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Digital remains preferred marketing platform

By Tim Hennagir

Fifth annual survey explores tactics for 2018

Digital marketing continues the preferred platform for most companies in the boating industry.

For the fifth year in a row, we surveyed the readers of our print and digital products about how they market their businesses. We surveyed dealers, service providers, manufacturers, and others in January about how they marketed in 2017 and how they plan to do so in 2018.

From websites to social media to mobile, dealers and manufacturers are relying more on digital outlets than ever before, and working to refine their use. 

At the same time, traditional methods – especially in-person company events and boat shows – remain important for many companies. 

Digital platforms keep driving

As has been the case since 2015, company websites were ranked as the most-used and most important marketing tactic in this year’s survey.

Overall, 85 percent of respondents said they had a company website, while 21 percent said it was the most successful tactic they used in 2017. Even with that in mind, 54 percent of companies said they plan to use their website more this year, while only 1 percent plan to use it less in their marketing.

Other digital methods were important, too. More than 57 percent of companies reported using email marketing and web advertising in 2017. Fourteen percent of those companies ranked web advertising as their most successful marketing method last year, while 12 percent said the same of email marketing.

Email marketing didn’t change direction when compared with last year’s marketing survey. Twelve percent of readers reported using it in 2016 as well as 12 percent in 2017. Web advertising increased from 13 percent in 2016 to 14 percent this year. 

Source: Boating Industry surveys,
January 2017 and 2018

Among the group investing in mobile advertising, more than a third of companies surveyed (34 percent) reported they plan to do more mobile advertising this year.

Approximately 11 percent of readers also have a company blog, with 59 percent expecting to use it about the same amount this year and 18 percent planning additional use.

When it comes to social media, Facebook is still riding high. While only about 8 percent of readers said it was their most successful tactic last year, more than 68 percent of survey respondents marketed through the social media giant in 2017, a level that has been steady over the last few years. Even at that level, 58 percent are planning to use it more in 2018. 

Other social media outlets were used at much lower levels: 4 percent used Pinterest, 20 percent used Twitter, 27 percent used YouTube, and 30 percent used Instagram, for marketing in 2017. Only about 3 percent of survey respondents mentioned any of those outlets as their most important marketing tactic last year.

With the exception of Pinterest, though, many readers did say they are planning to use those sites more this year: 40 percent plan to increase their YouTube marketing, while 39 percent are aiming to use Instagram more. Almost 20 percent of respondents reported they plan to market more on Twitter.

Source: Boating Industry survey,
January 2018

Other keys to success

Companies aren’t ignoring in-person marketing. There’s still a strong effort to expend time and energy on boat shows and other company events.

Sixty percent of those surveyed reported exhibiting at boat shows, a level that has kept steady for the last few years, only behind company websites and Facebook in terms of usage. Boat shows were the third most effective marketing tactic, with 19 percent citing it as their most important method in 2017. 

Most companies – 60 percent – expect to keep their boat show participation steady this year, while 28 percent planned to increase it and 12 percent expected to do less.

In-person company events were also an important tactic for many companies, with 46 percent hosting events last year and 7 percent saying it was their most important marketing tool. Forty-four percent will spend more on events in 2017.

Other traditional marketing methods continue to decline in importance and usage.

Source: Boating Industry surveys,
January 2016, 2017 and 2018

Almost half of respondents used print advertising last year, down from 2016. About 2 percent said it still was their most important marketing tool last year. While more than 56 percent of readers said they plan to keep their print advertising steady in 2018, 34 percent plan to reduce it. Only 9 percent plan to increase it.

Surprisingly, use of a company blog decreased by 7 percent, followed by email marketing and print advertising with drops of 6 percent and 5 percent, respectively. Web advertising tallied a 5 percent decrease among those surveyed.

While more than half of companies surveyed don’t plan to change their marketing budget usage in 2018, only 3 percent expect to spend less this year. More than 44 percent indicated they would increase their marketing budgets.

As for other traditional advertising, less than 25 percent of readers advertised on television or radio in 2017 and 14 percent used billboards in 2017. In both cases, about half of readers said they plan to keep that type of spending steady, but more than 40 percent expect to spend less in 2018.

Finally, the Yellow Pages continue to slide along a fading slope, with only 12 percent advertising there in 2017. Sixty percent of readers surveyed by Boating Industry plan to use them even less in 2018.  



  1. Some interesting numbers here. I am really curious about the 1% that say they plan to use their company website “less”in their marketing mix. A company’s website is truly the front door of most businesses in this digital era.

    • It is also interesting that only 85% said they had a company website. That means that 15% will be gone next year. We are so far behind as an industry in forward thinking on digital marketing and lead generation and response.

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