Q&A: Carl Blackwell, Discover Boating


By Jonathan Sweet
August 9, 2013
Filed under Features, Top Stories

Discover Boating recently released its mid-year marketing report, which showed strong results for the program.

This year, 500 million advertising impressions have been delivered by the program.

At the same time, traffic to DiscoverBoating.com is up 18.5 percent and the site has referred more than 600,000 consumers to manufacturer websites through July – an increase of 285 percent over 2012.

Discover Boating has launched numerous new initiatives in advertising and public relations to get the word out about boating.

The campaign has also continued to grow its social media reach. Discover Boating now has more than 650,000 fans on Facebook and has increased its Twitter followers by 63 percent to more than 11,000.

With most of Discover Boating’s paid advertising wrapped for the year (although PR and other marketing efforts continue), Boating Industry touched base with Discover Boating President Carl Blackwell to talk about this year’s efforts.

Discover Boating undertook some new advertising efforts this year, probably most notably the cinema advertising. How have those worked out?

Our cinema advertising was a new test for us and we were pretty lucky this year with both of our [advertisements]. One ran over the Easter holiday and one ran over the Memorial Day holiday. In both cases they saw record box office for both of those holiday weekends. We had our spots hit at the right time.

What was more interesting for us is that the spots really resonated with the consumer. We had a very high percentage of consumers recalling our spot, which you might imagine in captive environment like that. Seventy-six percent of the people that were interviewed remembered our spots; 63 percent of consumers that saw the spot really liked the spot and the rest were just neutral on it.

Our online video just continues to perform incredibly well. Our click-to-completion rates – that is, when someone clicks on a video and watches the whole thing – exceeded all industry benchmarks. In some places where we were advertising we were the highest-ranked click to completion ad. That tells us that we’re definitely making an impact with our commercials.

My hope is that as the industry recovers we get to show it to more people. That’s the challenge and the payoff for us.

Another thing … this year that seems to be working for us is that the lines of advertising and public relations continue to blur. We’re well positioned as an industry group … to provide a more neutral, third party content, which publications are more apt to pick up versus something that might be more branded.

What parts of your marketing efforts have been most effective this year?

The one number that jumps off our results chart is the manufacturer referrals – when they leave our site and go to a manufacturer’s. We’re going to see a 300 percent increase this year over last year.

That’s a lot of consumers that are coming to Discover Boating, learning about the boating lifestyle, excited enough to go to a boat type page and then click off our site to a manufacturer’s site. Once the consumer clicks that deep into our site that says that they’re pretty engaged.

What’s behind that increase?

There’re a couple of reasons for the increase. We’ve learned and gotten much more cost-effective with our advertising and the second thing we’ve done is we’ve improved the navigation on our website. So now it’ll take two or three clicks when before it would have taken five or six clicks to get to a manufacturer website.

Why are you able to be more cost-effective this year? Is it just a matter of more experience as you go through the process or what’s driving that?

I think we’re smarter in our search advertising. We have a very extensive search advertising process, and a (great) team managing it. The more you go out and buy you start to hone in on those words that start to respond better and are less expensive as well.

We don’t always buy the No. 1 placement. We don’t need to be at the top of the page in the paid area, we just need to be in the top five. Our search advertising is much more effective this year. As you do more advertising, you get more cost effective.

If you go to the organic side of our website, we have over 700 keywords or phrases that are listed as the one or two position on Google. That’s incredibly optimized for a website.

When you combine a highly optimized organic website with paid advertising, you do a heck of a lot better with your search results, because they see your listings twice.

One of the things that really stands out with Discover Boating is social media. How do you continue to attract new people and keep the fans you have engaged?

Our social media advertising continues to be very effective for us. Our cost per like is off the chart. Last year, Facebook wrote a case study on our campaign and we ended up being 25 percent more efficient this year.

Social media is labor intensive. It takes research on what your consumers are interested in. You need to spend a lot of time and effort developing relevant content or sourcing it.

Then you step back and you have to listen, see what our consumers are saying. For example, one thing we’ve learned is that “celebrities on boats” is not really something our boating community cares about. Boating is the star in our world.

We watch our analytics. Whenever we make a post, we look at the number of shares, the number of people we reach, we look at the likes, we look at the dislikes. You just have to pay attention to your analytics.

How about the partnership this year on Welcome to the Water on National Marina Day? How did that work out on the Discover Boating side of things?

We’re mostly pleased with the results. We had 100 more [locations participating] this year than last year. To the best of our ability to calculate, we got a minimum of 6,000 to 7,000 people on the water.

Certainly there are some things that are challenges: dates are a challenge. It’s hard to find a date that works for everyone. The name of the event is too complicated. And frankly, we were a bit disappointed in the lack of hands-on skill training that was available.

Overall we were very pleased. There was a lot of good, but some areas for improvement.


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