Marketing is one of the fastest-changing business disciplines on the planet. Keeping up with best practices, understanding new platforms, adapting to changes in consumer behavior, managing campaigns and measuring marketing effectiveness are just a few of the challenges we face as marine industry marketers. Even for industries that are quick to adapt, this rapidly evolving environment is difficult to navigate.
The marine industry is certainly no stranger to innovation when it comes to product development. New hull designs, high-horsepower engines, digital systems integration, LED lighting — the list of boating innovations is endless. However, when it comes to the way that we communicate with consumers, innovation is often overlooked. We have to be just as innovative with our marketing efforts as we are with product development.
“Do you have a documented marketing strategy?” This is one of the first questions I ask any company. The answer, almost always, is some variation of: “Not really. I mean, we have a strategy, but it isn’t documented or written down.”
The most common excuses companies give for the lack of a marketing strategy are lack of time, lack of resources and competing priorities. Most businesses do not understand the benefits of creating a formal strategy, which provides a better understanding of internal roles and responsibilities, target audiences, consumer behavior and sales processes. Having a formal strategy allows businesses to be more nimble, to spend more efficiently, and to create effective campaigns consistently.
Having outside help can be beneficial, but handling marketing in-house is possible. The hard part is getting started.
Here are a few things to think about if you want to create your own marketing strategy.
Definitions of Key Terms
Are contacts the same as leads? Are all leads considered to be qualified leads? What is a marketing campaign? Is it different from a marketing initiative? Defining key terms ensures that everyone is speaking the same language.
Roles and Responsibilities
Who is responsible for evaluating marketing opportunities? Who determines when a marketing lead becomes a sales lead? Who are the stakeholders for campaign creation and analysis? Having clearly defined roles helps each stakeholder take ownership of the processes, and provides a path for feedback and improvement, especially between the marketing and sales departments. Knowing what is required on the marketing side, and how it differs from the sales side, is an important part of balancing workload.
Who is your customer? What does he care about? Where can you find him? Where does he live, work and play? How does he consume information? A professional captain, a liveaboard couple and a weekend cruising family may all be potential customers. But a message that resonates with one may not resonate with the others, or may be seen on LinkedIn but not on Facebook. Creating audience profiles will help you determine what to say and where to say it.
How long is your typical sales cycle? What are the different phases? What messages are relevant to consumers in each phase? Say, for example, you sell boats and have a lead. You know they own a boat and are looking to upgrade when they retire in several years. If you hammer them with daily “buy now” emails, then you are treating them as a sales lead in the purchase phase of the sales cycle. In reality, they are in the nurture/relationship phase of your sales cycle. Sending the wrong message will likely cause them to unsubscribe. By defining the phases of your sales cycle and understanding your audience profiles, you can create campaigns that target the right person at the right time with the right message.
What tools do you intend to use to develop, launch, measure and iterate your marketing campaigns? List and define these tools. Examples include traditional media, paid and organic social media, paid and organic search, content marketing, email marketing and events. It’s OK to admit what you don’t know. Many marketing tools and processes require extensive subject expertise across multiple marketing disciplines. If you identify a tool, service or platform that you don’t know how to use, be sure to assign management to someone with expertise, under roles and responsibilities.
Every marketing campaign needs several key components. Your marketing strategy should identify these components and make them part of a process. What is the goal (what do we want to accomplish and why)? Who are we targeting (audience profile)? Where are they in our sales cycle? What action do we want the consumer to take? What does success look like? What metrics will we measure to evaluate performance?
Thinking a little deeper on campaign anatomy can also be helpful. Provide examples that are specific to your business to use as a reference. Goals might be to generate leads and grow the number of email subscribers. The target might be existing boat owners in the research phase of the sales cycle. The desired consumer action might be completing an email sign-up form. The success metric could be the number of form submissions received, or the open rate of follow-up e-mail.
As with any scientific process, reproducible results begin with documentation. Documenting your marketing strategy is a good way to stop guessing and start generating results.
In 2020, marketing is less of an art and more of a science. Science is driven by data, and savvy marketers incorporate that data into their decision-making since it produces results. We will be exploring these topics in greater depth in future columns.
Eric Dallin is vice president of marketing innovation for AIM Marine Group. Dallin has a long background in the boating industry, having owned several digital marine businesses since the early days of the Internet.
This article originally appeared in the February 2020 issue.