Women should be a target market

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When it comes to selling boats to women, we’re not getting it done. At least that’s one conclusion I got from the excellent feature entitled “Band of Sisters” in the July issue of Soundings Trade Only by associate editor Reagan Haynes.

While the article focused on women at the top of the manufacturing side in our industry, Haynes also raised the idea that, when it comes to selling boats to women, we aren’t getting it done.

Is she right, I wondered? I know there are initiatives like the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation’s campaign to attract Hispanics and Discover Boating’s efforts to target African-Americans. I know we’re seeking the keys that will trigger boat-buying by Gen Xers and millennials.

But while we readily acknowledge women can and do influence the buying decision, the number of women who have boat registrations in their names has not been growing, according to Jack Ellis at Info-Link, which tracks boat-buying trends. Are we missing something?

Yes, according to Ekaterina Walter, co-founder of Branderati and author of the Wall Street Journal bestseller: “Think Like Zuck: The Five Business Secrets of Facebook's Improbably Brilliant CEO Mark Zuckerberg.”

Writing in Fast Company recently, Walter notes that women spend about $5 trillion annually — that’s more than half of the U.S. GDP. “You’d have thought marketers would appreciate the importance of the female demographic,” she wrote. “And yet, according to the same report by She-conomy (www.she-conomy.com), 91 percent of women said that advertisers don’t understand them.” She offers some insightful suggestions about marketing to women worth consideration:

1. Walters suggests we make a mistake when we stereotype women. We think that marketing to women involves pastel colors and pink bows. Wrong. Women respond to advertising that uses positive female role models and shows them in a strong and powerful role. She cites the 2010 Kia Soul commercial that featured professional golfer Michelle Wie beating the men on the links and looking cool and confident doing it. While this was one of several marketing campaigns, Kia’s monthly sales did rise 44 percent in 2011.

2. Understand the differences between men and women, but don’t be patronizing, Walters cautions. Nike is her example. Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign featured top male athletes shown in winning scenarios. It captured a whopping 50 percent of the men’s fitness market. On the other hand, only 20 percent of Nike’s revenue was coming from women’s products. Nike worked to understand how women related to sport and performance and the advertising changed to show how sports fit in with women’s active lifestyles and featured regular women taking part in sports.

3. Recognize real women. Walter says advertisers think they must show women who are unattainably thin, then Photoshop them beyond all recognition. The idea that “real” women don’t sell is proven false. Dove’s sales, for example, skyrocketed when they began showing “real” women — images women could relate to and a message of self- esteem.

As an industry, we usually have women in our ads and materials, but we don’t ever put them in the driver’s seat. I’ve never seen an ad with, say, only four or five women in a boat fishing or docked at a restaurant for a “girl’s night out.” Can’t find any plus size ladies in any boating ads, either.

Perhaps Marcia Kull, vice president of marine sales at Volvo-Penta, captures the idea best if we want to see more women buying boats. She said: “. . . women go where other women are. To develop more true boating aficionados, they need to see more women in boating.”

Is it time for a concerted industry effort to target women for boating?

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