The recreational boating industry’s strategy to amplify its collective voice to grow participation is beginning to take shape as the National Marine Manufacturers Association integrates the marketing power of its boat shows under the Discover Boating brand. While boat shows are an extension of the brand, the real power of Discover Boating is introducing new people to the boating lifestyle.

Here, NMMA’s Ellen Bradley, its chief brand officer and senior vice president of marketing and communications, discusses the latest efforts.

How did the “Get On Board” campaign come to be?

This year, Discover Boating is doing a second-year partnership with the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing to continue the powerful rallying cry we unveiled last summer: Get On Board. The past year and a half presented a challenging yet opportune moment for both the Discover Boating and Take Me Fishing marketing teams. What we quickly realized last spring was that boating and fishing had the potential to capture attention like never before. With the pandemic creating uncertainty across such industries as cruise lines, international travel and sporting events, brands were pulling their marketing dollars and campaigns, leaving a gap in the market. We knew it was a chance for us to break through and tell our industry’s story with a relevant message for what our country was going through. Americans were seeking a safe way to spend time with close loved ones, be outdoors and focus on their personal wellness.

At the same time, on the Discover Boating side, manufacturers were shut down for weeks due to Covid restrictions, and we saw funding decline as a result. We had to get creative, and so together with RBFF and the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, we pooled our resources, got as loud as possible, and put boating and fishing on everyone’s radar across the United States and Canada. NMMA’s Frank Hugelmeyer, RBFF’s Frank
Peterson and MRAA’s Matt Gruhn championed this united effort at exactly the right time.

NMMA is integrating the marketing power of its boat shows under the Discover Boating brand.

NMMA is integrating the marketing power of its boat shows under the Discover Boating brand.

What’s on tap for this summer?

Following the Ipsos research shared a few months ago and the number of people we’re continuing to see turn to outdoor recreation for stress relief, family connection and health, we’re really leaning into the wellness benefits of boating and fishing this summer. You’ll especially see this messaging come through our P.R. and social. In fact, the P.R. team has already been hard at work and recently met with more than a dozen top-tier national lifestyle media to share our industry’s story. In addition to an aggressive P.R. effort, we have digital advertising, social media campaigns, new content and an influencer campaign. Combined with the Take Me Fishing team, we’re working with approximately 60 influencers across the United States and Canada, getting them on the water to share their own boating and fishing moments and adventures. And, in addition to Instagram and YouTube, we’re excited to be on TikTok this year for the first time, given its growth among Gen X and millennials, and its short-form video-sharing format.

A big part of the campaign lies in the hands of the industry: We want to see dealers, marinas, manufacturers and other stakeholders across the board helping to spread the word about the joys of boating and fishing. And we’re making it easy with the “Get On Board” toolkit. Whether it’s social content, videos or digital ads, we’ve got you covered.

What are some the results to date?

DiscoverBoating.com is a hub for all things boating lifestyle, attracting millions of potential boat buyers each year. There’s an incredible foundation that’s been built over time, and the past few years, the team has focused intently and intensely on content. As a result, our organic traffic is breaking records, and we’re seeing continued year-over-year growth in site traffic and manufacturer referrals. What’s especially exciting is we’re continuing to see this even as we entered May, which this time last year was a month we saw massive spikes in traffic as it became clear the pandemic was here to stay for a while and boating could provide much-needed solace.

Through May, traffic is up about 50 percent year-over-year, and referrals are up nearly 10 percent year-over-year, which has us at about 2.5 million unique visitors and about 1 million referrals. What’s more, we’re seeing a younger, more diverse visitor. In fact, the largest user segment right now on DiscoverBoating.com is 25 to 34 years old. There’s also been 90 percent year-over-year growth in traffic among 18- to 24-year-old visitors, and a 41 percent increase in women visitors. Nurturing these potential boaters and boat buyers is a critical element of Discover Boating. It also happens to be one we’re constantly tweaking, learning about and improving upon, given the constant changes and evolutions in digital, as well as where these consumers find themselves in their exploration of the boating lifestyle.

As dealers face inventory shortages across the country, can you talk about the mission of Discover Boating?

Discover Boating exists to introduce people to the boating lifestyle and advance their exploration of boat ownership, to ultimately grow participation and boat ownership. To grow our industry, we need to be engaging the next-generation customer now.

Someone recently asked me why we need Discover Boating right now if we don’t have any boats to sell, don’t have inventory. My response was twofold. First, there’s no doubt one of the reasons there aren’t boats to sell right now is because we had the Discover Boating campaign the past 15 years, planting seeds with millions of consumers; and second, Discover Boating is not a short-term sales promotion. It’s a long-term initiative to introduce the next generation of customers to boating so there’s interest in two, three, five-plus years.

