Survey: Digital marketing tops the chart

Digital, events most useful marketing methods

Digital marketing continues to be the go-to tactic for most companies in the boating industry.

For the fourth 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 2016 and how they plan to do so in 2017.

From websites to social media to mobile, dealers and manufacturers are relying more on those digital outlets than ever before. At the same time, traditional methods – especially in-person company events and boat shows – remain important for many companies.

Digital, digital, digital

As has been the case since 2014, company websites were ranked as the most-used and most important marketing tactic in this year’s survey.

Overall, 82 percent of respondents said they had a company website, while 27 percent said it was the most successful tactic in 2016. Even with that in mind, 72 percent of companies said they plan to use their website more this year, while only 2 percent plan to use it less in their marketing.

Other digital methods were important, too. More than 60 percent of companies reported using email marketing and web advertising in 2016. Thirteen percent ranked web advertising as their most successful marketing method last year, while 12 percent said the same of email marketing.

However, the two seem to be headed in opposite directions. Perhaps reflecting the difficulty of cutting through inbox traffic and spam filters, email marketing has declined over the last two years: 70 percent of readers reported using it in 2014 vs. 63 percent in 2016. On the other hand, web advertising jumped from 48 percent in 2014 to 62 percent this year. In both cases, though, more than 60 percent of readers said they plan to use email and web advertising more this year.

A much smaller group is investing in mobile advertising, with 18 percent using it in 2016. However, that was up from 13 percent in 2015 and more than a third of companies plan to do more mobile advertising this year.

About 18 percent of readers also have a company blog and 41 percent expect to use it more this year.

Source: Boating Industry surveys, January 2015, 2016 and 2017

Source: Boating Industry surveys, January 2015, 2016 and 2017

When it comes to social media, Facebook is still king. While only about 8 percent of readers said it was their most successful tactic last year, more than 70 percent of survey respondents marketed through the social media giant in 2016, a level that has been steady over the last few years. Even at that level, 64 percent are planning to use it more in 2017.

Other social media outlets were used at much lower levels: 28 percent used YouTube, 25 percent used Instagram, 24 percent used Twitter and 7 percent used Pinterest for marketing in 2016. Only 3 percent 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: 53 percent plan to increase their YouTube marketing, while 43 percent are aiming to use Instagram more. About a third of respondents plan to market more on Twitter.

Events key to success

Companies aren’t ignoring in-person marketing, though, expending a lot of effort on boat shows and other company events.

Seventy-one percent reported exhibiting at boat shows, a level that has been steady for the last few years, and behind only company websites and Facebook in usage. Boat shows were also the second most effective marketing tactic, with 17 percent citing it as their most important in 2016.

Most companies – 61 percent – expect to keep their boat show participation steady this year, while 27 percent planned to increase it and 12 percent expected to do less.

Source: Boating Industry surveys, January 2016 and 2017

Source: Boating Industry surveys, January 2016 and 2017

In-person company events were also an important tactic for many companies, with 49 percent hosting events last year and 7 percent saying it was their most important marketing tool. Forty-four percent expect to spend more on events in 2017.

Many other traditional marketing methods continue to decline in importance and usage.

More than half of respondents used print advertising last year, ahead of 2015 and on par with 2014. About 7 percent said it still was their most important marketing tool last year. While more than half of readers said they plan to keep their print advertising steady in 2017, 32 percent plan to reduce it. Only 13 percent plan to increase it.

Direct mail took the biggest one-year drop, with only 28 percent saying they used it in 2016. That was down from 42 percent in 2015. While about half of companies don’t plan to change their usage, 28 percent do expect to spend less this year.

As for others traditional advertising, about a quarter of readers advertised on television or radio in 2016 and 14 percent used billboards in 2016. In both cases, about half of readers plan to keep that spending steady, but more than a third expect to spend less in 2017.

Finally, the Yellow Pages continue to slide into irrelevance, with only 9 percent advertising there in 2016, just half of the 18 percent that used them two years ago. More than half of readers plan to use them even less in 2017.

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