Parents of tweens know the power of online video, but to break it down for those who don’t — Daniel Middleton, a.k.a. DanTDM, has 17 million subscribers and more than 11 billion views on YouTube.
To put that into perspective, The New York Times has about 2.2 million digital-only subscribers, and the most-watched YouTube version of the Bruno Mars hit “Uptown Funk” has 2.9 billion views.
DanTDM is a 26-year-old British man with blue hair (this week) who plays video games on YouTube — and talks about them. Kids watch him narrate from a small, inset screen while the main screen shows the video game he’s playing.
Also, he earned $16.5 million last year as YouTube’s highest paid star.
Many people can’t fathom why DanTDM is entertaining enough for anyone to watch, much less millions of subscribers. Yet, while the nation’s youngest consumers love him, many adults have no idea he exists.
Today’s kids have no clue what’s on television tonight. They don’t care. They watch what they want to watch online, whenever they want to watch it. They likely cannot name five movie stars, but they follow twice as many vloggers like DanTDM.
In a nutshell: The world has completely changed in the last five years, whether you’ve kept track or not.
There is a growing number of people in the marine industry who have kept track, but there should be more, says Bob Denison, president of Denison Yachting. He’s had a full-time staff member creating video for three years.
“I’m a big, big believer in video,” Denison says. “I think brokers and dealers and manufacturers that don’t embrace videos — and I’m not trying to be shocking when I say this — I think they will die if they don’t have a video strategy.”
YouTube, launched in 2005 by three ex-Pay Pal employees as sort of a content free-for-all, has become a highly commercialized platform for user-generated video since being bought by Google in 2006 for $1.65 billion. It is the world’s second largest search engine and third most visited website after Facebook and Google with more than a billion users, according to YouTube’s press page. (Google still owns YouTube.) Put differently, a third of all humans who visit the internet to ask a question or be entertained are looking to video.
That should be good news for promoting boats because the lifestyle is made for video, says Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, a group that uses video as part of the Discover Boating initiative.
“Video is such an effective tool to promote boating, so I’m delighted to see people using it more and realizing, it doesn’t have to be Hollywood quality to be effective,” Dammrich says. “We’ve been promoting the use of video for years.”
Not too late … yet
All too often, companies have no video strategy, says Jim Wacksman, owner of Association Studios, the firm that shoots Mercury Marine events at locations like the Miami International Boat Show. (Mercury also has an in-house video team that focuses on training, recruitment and local videos at its Fond du Lac, Wis., headquarters.)
“It’s hard to imagine anybody today saying, ‘Ah, video, who’s doing that?’ It’s like saying, ‘Oh, the internet is just going to go away,’ Wacksman says. “It’s not just the future, it’s the expectation.”
Presenters at the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo in December hit this point hard — again and again. Though they shouldn’t exclude other marketing strategies, experts say companies need a clear video plan that includes a budget and an outline of how video will best serve their needs.
“Change is painful,” said internet pioneer Tim Sanders. “The reality is it scares the heck out of people in retail to make that change. As [company] owners, we need to recognize it’s hard for them to do that. It’s a different world where we feel lost.”
“The way people buy things is changing dramatically,” says Jeff Vaughn, sales and marketing vice president for Boston Whaler. “The key is to have all the information available when and how they want it — emails, calls, Facebook, Twitter, chat. If they have questions, we have to answer proactively. Videos, pictures, virtual tours — video is a piece of it and it is critical.”
The intimidation factor
The pace of changing technology is an obstacle that can worry companies to the point of paralysis.
“I could understand where people would be intimidated, because it is an industry where professional people are doing it on a high-end level,” says Bradley Massey, video production manager for Georgia-based Yamaha Marine. (Yamaha has had a three-man, full-time crew since 2017.)
At the same time, technology has never been so inexpensive and accessible, so anybody can learn.
“The intimidation with video is no different than it is with social media, or computers,” says Massey, who spent 17 years with CNN. “It’s just about getting over it, getting over the fact that it’s scary, getting your feet wet and learning how to do it. One of the blessings of the technology and platforms like YouTube is, many companies offer training and tutorials. If you want to learn how to use a product or software, you can learn that on the internet, so the intimidation factor should be lowered.”
