Your best marketing strategy

(Hint: it may not be what you think, or maybe it will)

By David Gee

We are all constantly inundated with news of the next new marketing strategy, or strategies. And you would think an article with the headline about your best marketing strategy would be about the latest, greatest, platform or program. Perhaps augmented or virtual reality? Maybe phigital (physical + digital) marketing? No, I opine the best marketing strategy you have at your disposal is your ability to build relationships.

Relationship marketing is concentrating on the needs of the customer. It’s getting to know the customer on a personal level. It’s listening to them. It’s focusing on the customer experience. It’s becoming someone they feel like they know, like and trust, because that’s who we do business with.

Constantly ask:

  • What do they like?
  • What do they want?
  • What do they need?
  • What problems do I solve?
  • How can I continue to be of value?

Execute on this, consistently, and you will create a barrier between you and your competitors, and a bond between you and your customers.

“Customer experience better be at the top of your list when it comes to priorities in your organization,” says Steve Cannon, former president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA and now the leader of the AMB Group, the company that owns the Atlanta Falcons. “Customer experience is the new marketing.”

And remember marketing is everything you do. That includes, but is not limited to, the appearance of your facilities, the appearance of your boats and pro shop products, your demo and delivery process, the service department, the follow-up, the way you answer the phones, and on and on. Those are all touchpoints and they all come under the heading of “marketing.”

Obviously during this COVID-19 era, the way we do many, or even all, of those things has changed, and maybe permanently.

Digital experiences have replaced many in-person experiences. Some of these new habits will become the new normal – even after the crisis passes.

Lots of customer service experts are cautioning companies to not expect consumers to return to the same place they were before the crisis hit.

“Among marketing’s greatest challenges is foreseeing how customer wants, needs, expectations and purchasing decisions will evolve,” says Augie Ray, a research director covering customer experience for the research and advisory company Gartner.

While we are navigating through all of these challenges, it’s also important to remind ourselves selling boats is all about fun.

“You have to make it about the experience,” says Paul Ray, president of Ilmor Engineering, Inc. “Nobody needs a boat. However, everybody deserves the chance to relax and have fun and have some pleasure in their life. And if you have the means to buy recreational items such as boats, in my view, it’s about the most family-friendly activity there is. It’s always a good time. It’s always fun. And our marketing and messaging should be fun too.”

Jim Armington of Buckeye Sports Center, the biggest boat dealer in Ohio, has sure had fun selling boats. They beat their all-time April sales record by 90% and their May sales numbers were three times their previous best for the month.

“In April we ran a ‘Boating is open’ campaign on social media to promote the fact that even though our store was closed boating was a great opportunity to recreate and social distance at the same time,” Armington told me recently. “We encouraged people to shop our website and view the walk-around videos and then call a salesperson for a FaceTime look at the boat. Customers would then come in and sit in the boat for five minutes, sign the paperwork and leave.”  

In May they ran their “Staycation” campaign, still promoting the fact that boating was a fabulous opportunity to enjoy family time while still being safe and social distancing.

“We promoted this event aggressively and a sales record was the result,” added Armington. “People aren’t going to go on a cruise. They’re not going to go to Disney World. But with cheap gas prices and low-interest financing, lots of people are choosing to buy boats, many of them for the first time.”

And it may not be their last, if the bond – and a relationship – has been built between dealer and customer. 

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