For almost as long as boat engine builders have been making engines, their marketing focus has been on their customers — the boatbuilders. But the industry is starting to see a shift that seems to be the start of a trend with the emergence of new campaigns designed to reach consumers on an emotional level.
The Yamaha Marine Group launched a video series last year called “Fishing with Helm Master.” One of the videos features Yamaha’s saltwater pro, George Mitchell, demonstrating how the Helm Master technology can put the boat in position and keep it there while bait fishing. The 1-minute video had more than 2,500 views.
Last summer, Mercury Marine held a press event in New York City’s MarineMax Chelsea Piers location; a couple of B2B boating writers were invited, but the event largely targeted non-boating media such as Now This Future, an online firm that reaches millions of viewers daily. The point was to showcase the huge leaps in technology that engine and integrated systems have had during the past few years. Most recently Mercury launched a marketing campaign called Go Boldly, which is designed to hit boaters and lapsed boaters on an emotional level across media that include YouTube, TV and magazines.
The campaign will consist of photos and videos that depict “little moments a boater can connect to,” says Mercury Marine chief marketing officer Michelle Dauchy.
BRP, which also holds events designed to get boaters and non-boaters alike out on the water, has named Olivier Pierini director of global marketing and strategic planning for its marine propulsion systems division. The auto industry veteran’s goal is to put together a program that also helps Evinrude connect with boaters on a more emotional level.
“This is, I believe, key to any brand’s success,” Pierini says. “Being able to create and define an emotional bond between its products and its customers. There are very powerful examples of brands that are able to create stories and emotional connections. Coming from the automotive world, this is the philosophy that has governed my entire career. Marketing translates into consumer terms and feelings, what engineers develop to stay competitive and on the cutting edge of innovation. There are lots of products on the market. That’s why emotion is so critical to success. This is my next endeavor at Evinrude.”
Mercury is trying to foster a connection between its brand and current boaters, as well as lapsed and potential boaters, in a way Dauchy compares with Nike’s “Be Like Mike” campaign: “Any successful brand you can look at in the marketplace has made that emotional connection — Nike had ‘Be Like Mike,’ which was about talking to that athlete who wanted to be like Michael Jordan.”
“We looked across the marine industry, and there isn’t really any brand connecting with boaters on a consistent basis,” says Dauchy. “Our [sales] model is really B2B, and marketing should reflect that. But we have discovered through a lot of global research that it’s really important to make contact with the end user — the boater.”
The campaign will come to life at boat shows globally, from Miami and Toronto to Shanghai and Düsseldorf, as well as on TV and social media. TV has been an elusive advertising venue for the boating industry, and these spots, although they put Mercury’s brand in front of viewers, often depict a glimpse of what boating can offer. One 15-second ad depicting a family on a pontoon boat, and later roasting marshmallows in a bonfire at night, flashes the words: “Raise less-civilized kids.”
“We did a lot of global research for this campaign and found there are just common human truths, regardless of whether you’re in Australia, Florida or Italy,” Dauchy says. “People who go boating want to feel confident, and they feel confident when can trust tools on a boat. When they are confident and have those tools, that enables them to really go boldly and really do what they want to do — and not worry about things that make them look foolish when docking a boat or worry their family isn’t safe.”
A shift from feature lists
It should be the goal of an engine manufacturer to make innovations known and understood by the broader public, whether they are technically skilled or not, Pierini says. Because he is new to boating, he thinks he’s well positioned to offer insight to an industry that sometimes loses sight of a newcomer’s perspective.
“I have only been to one show, the Paris boat show in December,” Pierini said in late December. “I was visiting as a mystery shopper with my 20 years of automotive experience and no boating culture. My first reaction was feeling overwhelmed by the amount of different messages, logos, pictures, etc., to which a visitor is exposed. It’s extremely hard to figure out what boat and engine you ought to buy when you’re not an avid expert and boater.
“What I’ve learned from my automotive years is to surprise and delight people with whom you want to engage business,” Pierini adds. “How do you resonate in their mind? How do you leave a good impression and induce a willingness to discover your brand and products? Often, if not always, best results are achieved by doing things differently. It’s hard to resist the temptation to advertise only a price and product benefit. Marketing is also crucial in building brand values to which people recognize themselves in.”
