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Time to quit the foxhole: Buyers are coming back

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Twelve thousand cookies. I walked into a supermarket not long ago and saw several hundred packages of my favorite chocolate sandwich cookies stacked in a colossal display by the front door. Of course, I had to quickly factor a rough estimate — it looked like more than 500 packs. That’s about 12,000 little Frisbees of creamy crunchy heaven and the ideal recipe for death by chocolate.

Stop me in my tracks and get a big glass of milk — I was ready to dive in. Wait a minute. I have purchased these cookies before — mind you, one bag at a time — but this time they looked different. OK, there was a huge number of them, but I saw them from a different perspective. The packages were cleverly stacked in a way that invited me to grab one. What made me want to buy more, even though I already had a bag at home? It was the approach.

There’s something happening in the boating world that feels like a new approach, too. Boat shows along the East Coast have been pulling in strong crowds exuding a sense of optimism. What have you been doing in the last three to four years to get noticed in the boating and marine market? Have you changed your tactics, amended your methods, re-energized your approach? Or are you still hunkered down in your recessionary foxhole, waiting for the economy to recuperate?

If you are, you’re behind the curve, too-slow Joe and late for the party. A slow economic shift looks like it’s ready to take its turn in the recovery line. What are you doing to increase your chances of being a part of the upswing? Let’s consider a few options.

Up and venturing out — Although you might have been hunkered down and carefully watching costs to survive the recession, you don’t want to be so careful that you miss market signals telling you it’s time to stand up and get moving again. In other words, don’t confuse hunkering down with missing your turn and failing to venture out to produce fresh revenue opportunities.

Examples of this include attending boat shows you haven’t have attended in the past, either as a visitor or as an exhibitor. One vendor trails his unique watercraft to a number of shows around the country — a type of rolling business card generating buzz and buying interest. He’s venturing out and tapping into the renewed market energy.

While you’re at the show, take a close look at what’s attracting crowds and how you can adapt similar techniques to your own business. In short, jump out of your low-profile foxhole and put pizazz back into your program with market visibility, punched-up industry participation and related actions that get you noticed.

Notice-me approach — Because we’re talking about getting noticed, what new tactics are you applying in your marketing strategy to help customers notice that you’re eager to gain their business? Your notice-me efforts don’t have to be pricey, but they do have to be pushed into action. Develop an email blast to your customer list, providing incentives or coupons to try your services and marine products.

Power up your presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube with timely and value-oriented information that makes customers want to hear more about what you’re offering, not selling — valuable snippets that grab interest or deliver a touch of entertainment. E-newsletters are a great option as well, as is a fresh uplift and regular updates to your company’s website.

By the way, if you haven’t bothered lately to embrace the importance of your digital presence and orchestrate a refresh, think again. In the McKinsey Quarterly in April, the “software layer” of your company was defined as the technologies through which customers interact with your business and vice versa (“Are You Making the Most of Your Company’s Software Layer?” Aaron Shapiro, CEO of Huge Digital Marketing). This includes your company website, mobile apps and presence on Facebook, YouTube and the rest of the big four mentioned above. It should also include participation in online discussion boards, advertising on third-party websites (manufacturers, suppliers and partners) and touch-screen kiosks in public venues, when viable. Too much techno stuff? Pick what best suits your business and start phasing in upgrades now.

The technology, or software layer, of your notice-me approach is driven by changes in consumer behavior and should be managed to continuously enhance the user experience or how easily customers can interact with your company. Use technology to further remind potential buyers that you’re still in the game, you’re optimistic about the market and you’re ready to help them ponder a number of ways that they can enjoy their boating experience. Your software layer should help you stay close to the customer and ensure that you’re the first option they consider when they’re ready to move forward with their water recreation purchase.

New and off the fence — With your recharged approach, you’ve probably guessed that you can’t be sitting on the fence. You can’t be the boating entrepreneur who’s still waiting for the market to come back or indecisive about what to do next. If you’ve been staying close to your customers throughout listless economic times, you’ve realized that many consumers have adopted a return to simplicity. They want to see new products that have value, are affordable and are well-crafted with all the basics. For many, this means bells and whistles are not needed.

Spread the word as to what you have to offer in the value category. In this sense, the marine market resurgence appears to be focused on two extremes: the aluminum or fiberglass value boat on one end and the luxury, feature-rich boat on the other. The guy in the middle might still be waiting for the price on his midsize boat to go back up so he can trade it in for a bigger model. When you get off the fence and start spreading the news as to the simple value or luxury boating options you have to offer, you can begin pulling in customers who have the optimism that matches yours and are ready to buy.

As you venture out of your foxhole and renew your visibility and viability in the marketplace, think about those 12,000 cookies I saw in the supermarket. The approach made all the difference. It was the same package of yummy cookie goodness I’ve enjoyed for years, but this time it was presented in a way that rocked with optimism, energy and fun. Simple, straightforward and successful.

Sit down with your team and plan your strategy for managing a fresh market mindset and remember to consider economic, yet effective, ways to get noticed. While you’re at it, go ahead and grab a glass of milk and a few cookies to help you get started.

Mary Elston has spent more than 20 years in management in the transportation, consulting and technology industries. She is a member of the National Speakers Association and author of the book, “Master Your Middle Management Universe, How to Succeed with Moga Moga Management Using 3 Easy Steps.” Contact her at

This article originally appeared in the August 2012 issue.



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