Welcome on the water

By Jamie Stafford

The recreational marine industry often centers around building relationships with people and earning trust through generations of good business practice. Yet, at the end of the day, it’s still that: business. Building those relationships is nearly impossible if no one knows about your business. Marketing is often seen as something ubiquitous, but that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked or taken for granted. Moreover, today’s consumer is savvier than ever and they’re looking to connect with companies through meaningful stories and shared values. 

Historically, the boating industry’s audience has been fairly uniform; however, it has been growing in number and diversity. This has been accelerated by the pandemic, an event that pushed many people with no experience on the water to venture out on the waves. With growing diversity in everything from gender to experience level, the industry has in turn been pushed to adapt.

Women on the waves 

Yamaha recently launched a campaign aimed at women but welcoming of all. The “Women Run the Water” campaign came about as a response to a consumer survey that indicated women did not find themselves well represented within boating media. 

“We really had a goal to change the way that Yamaha’s presence in the boating industry spoke to our audience,” says Leslie Zlotnick, Division Manager of marketing for the company’s Watercraft division. “The boating industry felt male dominated – we’ll often see on the cover of magazines or in some marketing material, the men are at the helm, and the women are sitting in the bow of the boat enjoying the lifestyle of boating but not ownership of the boat.” 

“That’s where Yamaha decided we are going to create this archetypal owner,” Zlotnick continues. “Her name is Carrie – Comfortable Carrie. She may or may not be a parent and is financially able to become an owner. She also may or may not have grown up boating. A lot of people see boating as something in their family tree, and we want to make sure people know that boating is for everyone, whether or not it’s been in your history.” 

Women have proven to be an untapped market for the marine industry, according to data from the Recreational Boating Fishing Foundation (RBFF). “We have numbers mapped out on the opportunity to make fishing and boating more representative of the U.S. population,” says Rachel Piancenza, director of marketing at the RBFF. “If we can increase female participation, it will be more equitable in terms of representation.” And according to the organization, a 10% increase in women’s fishing participation could provide an additional $1 billion in revenue to the industry.


“When you look at the U.S. population, women make up about 50%, but when you look at the fishing population, women make up 37%,” adds Stephanie Vatalaro, senior VP of marketing and communications at the RBFF. “This is historically a really high number for fishing, but there’s a gap there. Imagine all the benefit the marine industry could get from additional sales and revenue towards conservation, if we could fill that gap.” 

Filling that gap was the RBFF’s goal when it set about crafting a new marketing campaign: Find Your Best Self on the Water, targeting women anglers and encouraging them to see themselves on the water. “We believe the water is open to everyone,” says Vatalaro. “That’s at the core of everything we do. With each piece of content, whether that’s an advertisement, social media post, blog, you name it, we aim to represent, invite, and welcome all in our outreach efforts. We advocate this opportunity to the industry to do so as well and support them with tools to make it happen.” 

Why diversity matters to everyone


The industry reiterates often how welcoming it strives to be. It’s built around an activity that anyone can enjoy, and that has affected the philosophy of the industry as well. “It’s a great way to enjoy the outdoors,” says Zlotnick. “It’s a great way to be with friends, to be with family, to get away, to get empowered – and to really enjoy what we have outside our four walls, wherever those walls might be.” 

Of course, some might find it harder to participate in this enjoyment if they find the industry impenetrable or unwelcoming. “One of the things we have to remember is if you’re interested in our product, there shouldn’t be a checklist of what it is you have or don’t have, beyond an interest in enjoying the product,” Zlotnick continues. “We want to make sure whoever has an interest in our product also has the opportunity to be in or on our product. No one should be eliminated from the ownership consideration.” 

The philosophy of the industry alone can’t sustain it, but that’s where the numbers come in. “We root everything we do in research and analysis,” says Vatalaro. “We don’t start a campaign without looking at consumer insights and digging into surveys that help us understand our target audience and create messaging that resonates with them. Often companies need a boost to try something new, and data can be that boost. Research, test, and analyze. It’s hard to argue with the facts.” 


“It’s vital to have research and data to back everything up,” agrees Piacenza. “Investing the money to spend in research before you do any sort of campaign, showing that the numbers prove the opportunity to grow.” 

Yamaha has crafted its marketing around this data-focused strategy. “We have an in-house research team that put a survey together, and they went out and spoke to boat owners, boat prospects, and folks that are just considering owning a boat. What they found was that the boating industry didn’t feel inclusive. The industry wasn’t speaking to everyone that it could or should be speaking to.” 

“Boating is one of those things I think we all can say: if you like water, and you like being outside, you’re probably going to want to go boating. It’s not a niche thing.” Its marketing shouldn’t be for a niche audience either – everyone is welcome on the water, and the industry is making strides to make sure they feel that way.  

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