If you could close 25 boat sales in six months for a $150 investment, you'd do it in a heartbeat, right?
Kyle Kelly, of Kelly's Port in Osage Beach, Mo., did just that. Armed with a $150 video camera and some good, old-fashioned Midwestern ingenuity, Kyle turned a hunch into Texas tea using YouTube, one of the most explosive social marketing media tools out there. In short order, he generated 75 boat leads that converted to 25 sales, all directly sourced from his dedicated Kelly's Port YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/user/KellysPort Online). That's a pretty impressive closing ratio, not to mention an absolutely spectacular return on investment.
As part of my research for a marketing presentation I gave at the Marine Dealer Conference and Exhibition last fall, I called a handful of marketing-savvy dealers around the country, including Randy Kelly at Kelly's Port. My question: What are you doing on the cheap that is working?
Randy told me his son Kyle was on to something exciting, so I spoke directly with Kyle. He enthusiastically shared a rather straightforward strategy that is now being used for all of the dealership's new- and used-boat sales.
Briefly, each boat is videotaped by a member of the sales staff and uploaded on YouTube. The videos are rough and unedited; in fact, my first impression was very low production quality (almost "Blair Witch Project") - shaky camera style with no sophisticated lighting and lots of competing background noise. Kyle, however, claims it's precisely the low-budget nature of the videotapes that works best in this medium because it's totally credible with the customer who often distrusts the slick, professional productions of my generation. While Kelly's Port videos may be down and dirty, they shine in terms of conveying a sense of casual, friendly, no-pressure conversation, producing a refreshingly candid approach to sales.
Based on his success, Kyle recommends videos be limited to a few minutes. Incorporate a fast feature/benefit to whet the appetite and purposely include any obvious dings, scratches or flaws in the footage because that, he firmly believes, resounds with the prospect. Some of his other tips: Create an interactive component where customers can post comments, integrate keywords and be sure to link the video back to a Facebook page and any other relevant advertising and marketing initiatives.
Kyle has taken this little experiment to the bank in a big way and now it's the cornerstone of the dealership's marketing campaign. When you consider YouTube statistics, the success is really not all that surprising. YouTube claims 455 million users at last count. In January alone, 144.1 million unique viewers had 1.9 billion viewing sessions, with the average time per viewer over the month at 282 minutes or 4.7 hours. Amazing! In fact, Americans are spending more time viewing video online than checking e-mail.
So how can marine marketers tap into this new media opportunity? To answer that question, Marine Marketers of America vice president of programming Michael Sciulla produced a top-notch keynote presentation during the association's meeting at the Miami International Boat Show. Sciulla tapped expert Julie Perry, social media director at BLASTmedia, to present "The Secrets Behind What YouTube Can Do for You." No stranger to the marine industry, Perry is an author and the former host of the now-inactive video blog, TheBoatersTV, which generated more than 800,000 views on YouTube in its heyday.
I was surprised to learn from Perry that YouTube is ranked No. 1 for list building and lead generation along with search engine optimization, although she didn't have to convince me about its rock-solid dominance in viral distribution. After all, how many of us have checked out a YouTube link sent to us from a friend or colleague, or viewed one posted on someone else's Facebook page? I've personally watched dozens that have gone viral and shared and posted many firsthand. Viral video is an incredibly powerful phenomenon, and YouTube is the undisputed king in this court.
Besides these obvious benefits and the potential to reach and cultivate a targeted audience, Perry offers seven compelling reasons that marine marketers should establish a presence and start marketing on YouTube.
First, in the online video niche, YouTube literally owns the market in terms of numbers. If you take its closest competitors - Vevo, Yahoo and Viacom - the combination of all three doesn't equal YouTube's total unique visitors. The disparity in video sessions viewed is even more staggering.
Second, YouTube has mastered the art of keeping its viewers engaged on its site - i.e., the previously cited January monthly statistic. They come. They watch. They search. They stay. They share.
If you're like me, you may have thought YouTube is primarily for kids. Perry axes that misconception by sharing impressive demographics. Her third reason that you need to be on YouTube: Viewership is nearly evenly split by gender (53 percent male, 47 percent female), sports a median age of 33 and is evenly distributed throughout the United States. Viewers have a median income of $74,000, 71 percent are employed, 15 percent are students and 47 percent are married. In addition, 69 percent have college educations and 64 percent consider themselves "tech savvy." Obviously, this is not a youth-exclusive fraternity.
Fourth, everyone involved in Internet marketing wants to score higher Google rankings. Perry explains that a "blended search" offers the quickest and easiest way to hit that elusive target. A blended search refers to the search engine display of videos, images, news stories, maps and other results that accompany and run adjacent to standard search results. Another name for this practice is a "Google Universal Search," or GUS. According to Forrester Research, "Any given video in the index stands about a 50 times better chance of appearing on the first page of results than any given text page in the index." Perry's argument: "GUS will help position well-optimized YouTube videos on Page One of Google." Simply translated: A well-optimized YouTube video will significantly push up the rankings.
Fifth, YouTube has emerged as the second-largest search engine on the planet, surpassing Yahoo. Its numbers are exceeded only by its parent, Google.
Sixth, YouTube can now be viewed from most mobile devices and on your home television.
Seventh, YouTube offers a cross platform for interactivity and for social networking. Viewers can subscribe to your content. As you update your videos, you have the very real opportunity to develop a relationship with your subscribers and to ultimately drive them from this platform to your website and other marketing channels.
After hearing Kyle's results and Perry's presentation, which also included specific tactics to set up and optimize your own channel, I am more convinced than ever that YouTube is a potential goldmine for marine businesses. If you haven't ventured yet into this new cyber world, it's time to kick it in gear and throttle forward. Start by spending some time on YouTube to review what's out there. (Warning: It's addictive.) Do searches in the marine niche and in other segments that reach a similar demographic.
The great news is it's a super-cheap cost of entry and it doesn't take a rocket scientist or professional production crew to turn out perfectly acceptable videos. If you don't have someone who can tackle the job, ask for referrals to someone who has had success in this niche and can help train your team and get you up to speed.
I challenge you to test-market YouTube. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the results and your team will have some fun getting it rolling. And if you don't, that's OK, too. I'm sure innovators like Kyle Kelly will be happy to keep all those leads and sales for themselves.
Wanda Kenton Smith is an award-winning, 31-year marine industry marketing veteran based in Destin, Fla. She is president of Kenton Smith Marketing www.kentonsmithmarketing.com and president of Marine Marketers of America. She also edits two online sailing publications.
This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue.