Customer Journey
Generally speaking, boat buyers do not “click to add yacht to cart.” The marine industry has longer and more complex sales cycles than mass-market consumer goods. Relationship selling is important. Building brand awareness and creating relationships are achievable marketing goals regardless of existing inventory.
Focus on identifying the stages of your customer’s journey, and pursue campaigns that allow you to deliver value and create a connection across these stages. Content that resonates with a new boater might be different from content that’s important to an existing customer. First-time buyers who purchased a new boat during the pandemic might see value in content that an experienced boater does not.
Always remember your existing customers. Engage with them by providing customer-service-centered content. Existing customers are your most likely source of future business, so keeping them connected to your brand is important.
Capturing and nurturing these contacts now will help ensure that your sales funnel is full when inventory becomes available again. The content you deliver will help build your relationship with your customers and establish trust in your brand.
Eric Dallin is vice president of marketing innovation for Active Interest Media’s Marine Group, of which Soundings Trade Only is a part.
This article was originally published in the April 2021 issue.