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Influence of boat shows cannot be denied

It’s boat show season! If you’re not in your local boat show, you’re not in the right place at the right time! That’s the overriding conclusion I draw from the first-of-its-kind “2010 Boat Show Purchase Influence Report” by Foresight Research, a Michigan firm that pioneered the measurement of ROI from marketing communications for the automotive industry. 

The extensive study included more than 3,200 consumers from across the country that purchased a new (not used) boat between January 2009 and August 2010. Understanding that the value of various channels of communication is best measured by determining how much each channel influenced sales, the research targeted 14 marketing channels to see which had the most influence on each consumer’s decision to buy the boat. The 14 included: Radio, social media, direct mail, TV, boating events, print ads, experience at dealership, websites/Internet, print articles, brochures/DVDs and boat shows. In addition, channels that can’t be directly managed – word of mouth, prior brand experience and seeing boat on the water -- were measured. 

Specifically looking at the results for boat shows, the study results are compelling. For example, overall, buyers that attended boat shows averaged 1.8 shows in the 12 months prior to buying. More specifically, buyers of fiberglass fishing boats averaged of 2.7 shows, cruisers and ski boats 2.3 shows and offshore fishing boats 2.0 shows. Conversely, pre-purchase boat show attendance was highest for offshore fishing boat buyers (78 percent, followed by cruisers (76 percent), fiberglass fishing boats (68 percent), runabouts (65 percent), aluminum fishing boats (57 percent), pontoons (55 percent), ski boats (53 percent) and PWCs (43 percent).

More results: Buyers cited the ability to compare their options -- brands/models/prices side by side (76 percent) and the ability to climb into the boats (74 percent) -- as the two factors most influencing their decision to buy. Notably, boat shows are the only marketing channels in which buyers can do that. Overall, the average show attendee traveled 2.2 hours roundtrip.

An overwhelming 95 percent of buyers who attended boat shows visited the display of the brand they ultimately purchased. Overall, they averaged nearly 49 minutes in the display of the boat they ultimately bought. But cruiser and pontoon buyers averaged the longest time (60 and 54 minutes respectively) in the display while aluminum fishing boat buyers spent the least at 39 minutes. As might be expected, first time buyers spent more time in the display of the brand they purchased than the repeat buyers (average 53 minutes vs 46 minutes.) Nearly 25 percent of first- time buyers spent more than an hour in the display.

Of the buyers who claimed they were highly influenced by attending, 61 percent said they pretty well made up their mind about what boat they’d buy by the time they left the show. Moreover, 70 percent of all buyers who attended shows purchased, on average, within three to four months of the show.

Finally, what marketing message resonated most with buyers influenced by the boat shows? Price and value – cited tops by 80 percent of the respondents. Style and appearance came in second at 63 percent and brand/dealer reputation at 51 percent was third.

The study contains much more about the influence boat shows have on the buying process. But two important conclusions can be drawn from just the results cited here. They are: (1) Every dealer should recognize shows continue to be must-do marketing communication channels in their local area; and (2) Manufacturers must acknowledge financial assistance to dealers for show participation is a critical factor in gaining sales at the retail level. And if we’ve learned anything from this great recession, success or failure is all about what happens at retail!

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