From websites to social media to online reputation management, digital marketing is rapidly evolving. With its recent acquisitions and product releases, ARI is increasing its investment in those areas.
This month, we talked to ARI president & CEO Roy Olivier about what’s driving that growth strategy and why it’s so important to the company’s future.
Boating Industry: When you look at the marine industry for 2014, what’s ARI’s outlook for this year?
Olivier: We actually look at industry agnostic numbers and industry numbers and in both cases we see 2014 shaping up to be a pretty good year, barring some sort of unexpected event that would affect the economy. Most of the dealers and manufacturers that we deal with are reporting increased website traffic, increased leads and are doing well. I think 2014 is shaping up to look like a pretty strong year.
Boating Industry: You’re in a number of other industries as well. Does that carry across the other markets ARI is working in?
Olivier: Yeah, I think so. We serve several industries. A couple of them are not tied as closely to the economy as powersports, RV, marine and some of those. Definitely, in the consumer spending-oriented industries that we’re in, the fact that the economy has continued to expand has lead to more traffic and lead to more leads and lead to more sales than in previous years. In general, we think 2014 will be an up year for most of the verticals that we’re in.
Boating Industry: What do you see as major challenges to a continued industry recovery?
Olivier: I think the biggest challenge in our minds is consumer sentiment as formed by the mixed economic signals we’re seeing. The government – their spending affected Q4 GDP by a full percentage point. We’re seeing mixed messages. You pick up the paper one day and the economy’s doing well. Pick up the paper next day and you get a message the economy’s doing well.
I think if people feel like the economy’s doing well and they feel like their house is going up in value and they feel like their job is secure, we’re going to see increased spending. If some event or series of events occur that erode that confidence, that’s going to have an impact on the business.
Boating Industry: What makes you optimistic about the marine industry?
Olivier: We’re optimistic because the dealers who are still around are much more educated and much more resourceful than in previous years. They’re focused on investing in things that will grow their business. Specifically, a lot of technology investment to drive leads and create an electronic dialogue with their customers via social media, email, mobile messaging and other methods.
Boating Industry: Last year, you acquired Duo Web Solutions. What made that an attractive move for ARI?
Olivier: Duo was really an acquisition that directly links to our strategy to provide additional marketing services to dealers and manufacturers. Duo had a suite of services primarily designed to address search engine marketing, online reputation management, email and other services to help those dealers have strategies and tactics for creating that electronic dialogue with their customers via social media and other outlets.
The acquisition was really to strengthen our capability in that area. The principal of Duo, Heather Blessington, is now our chief marketing officer. Her role here is to help us take the ARI offerings, the Duo offerings, put them together and kind of reboot our strategy with those products.
Boating Industry: They were a big player on the powersports side. Do you anticipate being able to apply what they were doing to your marine clients as well?
Olivier: The best practices in the industries are very, very similar, so we believe that a lot of the skillset and a lot of the things that they did in other vertical markets will translate directly into marine.
We’ve done 14 acquisitions in the last 15 years or so and if you look back at all of our acquisitions were designed to acquire primarily a dealer footprint or a product suite. Duo was the first time that we’ve done something that really wasn’t product or dealer footprint. It was designed to increase our capability in a specific area because we believe three years, four years from now, digital marketing will be much more important than it has been historically.
Boating Industry: Why is that important to the industry?
Olivier: Dealers that are not on top of and executing a good digital marketing strategy are simply going to get lost in the ocean of websites out there that are offering products and services to consumers. Helping dealers understand how to create a local, digital dialogue with customers and prospective customers, how do they manage their online reputation, how do they manage the various social media channels and drive traffic into the dealerships, that’s going to be more and more important.
Boating Industry: As you said, there have been a lot of acquisitions for ARI. What does ARI look at when making an acquisition?
Olivier: We have a pretty aggressive five-year growth plan. When we look forward over the next five years, I believe that half of our growth will come organically by growing our base business today. The other half of our growth will come through acquisitions. Those acquisitions are going to fall into a few broad buckets.
We do like to do acquisitions where we can roll-up competitors in a market we’re already in. We’ve purchased other e-catalog companies that have been direct competitors, we’ve purchased website companies that have been direct competitors, simply to strengthen our position in that market.
Secondarily, we’ve done acquisitions to bring on a new technology or a new vertical market where we want to have additional growth, either by taking a new product and selling it into the existing vertical markets that we’re in or we’ve acquired new vertical markets. For example, in 2008 we acquired ChannelBlade, which was a leader in marine. ARI was a much smaller player in marine, so that acquisitions allowed us to significantly grow our presence.
Boating Industry: What are some of the biggest mistakes you’re seeing companies make when it comes to their digital marketing?
Olivier: There’s a couple that we see over and over again. One is just not executing in general. That’s the dealers that either don’t have a strategy or haven’t taken the time to sit down and execute on the strategy they have selected.
The second one is not effectively measuring what’s working and what’s not. It’s easy to invest money in a lot of different areas, but I think the most successful dealers are very diligent about measuring what’s working and what’s not and investing heavily in those areas.
I was looking at some survey data and it’s interesting to see dealers’ perception of what works and doesn’t work and how they evaluate that. Some evaluate it not by leads, not by sales, but simply by, as an example, the number of people that have decided to follow them on a social media outlet. Effectively deciding where I’m going to invest and what metrics I’m going to use to decide if that investment makes sense is an area that’s evolving.
Boating Industry: What are the latest products rolling out from ARI?
Olivier: We rolled out a really cool product in 2013 that’s called AccessorySmart. Its first rollout was for the powersports segment, primarily motorcycle. What it does it allows you to say, “I have this mirror and this model product,” and it searches through 1,400 manufacturers worth of data and shows you what specifically fits your ride. As we move that product into marine, I think that will be an exciting new product that we’d like to accomplish in 2014 so you can see what will fit your boat.
We’ll also launch a new website platform this year that will take advantage of some of the best practices in digital marketing and tie their social media strategy to their dealer website.
Boating Industry: You mentioned the five-year plan. What is ARI focused on in 2014 and beyond?
Olivier: We’re focused on some pretty aggressive revenue growth targets. In 2014, we’re continuing to complete the integration of the three acquisitions we’ve made in the last 18 months. Long term, we’re continuing to look to grow ARI at a pretty aggressive rate.