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What’s on Tap for Discover Boating this Year and Beyond?

NMMA’s Ellen Bradley breaks down the brand’s evolution (not revolution) and what’s on the horizon
Protecting and growing market share is a key goal, as other leisure pursuits return post-Covid.

Protecting and growing market share is a key goal, as other leisure pursuits return post-Covid.

Can you shed more light on the thinking behind boat shows under the Discover Boating brand?

The amplification of the recreational boating industry’s collective voice couldn’t come at a more important time. With signs of pre-Covid life re-emerging, the industry must be ready with a strong, unified and relevant voice to recruit and retain market share as competition expands for consumers’ discretionary time and dollars. Connecting boat shows — which boast immense reach into major markets around the country — under Discover Boating gives us a significant strategic advantage with on-the-ground, in-person, experiential marketing and sales events.

At the same time, as consumer behavior has shifted online at a pace that’s been exacerbated by Covid, we must ensure we can meet their expectations and demands. The consumer today expects to be in the driver’s seat. As a result, we need to reconsider and reimagine every touch point of the boat-buying and ownership experience, creating a more meaningful and strategic full-funnel Discover Boating marketing strategy that better connects consumers with manufacturers and dealers. This is another reason that partnering with the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas on Discover Boating is so important.

When streamlined and integrated, the Discover Boating brand, with boat shows as part of its portfolio, will unite the industry to deliver a broader, more compelling message that appeals to both boaters-to-be and current boaters. This all comes at a critical moment in time as we position ourselves, like never before, to protect and grow market share.

What will boat shows under the Discover Boating brand look like, and when?

Think evolution, not a revolution. Discover Boating has built strong brand equity, resulting in tremendous organic Web traffic, social media engagement and P.R. value as evidenced by the results we saw last year. At the same time, NMMA’s 14 boat shows have strong equity of their own and attract as many as 500,000 attendees annually. When a boat show enters a market, during a two-week period surrounding that event, the show is everywhere. They are an ideal platform to tell our industry story to media, influencers, politicians, business partners and, of course, the consumer. What’s more, boat show attendees tend to be repeat boat buyers and active boaters, and yet they also turn to Discover Boating for boating resources and tips. The bottom line is that connecting boat shows’ marketing power to Discover Boating must be done strategically and methodically.

Protecting boat show brand equity while we transition to Discover Boating — so we’re seamlessly and impactfully engaging both the existing boater/boat owner and the future boater — is an important part of our strategy, as well. We have done a lot of research and have a lot more planned to ensure this transition happens in the right way. The data we will glean from our research is the guiding light throughout the brand integration process.

What’s more, as a result of its nearly two-decade-long history of supporting boaters and boaters-to-be, Discover Boating has built significant credibility and trust with the consumer. Discover Boating remains an independent trusted source of advice for the consumer, and that trust needs to be protected as we move forward. Similarly, the NMMA’s boat shows have become part of their community with loyal attendees who have come to expect a world-class experience. These trusted reputations are built on putting the customer first, and are at the core of where we’re going.

Ultimately, Discover Boating is about connecting consumers seamlessly with boating — everything from products and educational resources to lifestyle content, experiences, news and a valuable community — all under one brand.

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How is Discover Boating, with boat shows as part of the brand, addressing the changes we’re seeing in consumer behavior?

Every year, NMMA brings hundreds of thousands of people to boat shows to connect directly with manufacturers and dealers to find their next boat, the latest gear or boating experience. Attendees often buy on-site at the show or place orders to buy afterward. On the Discover Boating side, we currently bring millions of potential boat owners to DiscoverBoating.com to educate them on how to become a boater and enjoy the lifestyle, and send many of these people off as referrals and leads to manufacturers and dealers.

Connecting Discover Boating and boat shows under one brand includes ensuring that the consumer can easily navigate from one experience to the other, and do so conveniently. It is all about putting consumers in the driver’s seat so they’re able to choose their own path. To do this conveniently, we need to allow them to conduct as much of their journey online as possible. As a result, a digital platform is being developed to connect the experience between DiscoverBoating.com and the NMMA’s shows. As part of this, we will assist them in navigating the on-site, in-person boat show experience. If companies aren’t prioritizing the online experience for customers, they’ll be left behind. We see this in our own research.

When you mention digital platforms, some might think of virtual boat shows, but that’s not what is planned, right?

Correct. The digital platform and the entire brand integration are not a revolutionary shift in how the NMMA and Discover Boating support the industry today. Instead, it’s that critical evolution that must take place if we’re going to be positioned to attract and retain boaters for the long term. In our experience, a virtual boat show isn’t going to deliver what the consumer truly wants; it’s really all about meeting the consumer where they are so they feel welcome. We’re not moving toward virtual boat shows or looking to duplicate what many manufacturers and dealers offer today on their own sites. Instead, we’ll complement those platforms while making it much more seamless for our customers and future customers to connect with manufacturers, dealers and exhibitors.

Like nearly every digital platform, we will approach this in phases. We know we’re going to learn a lot right out of the gate when we launch this under the refreshed Discover Boating brand in 2022. So expect a phased approach and evolution, with phase one being available in conjunction with the start of the 2022 boat show season.

Anglers are coming to the water in record numbers, says the RBFF, a key partner in the multiyear Discover Boating campaign. 

Anglers are coming to the water in record numbers, says the RBFF, a key partner in the multiyear Discover Boating campaign. 

While building toward 2022, can you share what’s in store for 2021?

As we ramp up toward the initial brand integration for 2022, we’re focused on maintaining momentum in 2021 and doing all we can to engage future customers. Again, we know we will have a lot of competition as other leisure industries return, so it’s about nurturing potential boaters-to-be. Knowing it takes time to nurture future boat buyers, we need to be in front of them now.

As a result, look for Discover Boating to deliver a steady drumbeat of consumer awareness and education to recruit and retain boaters this year. A big component of this is our year-two partnership with the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing (on the Get on Board campaign) this spring and summer. This campaign, in collaboration with the NMMA, RBFF and MRAA, has a lot of power in it that we’ll leverage across the entire industry to help us get on — and stay on — consumers’ radar. With the importance of retaining the many new boaters we welcomed last year, the Get on Board effort is heavily focused on just that, so you’ll see a lot of reminding of first-time boaters of the lifestyle benefits of boating, educational/how-to content and safety content this year.

We’re off to a strong start, in part because of the attention we’ve captured among consumers while they seek socially distanced, friendly relaxation, family time and fun. It’s important to note that while we’re seeing incredible consumer interest and demand at retail, fulfilling that demand is being slowed due to supply-chain disruptions across manufacturing. Unfortunately, our industry is not immune to these disruptions, so we’re seeing a lag in new-boat shipments. Discover Boating’s funding originates at the sale of engines and boats to dealers. With the backlog, we’re not seeing a big jump in our funding like we would expect due to the retail demand. At the same time, with a lag in shipments, we need to be mindful of how important it is to nurture potential buyers for the long term versus short term. This is something the NMMA is keeping a close eye on over the coming months. 

This article was originally published in the April 2021 issue.

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