The boating industry is embracing digital marketing to an even larger extent than in past years, with mobile advertising, social media and the Web grabbing a larger share of the marketing dollars in 2015.
Still, traditional methods like boat shows and print advertising aren’t being abandoned in the quest for the elusive boat buyer, according to the latest Boating Industry marketing survey.
For the third 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 promoted their businesses in 2015 and their plans for 2016.
Even a quick glance at the results of this year’s survey shows that, generally speaking, Boating Industry readers expended more effort on digital marketing, especially social media, in 2015 and plan to continue to do so in 2016.
Social media strength
Facebook is still the king of the hill in social media, but the boating industry isn’t afraid to use other networks as well.
While only 8 percent of readers rated Facebook as their most important marketing tactic in 2015 (the same as in 2014), 71 percent reported they used it for marketing last year. That was up from 55 percent just two years ago, the biggest jump over that period.
Even with that in mind, 53 percent said they plan to use Facebook more this year, while only 5 percent plan to use it less than in 2015.
Instagram and YouTube are the two other big gainers in this year’s survey. Twenty-two percent of respondents used Instagram in 2015, up from 14 percent in 2014, the second-largest one-year gain in the survey. (We didn’t ask about Instagram in 2013.) Nearly a third of readers plan to use Instagram more in 2016, while 17 percent plan to use it less this year.
As for YouTube, 31 percent reported using it last year, up from 27 percent in 2014 and 19 percent in 2013. Fifty-five percent said they plan to use the video service more this year, while only 8 percent plan to use it less than in 2015.
Other social media platforms are proving less popular. Twitter usage dropped from 24 percent in 2014 to 19 percent in 2015. Only 18 percent of respondents plan to spend more time marketing on Twitter this year, while 23 percent plan to put less effort into it.
Pinterest was used by only 7 percent of readers in 2015, down from 10 percent in 2014. Twenty percent plan to use it more in 2016, but 26 percent plan to use it less.
All told, digital media continues to be a key part of marketing for most companies. In fact, the top five (and eight of the top 10) marketing tactics that readers plan to use more of in 2016 are all digital.
The top marketing tactic in 2015 – the most used and the most useful – was a company website. Eighty-five percent of companies said they had a website, basically flat over the last three years, while 29 percent said their website was the most successful marketing outlet last year. That represents a slight increase from 2014 (27 percent) and 2013 (25 percent). Despite that high usage, 65 percent said they plan to use their website more in marketing this year.
More than two-thirds of readers said they used email marketing in 2015, down slightly from 2014 but up from 60 percent in 2013. Sixty-two percent plan to do more email marketing in 2016.
Web advertising was used by only 42 percent of readers last year, but 12 percent identified it as their most successful marketing tactic for the year – the third highest total. Nearly 60 percent plan to do more Web advertising this year.
We also asked about targeted mobile advertising for the first time this year, and 13 percent said they used it in 2015. A quarter of all respondents also plan to increase their mobile advertising in 2016.
Traditional methods still important
A focus on digital doesn’t mean that readers have given up on the more traditional marketing tactics, even though their use is declining for the most part.
However, after being the second most used tactic in 2013 and 2014 (after website), boat shows did drop to fourth this year, behind both Facebook and email marketing at 67 percent (down from 73 percent in 2014).
The use of boat shows appears to be fairly stable, though, as 75 percent of respondents said they do not plan to increase or decrease their boat show participation in 2016.
One mainstay tactic that bucked the trend in 2015 was direct mail, with 42 percent of readers reporting they used it last year. That was up from 33 percent in 2014 and 2013. Twenty-six percent said they plan to use direct mail more this year, while 20 percent plan to use it less than in 2015.
Radio and TV advertising was flat, with 23 percent using it in 2015 and 2014. It’s worth noting, though, that 32 percent plan to use it less this year, while only 11 percent plan to use it more in 2016.
In-person events took the biggest one-year drop in usage, declining from 58 percent in 2014 to 48 percent in 2015. That may be a one-year anomaly, though, as that was up from 44 percent in 2013 and 49 percent of respondents said they plan to hold more events in 2016.
Print advertising was also down in usage, declining from 55 percent in 2014 to 47 percent in 2015. Only 16 percent plan to use print advertising more this year, while 35 percent are planning to use it less than last year.
The once-venerable Yellow Pages continue to decline in importance, as only 13 percent advertised in them in 2015, down from 18 percent in 2014 and 22 percent in 2013. Nearly half of readers plan to spend less on the Yellow Pages this year, while 3 percent plan to spend more.
Overall, most readers plan to spend about the same on marketing in 2016, with 55 percent saying their budget is unchanged this year. Only a handful will be spending less, though, with 40 percent planning to increase their spending and only 5 percent spending less.