The campaign is not designed to get people into a dealership today — that’s the job of manufacturers and dealers who are primed to market and sell to the person who’s decided they’re buying a boat. Instead, Discover Boating fills a void in our industry, and that’s to build awareness for the boating lifestyle by inspiring and igniting interest, ultimately turning prospective boat shoppers into boat buyers. That’s why you’ll hear us talk about the handoff from Discover Boating to manufacturers and dealers being so key. It’s also why you can expect to see us constantly fine-tuning that process as we work to ensure our industry takes a much more personalized approach with our consumer interactions.

Discover Boating is designed to inspire and ignite interest, turning boat shoppers

Discover Boating is designed to inspire and ignite interest, turning boat shoppers

What does the future hold for Discover Boating?

The industry’s Discover Boating funding from assessments is laser-focused on building interest and future customers through our awareness and interest campaign. That won’t change. A key part of this, which is coming to life in a bigger way through NMMA’s recent partnership with MRAA, is Discover Boating’s role in retention, which is ultimately all about the customer experience once someone becomes a boat owner.

We’re all familiar with the significant attrition rate among first-time buyers. (Info-Link cites it at 42 percent after five years.) Tackling this is key. Customer experience has to be prioritized across the board if we’re going to grow and be relevant in the next five, 10, 15 years. MRAA is investing heavily in both content and education, and has been spreading the message about the importance of improving the customer experience at all industry touchpoints. And they’re providing solutions, advice and resources for how to do it.

In addition to a strong focus on the customer experience, we’re working with a new creative agency to better understand the consumer of today and tomorrow, so we’re inviting them to the boating lifestyle in a way that resonates with them and where they are in their lives. Not only have we all gone through tremendous change this past year, but as we work to expand the Discover Boating brand universe, the time is right to do a gut check and ensure the brand is aligned with our audience. It’s all rooted in exciting consumers about the joys and freedoms of the boating lifestyle, helping them get started, and helping them remain excited.

Can you elaborate on whether it’s just NMMA boat shows?

Discover Boating is an industrywide campaign funded by the industry, for the industry. Through Discover Boating assessments, the campaign has an annual budget that hovers between $6 million and $8 million. While that’s a lot of money, when you’ve got to be national in scope and are competing for consumer attention alongside recreation and leisure industries spending three to four times that amount, it forces you to be incredibly efficient, which we do through our digital-focused campaigns, and incredibly creative with how you extend the value of each dollar. NMMA’s board of directors recognized we could do this by leaning into the immense marketing power of NMMA’s boat shows. And we don’t want to limit the brand to NMMA shows — again, this is an industrywide initiative, so we want participation from across the boat show universe. In fact, we’re working alongside other industry boat show producers to explore ways they can bring Discover Boating to their events, too. As other shows add their support, we grow our reach and impact even more.

Don’t boat shows target repeat buyers? Why bring Discover Boating, which is geared toward welcoming new boaters, to these events?

Boat shows have historically attracted repeat buyers because they provide an ideal one-stop shop. Boat buyers get to see the latest boats from across a region in one place, and often find some of the best deals of the year. However, when we bring lifestyle activations, entertainment, on-water training and social elements to the show, suddenly they not only enhance the repeat buyer’s experience, but they provide a unique opportunity for potential boaters, too. When we’ve delivered this at our shows, we have seen increased interest from potential first-time buyers. Boat shows are this powerful strategic advantage for our industry. At shows, you get to see the boating community up close, feel and touch the products, and get a taste of the lifestyle, all while addressing some of the barriers would-be boaters face, from financing and insurance to education and know-how.

NMMA’s boat show P.R. alone generated nearly $18 million in advertising value in 2020 (the amount it would cost if P.R. placements were ads). Infusing Discover Boating into that P.R. is an incredible opportunity to extend the industry’s investment in the brand and create a more impactful industry voice. This is what’s at the root of the NMMA board’s decision to integrate the brand with shows.

By bringing boat shows under the Discover Boating brand, with the goal of ultimately adding even more lifestyle components that engage and attract interested and existing boaters, we create an omni-channel marketing experience and expand our collective voice and impact. Boat shows are sales events and valuable marketing platforms for exhibitors, and for boating. As we look at the 2022 season, we’re already seeing demand from consumers as they crave a return to events. If I’m an exhibitor, I’m thinking about how I take advantage of this opportunity to stand out and dial up how I use boat shows to market my brands and my dealership.

How will the Discover Boating brand show up at shows? What will that look like?

For NMMA’s 2022 boat shows, we’ll begin to strategically introduce Discover Boating over time. Expect a multiyear transition. In year one, this means you’ll see the brand as a presenting sponsor. For example, the Progressive Insurance Chicago Boat Show will become the Progressive Insurance Chicago Boat Show, presented by Discover Boating. This allows us to make Discover Boating a significant part of the show brand, placing it across all our marketing materials, while educating attendees on the Discover Boating brand experience. To start, this experience will include a new Discover Boating section on our boat show websites with curated content related to boater education and resources, and the joys of the boating lifestyle. Similarly, we’ll enhance our education content on DiscoverBoating.com to help interested boat buyers understand the boat show experience. 

This article was originally published in the July 2021 issue.

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