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'You only have to run a little faster , to win'

Marine marketing panel offers up some 'red hot strategies for a stone cold market'

Good product development, a positive attitude and tenacious marketing efforts are keys to success, especially in a tough retail environment, according to five marine industry leaders who participated in a panel discussion, "Red Hot Marketing Strategies in a Stone Cold Market."

The discussion was hosted by the Marine Marketers of America during the Miami International Boat show Feb. 15.

The panelists agreed there are no silver bullets to help boost sales. Instead, they focus on taking basic marketing techniques to the next level.

"We simply subscribe to the concept that it's all about blocking and tackling," said Larry Russo, president and CEO of Russo Marine.

Recognize what the competition does better, then exceed those standards, he said. "You only have to run a little faster than the competition to win."

Fred Sherrerd, industry manager of ASA Electronics, agrees.

New players have recently entered the accessories market, making it a more competitive environment, according to Sherrerd. So his company looked at what it could do differently to capture more sales. Executives started listening to their OEM customers and, as a result, redesigned their entire product line to make it more "production friendly," he said.

Developing new and exciting products is critical to building success, panelists agreed. But the new products should reflect customers' needs, whether the customer is a consumer or an OEM.

"It all starts with the product development and attention to detail," said John Peterson, director of sales and marketing at Hunter Marine.

Generating excitement about the product helps too, said David Walsh, director of marketing at Tiara Yachts.

The company, for example, made a soft introduction of its new 5800 model even before the boat was built. It used high quality artist renderings at boat shows and dealer events to pique interest. The company initially sold 12 boats. The boat's appeal snowballed, however, and now orders are booked until spring of 2010, according to Walsh.

A PR blizzard

Sabre Yachts/Back Cove accidentally hit a home-run with its marketing campaign for the new Sabre 52, according to Bentley Collins, vice president of marketing and sales. The company missed its initial product launch date, which had been scheduled for the Miami show in 2007. The company then decided to host a VIP event the following month, inviting the press, dealers and potential customers to Maine, the headquarters for Sabre Yachts. The governor of Maine was invited to speak. But on the day of the event, a blizzard dumped 24 inches of snow on the region. The company forged ahead with the event, anyway, even doing sea trials on the boat.

"By total accident, we had a wonderful marketing experience," said Collins. While the winds howled outside, the visitors were warm and safe aboard the boat, he said. The event led to several contracts, simply because customers were impressed, he said.

"My advice to marketers is to always have something in the back of your mind that you can pull out," Collins said. "And make sure you're close to your customers so they'll show up even when the snow's coming down."

Panelists say it is beneficial to have plans for the big picture, but paying attention to detail is what makes the difference.

"It's about wowing your customers," said Russo. "In our dealerships, it's about presentation and exceeding expectations."

Russo says his company focuses on making good impressions, whether it is at the dealership or a boat show.

"You've got to create repeatable models of success every single day so you don't confuse your employees, and you don't confuse your customers," he said.

Keep advertising

The panelists also discussed whether, when faced with budget cuts, companies should cut back on advertising spending.

"More advertising than less is better in tough times," said Collins.

Churning out press releases and keeping in close contact with the media is also essential, according to the panelists.

"This is not the time to stop your public relations efforts," said Carl Blackwell, vice president of marketing and communications at the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

Lastly, the panelists agreed, keeping a positive attitude can be crucial in keeping out of red ink during a limp economy.

The Marine Marketers of America, which was launched last year at the Miami show, is a professional association of career marine marketers.

In addition to the panel discussion, the group outlined plans for the coming year, which include the launch of a speakers' bureau, a national awards program, networking events and professional development.

The group also plans to select a pro bono project to benefit boating safety education and hands-on skill training for women so they can confidently operate a powerboat.


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