Companies should expect a learning curve and expect it to last longer than a few weeks.
“It took us at least a year to get to the point where people wanted to see our content,” says Sean Wilkes, a self-taught videographer who shoots, edits and produces video for Denison Yachting, and manages it on social media. “I’ll be the first one to tell you: I’m constantly looking for ways to improve. That’s how video is. You’re constantly learning a better way to tell a story.”
Video should be used to address a variety of challenges and needs, not just one aspect of the industry or shopping journey, says Lee Gordon, director of global public relations and communications at Mercury Marine. It should also be used to answer key consumer questions, Sanders said.
The medium is crucial for recruitment, training, and sales tool. It also should tell stories that move emotionally move people, even if they’re not boaters, says Carl Blackwell, president of the Grow Boating and Discover Boating campaigns, which posts both informational and inspirational videos.
“There’s a place for every kind of video. Trailering or storage costs, you could have a real quick down-and-dirty video of someone answering that question in 30 seconds,” Blackwell says. “The Stories of Discovery that Discover Boating did were different. Those were higher production quality, but they serve a different purpose. That’s part of the role Discover Boating serves, but I know companies like Regal have created some really heartwarming video. Some manufacturers get it.”
Different goals require different approaches, says Gordon, who anchored CBS affiliate WCTV covering Georgia and Florida.
“When we take our newsroom approach, we’re not creating videos you would use in a commercial,” Gordon says. “It’s not a huge set up. Our guys have their cameras and we go for it. It’s changed so much. Taylor Swift shot her last music video on her iPhone.”
Volvo Penta of the Americas, which produces consumer, sales support and dealer education videos, says variety increases audience reach.
“Our approach to video is twofold, with a focus both on entertainment and education,” says Volvo Penta of the Americas president Ron Huibers. “We see the platform as a means to connect directly with boaters and potential boaters via social media, sharing the stories of Volvo Penta, our partners, and the industry. We also see it as an avenue to further educate our valued dealer partners and empower them with the knowledge needed to impact their bottom line.”
The company recently rolled out a series called “Coffee and Oil,” during which marketing communications manager Christine Carlson interviews industry influencers. “It’s not promotional, so there’s a higher likelihood that the message will reach more people,” Carlson says.
Mercury Marine has done training videos for a long time, Gordon says, but began telling different kinds of stories at the 2015 Miami International Boat Show. “We approached Miami similar to the way we would cover the Super Bowl,” Gordon says, going in with a list of seven stories it wanted to tell using print and video.
Initially the idea was to help enthusiasts who weren’t in Miami see new Mercury products.
“We always do product launches in our booth for the 200 people in that booth, and when it’s done, it’s done,” Gordon says. “The first step was exploring how we could bring Miami to the rest of the people who didn’t go. We recorded content and uploaded it to our site within an hour.”
That approach evolved to include interviews from associations, and product launches from OEM partners with boatbuilder interviews and attendee reactions.
“And then we asked, ‘What are the stories that people, our customers, have to share?’ We’ve met some incredible people along the way,” Gordon says. “For those videos, it doesn’t need to be perfect; it needs to be inspirational.”
Mercury quickly saw the value in consumer testimony. (Who hasn’t skipped company product descriptions online and gone straight to reviews?)
“Although we want to sell you the engine, we are bringing different topics for the industry to see,” says Marcelo Puscar, Volvo Penta’s marketing director for the Americas. “We understand how important customer experience and engagement is to the millennial audience. So we launched a ‘Where Does Volvo Penta Take You?’ campaign. We invited all our followers to share where they were with their boats and engines. We had fantastic results from all over the world, and we learned a lot.”
“We saw that as a way to show, yes, we are a propulsion provider, but we wanted to share the experience,” Carlson says. “What better way than to show people out on the water and having fun, and capturing their emotions?”
Not only were customers generating compelling video content, they were also influencing other potential buyers, Puscar says.