Dauchy agrees that there is not much distinction in the way marine companies market to customers and boaters. “When you look around the marine industry, there really is a lot of commonality in what everyone is saying and talking about. There is not a lot of distinctiveness,” Dauchy says. “We all know that getting into boating is emotional. People don’t sit down with a spreadsheet and say getting into boating is a smart decision. It’s emotional. We’ve got a real opportunity here, but we’ve got to engage with them in a real and human way.”
It’s the difference between asking people to envision a table and asking them to envision the table where they grew up eating Thanksgiving dinner. “You have a completely different experience, and it’s much more evocative. Instead of just talking about the thing, we have to talk about what it enables them to do,” Dauchy says.
One single mom interviewed in Mercury’s extensive market research phase says she wants to feel confident on the water with her children and that knowing how to drive the boat and use some of the new tools helped her do that. Because she was confident she was able to explore new places with her children and create memories.
“The value of those memories can’t be explained through a list of features,” Dauchy says. “The idea is to connect with people to seek out more information about Mercury when they’re starting that decision-making process.”
Reaching new audiences
In doing its market research, Mercury spoke to men and women of varying ages, Dauchy says. The company would like to change the dynamic of expectations — for example, that the man drives the boat or even makes the purchasing decisions alone.
In many cases the woman is actually making the decision, but in all cases she has a significant influence, Dauchy says. “We talk a lot about price, but that’s the wrong conversation to have in my mind. It’s really about the value. What it gives me, how enjoyable it is to buy and use, how it enables me to create memories or gives me a chance to be myself and get away — those things create value,” she says. “The more value we can create with messaging, the more we’re going to reach today’s boaters and potential boaters. Women are a key part of that.
“Across the industry we know we need to do a better job of reaching younger boaters,” Dauchy says. “If people get into boating younger, they’re more likely to boat their entire lives. You have to market differently to Generation X and millennials. They aren’t looking for the long list of product features; they’re looking for a real connection. We’re going to really move, starting this year, away from being very product-focused. Products are the key. They enable all this, but we’re going to lead with the experience of the boater, and them feeling like they are empowered.”
Pierini is still evaluating Evinrude’s overall communication strategy and getting to know the business as he helps to develop the company’s future direction, but he says he will definitely look to appeal to new or lapsed boaters. “Business growth can’t only be sustained by the hard-core boat enthusiasts. We must also consider the occasional users and non-boaters as our communication and engagement target,” he says. That means looking not just outside boating, but also beyond who has traditionally taken part in boating.
“Again, if we want to generate growth in the business we have an obligation to reach and engage different groups,” Pierini says. “As I said, I’m still in my due diligence phase, thus cannot provide any specifics as to how we will address different target groups, but I can tell you that this will be part of our overall marketing deployment toolbox.”
The team is working now on redefining who it is as a brand and how best to communicate with specific target customers, he says. “Social media will play a bigger role moving forward. I want Evinrude to engage more and interrupt less. This will be part of the new Evinrude marketing approach we will be launching in the near future.”
Commitment to history
Even during these major marketing shifts, Evinrude and Mercury remain committed to the brand’s legacy and personality. “When a brand refocuses their brand proposition — and that’s what we’ve done — it can’t be a disconnect with who the company is and what its history is,” Dauchy says. “The fortunate thing is, we’ve got a long history of being bold. We create marine propulsion systems, but we also do create memories, and we’re so focused on … really pushing to never be satisfied and continually raising the bar.”
And although Pierini is taking his time to get to know the industry and the Evinrude brand, he says he already has a sense of the company’s history. “Evinrude invented the outboard engine,” he says. “I’m just starting my journey within this brand, and I’m amazed to discover the plethora of innovations and breakthrough technologies this brand has offered the world. There are untapped stories and emotions that I want to leverage with my team in the near future. There are obviously some nuances on how we address B2B and B2C.”
Although he can’t give specifics of the next “face” of Evinrude, Pierini says the company’s long history will be part of the message, but in a way that breaks with expectations. “Evinrude will disrupt and surprise very soon,” Pierini says. “We will be in places where you don’t expect a boat engine brand to be. Stay tuned.”
This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue.