Your audience is more fractured than ever, and maximizing your reach requires the right media mix
There was a time when there were few options for marketing marine products. You could buy an ad in a boating magazine, produce a smart brochure or conduct an innovative, attention-getting promotion at a boat show. Times have changed — and rapidly.
Today the audience is more fractured than ever. People might read a boating magazine, watch television commercials or attend a show. Just as likely, they’ll be online, researching what you or others have to say about your product. So how do you reach the new boater in this new world?
“Once upon a time, there were three TV channels. Today we have hundreds to choose from,” says Michael Sciulla, vice president of the Marine Marketers of America. “The old print advertising model isn’t dead. It’s just been buttressed by many more ways to reach the boating consumer.”
Peter Truslow, president of EdgeWater Power Boats, sees it this way: “In the old days we used print advertising, boat shows and mailed potential customers a big catalog,” he says. “But now that almost all customers also shop for boats online, boat companies also have to have comprehensive online tools and information, including website promotions, videos and virtual tours, and social media.”
Carl Blackwell, vice president of marketing and communications for the National Marine Manufacturers Association, says three key drivers are changing the marketing model: technology, the economy and consumer behavior. “When consumers change, you have to as well,” he says. “There are many more advertising mediums to consider today, and consumer audiences are incredibly fragmented, but you can use that to your advantage by understanding the role of each medium and who you are reaching with each one. I don’t think there is a right mix for everyone.”
Blackwell points out that the NMMA represents the industry as a whole and that companies have many variables to consider, depending on whether the marketing campaign is for a manufacturer or retailer and whether it is promoting a value, family or luxury brand.
Truslow sees the new marketing landscape through the prism of a digital revolution and a slowdown in the boat business. “Boat companies have smaller marketing budgets and see online as a potential cost-effective replacement for traditional marketing expenditures,” he says. “Dealers are also spending less on marketing and stock less boat inventory, and this forces the boat companies to have more boat and sales information online.”
David Hensel, director of brand and marketing at Grand Banks Yachts, says it’s critical that his company gets the most bang for its buck with limited marketing resources. “We like to use the best medium for the message,” Hensel says.
Grand Banks redesigned its website this year, adding more photos and videos, and the company maintains a presence on Facebook, YouTube and other websites. “We generally sell to older consumers, and maybe five years ago the perception was they’re not on the Internet, but that’s clearly not the case,” he says.
One of the company’s most creative efforts is tailoring its digital and print brochures to serious customers. Using print-on-demand technology, the marketing team can produce a glossy 100-page brochure targeting specific interests and geographic locations provided by a dealer who is working with a customer. Digital brochures and magazines are tailored the same way and can incorporate videos. Grand Banks e-mails them to dealers who forward them to select customers.
Blackwell says print remains a very effective medium, although it works most effectively as part of a mix of advertising. “Some mediums are good at brand building, while others are better at lead generation,” he says.
He sees a good print ad as more challenging to develop than a television spot because print typically offers only one image to work with and a few seconds to grab the reader’s attention. “Print can be a great brand-building medium as long as the readership efficiently reaches your intended audience,” he says. “If it doesn’t, it’s not going to work hard for you.”
Still, there remains plenty of support for print advertising as the backbone of a marketing campaign, says Steve Schultz, head of North American operations at Boero YachtCoatings. “My mind is changing a bit on this, but I’m not ready to swap out the print advertising,” Schultz says. “I push the agencies to give me an image that’s different — not just another pretty boat but a visual that’s interesting enough to stop a reader from turning the page.”
Schultz acknowledges that the coatings segment of the market may be more suited to traditional media than others, but he believes there are plenty of people like him who are sensitive to “the bombardment of information” today’s consumer gets.
“I wonder sometimes if more information is less productive in getting your message out,” he says.
Truslow says each company must explore and research ways to optimally reach its target audience and that online options are not the ultimate answer. “Unfortunately, there are so many ways to project this message online that the results can be diluted,” he says. “My recommendation is to stick with what works from the old model and try new methods in the new model and measure the results.”
Courtney Chalmers, director of marketing for Dominion Marine Media, also agrees with the idea of mixing old and new marketing. “Boomers are still buying boats and it’s probably accurate to say that most use a mix of print and online, but new buyers are apt to be younger and be that much more reliant on online sources of education about boats and boating,” she says. “Ninety percent of consumers are starting the purchase process online, eliminating much of the dealer interaction at the top of the funnel.”
Chalmers says research clearly shows that dealers who promote their inventory on classified sites, their own sites and through social media networks are more likely to capture consumers online. “It’s important for dealers to understand how their online presence impacts the buying decision,” she says, cautioning that although social media sites and rating sites can have an instant effect on a buying decision, they also can be a platform for misinformation or erroneous criticism. Therefore, it’s important that dealers are aware of their reputations online.
Consumers still are most likely to make a purchase face to face with a salesperson, but it’s just as likely they will arrive at the dealership well-informed about a boat’s strengths, weaknesses, compliments, criticisms, performance and amenities.
The experts agree on one thing: Regardless of the medium, a quality message with a quality product and timely, accurate marketing information is the secret to success.
This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue.