In an increasingly digital era, some boatbuilders have begun taking to social media to unveil 2016 models, bypassing the more conventional channels of boat shows and dealer meetings.
Robalo parent Marine Products Corp. was among the companies that chose to release a new model through Facebook, first teasing the product and then finally unveiling it for online viewers. The Robalo R-160 has nationally advertised pricing of under $20,000 for boat, engine and trailer — one of the reasons the company chose the online debut for the package, Marine Products president Jim Lane and vice president Ann Baldree say.
“It’s interesting for us because we never really did an unveiling of a brand new product just using the Internet,” says Lane. “After we started that program … Robalo’s website traffic increased over 300 percent above what we had done the same time last year.” That’s not only because of the launch, he says. “Part of it is due to the success of Robalo over the last year.”
Baldree says orders have been strong among the dealer network — “stronger than normal for a product dealers have not seen.” (Lane and Baldree spoke prior to the company’s dealer meeting in mid-August, at which the boat was among those to be tested.)
The video of the model had 42,000 views during its launch period. “That’s a pretty good number of views for a brand new product that’s not been in the market,” says Lane. “We’re very pleased with that.”
The company encouraged its Robalo dealers to link Facebook pages so their customers would be able to find the same videos and debuts on dealer Facebook pages. “We were telling the dealers early in the game what the boat was and the price, which created a lot of interest from dealers who wanted to stock the boat,” Lane says.
Production began in early June, and the boats began shipping in July. “There’s a huge demand from dealers,” Baldree says. “It is still too soon to have any analytics on who this customer is going to be. We think we know. We targeted younger demographics because that’s how they shop. And they’re looking to get into a quality center console boat with a high-end name, and that’s doable on this product.”
It’s too soon to tell how successful the social media debut has been, but “I think it worked very well for this product,” says Baldree. “It’s a unique boat, a Robalo center console for under $20,000. I’m not sure if it would have worked particularly well for a $100,000 boat. We’ll be able to answer that when we look at demographics once we generate retail sales.”
Not just the young
The Scout 420 LXF certainly doesn’t fit the mold of an entry-level boat. The boat is designed “for consumers that want the best of the best in a 42-foot offshore outboard boat,” says Scout sales manager Alan Lang. “Some are primary boats for the owner. Some are being sold as yacht tenders. The primary market is for the family that not only likes to fish, but also to entertain and impress.”
However, the company’s new flagship was also introduced entirely online with a 13-minute YouTube video that was also posted on Facebook. The video details all of the boat’s design innovations, such as the epoxy-infused hull and ample storage for gear, provisions and bait, as well as perks such as the high/low electric release teak table and two retractable freshwater hoses.
“It’s been very successful,” said spokesman Mark Jerkins in late July. “We have nearly 400,000 views of the video itself so far, and tremendous interest in the new model — and overall brand — because of all our marketing efforts that certainly include the social media videos. The model is selling, and customers have been ecstatic with their new purchase.”
“We are sold out until May of next year at one per month,” says Lang.
Business Insider says the demographics of who is shopping online would surprise many. It is true that millennials are a key demographic for online commerce, spending about $2,000 annually — more than any other age group — despite having lower incomes. However, the publication reports that one in four mobile shoppers in the United States is over 55. That’s about even with their share of the overall U.S. population.
“Don’t count older generations out,” echoes a Nielsen Global Survey of e-commerce. “They represent a sizable 40 percent share of online purchase intenders. But reaching the older age set is much more fragmented territory than with their younger counterparts. As can be expected, the older the age, the greater the decline in online shopping intent.”
Globally, Generation X (age 35-49) respondents comprise about 28 percent of those willing to make a purchase online, and baby boomers (age 50-64) make up about 10 percent, according to the Nielsen report. The silent generation (age 65-plus) contributes roughly 2 percent. The youngest age group, Generation Z (under age 20), represents about 7 percent of those who intend to purchase online.
“While the generational mix of online shoppers currently skews younger, attention to the needs of all segments should be considered when developing outreach plans,” says John Burbank, president of strategic initiatives at Nielsen, in a statement regarding the report’s findings.
That might be particularly true of higher-ticket luxury items such as boats.
“Tomorrow’s highest purchase-power consumers are ones who skew much higher for digital shopping,” Burbank says. “As the population ages, greater percentages of consumers will be connected, and online prominence will continue to grow. Building trust at the onset is the foundation for sustaining lifetime loyalty among shoppers.”
“It’s a constantly changing world technology-wise, and we’d be missing the boat — pun intended — to think it’s only young people watching videos online,” Jerkins says. “It’s a growing segment for all ages.”
“It’s another viable outlet that’s certainly gaining traction and supports all of our other marketing efforts, and vice versa,” Lang agrees.
Yet the builders who have taken to the Internet agree that is only one additional avenue to reach customers. “The Nautique marketing team has never solely relied on just social media as the only platform to roll out a new model,” says Bill Yeargin, president and CEO of Nautique’s parent company, Correct Craft. Yeargin’s company has long been tapping online outlets for marketing. “When the marketing department launched the Super Air Nautique G23 in March of 2012, it was a three-step approach that began with a social media teaser campaign followed by a public unveiling with a live webcast, digital media, social media assets and then the third phase that continued with print, digital, social media and a traditional media day.”
Since then, Nautique has used a similar three-step approach in all of its launches, Yeargin says. “Most recently, Nautique launched the all-new Super Air Nautique G23 and G25, which was communicated very heavily via digital media and social media assets. At the public launch Nautique had a live webcast and used various social media channels, including a new one, Periscope, to give a different perspective of the launch.”
Robalo, Chaparral and Vortex also won’t be abandoning dealer meeting and boat show debuts. “I think as we all look at how we reach the marketplace, we’re all finding there are multiple ways to reach your customer,” Baldree says. “We’re not giving up on the traditional ways, either — boat shows, retail publications. Another thing we’re doing digitally is boattest.com. We’re trying to make sure we use multiple avenues of reaching that customer.
“This was a good test for us to see how it works, and so far we’ve been pleased,” Baldree adds. “Maybe it will work with more expensive product.”
This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue.