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See You Out Here

The record demand for boating throughout the pandemic has boosted the marine industry and pushed the National Marine Manufacturers Association to reflect on exactly how we can build upon the current momentum.

While some boat segments are beginning to normalize across the industry, other segments remain robust in the face of sustained supply-chain challenges and inflation fears. Order books are strong, so there has never been a better time to cement our gains and pivot to what is next. That means diversifying who we are marketing to if we want to continue to increase the market share of recreational boating. To achieve that goal, we need to understand and more effectively engage new audiences in different and authentic ways.

Historically, even as the country became more of a melting pot, our industry has overlooked highly diverse consumer segments. Recent data shows that recreational boating went into the pandemic with a 16 percent diversity share and exited Covid-19 with the same 16 percent market share. This a far cry from the nation’s 40 percent ethnic mix.

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A more sustainable future includes all Americans having the opportunity to discover the joys and benefits of boating. This means welcoming and marketing to emerging and broader communities so that the lifestyle ripples through families and generations. This untapped market opportunity cannot be understated: Adding new growth segments to our faithful core consumers would more than double our market potential and place the boating industry at its strongest position in history.

Discover Boating is leading the charge to evolve how we market as an industry. Guided by recent research on traditional boaters compared to growth and emerging boater segments provided a better understanding of behaviors, interests and emotional needs. Given the shift in the makeup of the U.S. population, boaters, too, are increasingly diverse. Growth segments for boating, especially among the younger set (18 to 34 years old), look and behave differently from traditional boaters.

These younger people are more likely to be ethnically, racially and attitudinally diverse. Unlike traditional boaters, they didn’t grow up boating. As such, life on the water can seem exclusive and intimidating to them, but they are adventurous and willing to try new activities. To engage this generation, we need to make them feel welcome. And while there are many ways to go about this, authentic representation is critical. Seeing someone like yourself on a boat, in a dealership or anywhere across the business world of boating makes a significant impact on whether you feel welcome.

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We knew we couldn’t simply profile today’s boat owners to know how to speak relevantly to the next generation. One thing was clear in our research: The next generation looks, acts and thinks differently than current boat owners. And yet their mindset and interests, in many ways, remain remarkably similar. Participation in the outdoors, and outdoor recreation specifically, is a uniting factor across the boater population. However, demographic trends show that our traditional population is shrinking as our U.S. population shifts.

As a result, next-generation boaters are more diverse not just in age, ethnicity and gender, but also in attitudes, behaviors and even location. What’s more, they’re less likely to come from boat-owning families than previous generations.

Those learnings are at the foundation of the Discover Boating campaign that went to market in April. “See You Out Here” celebrates boaters from all backgrounds with an open invitation to explore life in, on and under the water. The special personal experiences boating creates across a wide spectrum of demographics are at the center of this campaign — the unforgettable moments, feelings and freedoms that only boating delivers — in a way that is intended to capture the hearts of these diverse customers.

Created with agency partner Cutwater Boats, the videos are anchored by an impactful brand anthem film and the real stories of passionate boaters who have turned into brand ambassadors around the country. These authentic, moving narratives feature the ambassadors’ unique histories and relationships with boating, all of which reflect the next generation of boaters.

“Hooked” spotlights Khristian Rousseve, the first black student athlete in Louisiana to receive a scholarship for bass fishing. “Captain Jana” chronicles licensed captain Jana Zontek and her wife, Cindy, finding a shared love of and appreciation for life on the water. “Depth of Field” takes a glimpse at the adventures of Andy Mann, an award-winning National Geographic photographer committed to marine conservation. These individuals are among more than 10 boaters featured in the new campaign.

I encourage you to check out the new Discover Boating videos. Dive into the consumer segmentation research that guided the direction of the new campaign. Consider how your business and brand can better speak to and engage with your next generation of customers. Keep in mind that customers of tomorrow will look, act and think differently. It’s up to us to make sure we are keeping up with the ever-changing consumer. Adapt and innovate, or be disrupted.

Together, as an industry, we can work to grow boating’s market share with an inclusive mindset that’s sure to expand access and grow our vibrant community. 

Frank Hugelmeyer is president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

Frank Hugelmeyer is president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

This article was originally published in the June 2022 issue.

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