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Boat shows have been a handy punching bag in this great recession. But, the results of a landmark study just released gives strong evidence that shows have been taking sucker punches! 

We’ve all heard it said: “Shows don’t get it done anymore!” Clearly not so, according to Foresight Research, a marketing research company that pioneered in the measurement of marketing communications ROI for the automotive industry. In a first-of-its-kind study of boat purchases, Foresight measured which marketing channels have the most influence on the buyer’s decision to purchase a new boat. What makes this study so valuable is the findings come from interviews with 3,295 boat buyers nationwide who purchased a new (not pre-owned) boat between January 2009 and August, 2010. The study looks at behaviors, information obtained and how buyers were influenced to select the boat they did.

“This is one of the richest databases we’ve come across on how consumers’ are influenced in the boat buying process,” notes Carl Blackwell, vice president for NMMA. “Not only does the study reveal the most influential marketing channels, it also spells out why they are influential.”

Boat shows, it turns out, are still a very powerful influence on buyers. For example, nearly six in 10 boat buyers attended at least one boat show in the 12 months preceding their purchase. A solid 61 percent of those buyers made up their mind about which boat they’d buy at a boat show. A whopping 95 percent of the buyers who attended boat shows visited the display of the brand they ultimately purchased . . . and, they averaged 49 minutes in the display. Moreover, 70 percent of the buyers who attended a boat show closed their deal within 3 months of the show. There’s more:

Buyers who said they were highly influenced by a boat show rated the two most important factors influencing their buying decision: (1) the ability to compare boat options (price/brand/models) side by side and (2) board the boats (76 percent and 74 percent respectively). Similarly, 57 percent of those who attended a boat show ranked the show as having the most influence on their decision to buy. Notably, they also often noted they “discovered” brands they didn’t know about.

Overall, the information provided by the more than 3,000 buyers is giving new insight into marketing communication channels and their influences on boat buying. The extensive data on boat shows was drawn out first because the industry is just two months away from the start of the important winter boat show series. Accordingly, many manufacturers and dealers are, at this moment, considering their show plans. For those who don’t think shows still wield a powerful influence on buyers, this study is an eye opener. For those who recognize shows as a central marketing channel, the report will be more confirming. And, because the boat show data is so extensive, I will refer to it here in Dealer Outlook in the future.

Finally, kudos to the associations that stepped up with funding toward this independently conducted study. They are: National Marine Manufacturers Association, Lake Erie Marine Trades Association, Michigan Boating Industries Association, Southern California Marine Association, Boating Trades Association of Houston, Southwest Florida Marine Industry Association and Show Management, Inc. For more information, contact these organizations or Foresight Research.

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