Avoiding the sales pitch
Old-fashioned, hard sales pitches don’t work for video, or in general today, said Marcus Sheridan, who also spoke at MDCE. An emotional angle is better.
“Videos should not be gimme gimme, sell sell,” Wacksman says. “We’ve all grown up so bombarded with ads and messages that we’re instantly ninja-esque in our ability to block things out and not even hear commercials, or time shift past them. The consumer’s totally in control now. Any company that doesn’t recognize it’s really the consumer in control now does not realize how the entire playing field has changed.”
The marine industry as a whole still views consumers as prospects and has yet to change how it talks to them, Puscar says. “As far as I’m concerned, the industry is trying to show products and sell products.”
People want to trust companies, and they no longer trust a hard sell, Sheridan said.
“People love authenticity, and whether you like him or you don’t like him, that is evidenced by Donald Trump,” Denison says. “He’s opened our eyes to how people crave that off-the-cuff authenticity.”
Video can develop trust more than other forms of media. “It’s amazing to me the trust that you can build,” Wacksman says. “We all know eye contact builds trust, it works the same way in video. Seeing somebody’s face, showing your new product, or a new feature, it’s sincere, and it builds trust. It’s multi-sensory. It involves eyes, ears and emotion. That’s another huge one. We all know we connect with people, especially in sales, by emotion — not logic, but emotion.”
Today, 70 percent of a buying decision has already been made before a customer contacts a salesperson, Blackwell says.
Hard sales pitches minimize the industry’s engagement with boaters and potential boaters, Puscar says.
“If engagement is low, it’s bad for the industry,” Puscar says. Companies should reconsider the relevance video plays when competing against other industries. “We as an industry should outperform these other industries.”
Demand for video is increasing because people get so much information from their devices, says Martin Peters, senior manager of marine communications and government relations for Yamaha Marine.
Yamaha president Ben Speciale sees video “as a great opportunity going forward as we try to educate a new generation of technicians and dealers and dealer personnel,” Peters says. “Visual learning is an important tool for that new generation of people in our industry,” particularly when addressing the industry-wide workforce shortage.
Video learning also works for consumers, Yamaha has found. Its first in-house video answered the question people most often asked Yamaha’s helpline: How do you break in a new outboard? “That is a question that we get quite a lot, so it is very valuable for consumers and for dealers to be able to present that to consumers,” Peters says.
Going forward, the video crew will help expand Yamaha’s Yamaha Marine University, which seeks to add an apprenticeship program for dealer technicians, as well as classroom training, online modules, trade school collaborations and online education modules.
“Our video staff will put some meat on the bones of the apprentice program,” Peters says. “Certainly, we need to attract technicians to the industry, younger folks, and these folks are visual learners. This speaks to a demographic change.”
The crew has been with Yamaha for less than a year, so the focus on training could evolve to include videos that resonate emotionally, Peters says.
Volvo Penta has also taken an educational approach in developing 24 videos for VolvoPentaSalesAcademy.com, Puscar says. It helped dealership technicians who work with multiple brands understand Volvo Penta’s systems.
During the first five days, almost 400 people registered, and 180 passed all five quizzes. “That means that even the salespeople are eager to learn and want good content,” Puscar says. “It’s a three-minute video versus an hour to read a brochure that goes through all these details.”
Don’t be Blockbuster
Several people who pushed for more video at their companies said it took them a long time, sometimes years, to persuade managers and owners to invest. Companies that jump in too late might not be able to recover, Sanders said at MDCE. He pointed to Blockbuster, the old brick-and-mortar movie rental chain that bet on Netflix being a passing trend.
“Video is not even a question anymore, it has to be a staple in your marketing toolkit whether you’re showing that experience or cultivating user-generated video,” Blackwell says. “I think people seek out those authentic natural moments on video, that’s really what they’re responding best to. We use a lot of that on our social media channels, and it really resonates with consumers. Videos are an extremely important part of our mix, and they should be part of everybody’s.”
This article originally appeared in the March 2018 issue.