Discover Boating finished its 2014 fiscal year with significantly positive results, thanks to a campaign of content marketing through its documentary series Stories of Discovery, social media efforts, advertising and public relations.
The campaign generated 1.2 billion media impressions, a 42 percent increase over 2013, and 3.4 million visitors to its website, a 38 percent increase. In addition, Discover Boating referred 1.8 million people to manufacturer websites in 2014, an 83 percent increase over 2013.
Carl Blackwell, president of Discover Boating, said the content marketing resonated with users and drew attention to the website, which drove those users to manufacturers’ websites to shop for a boat.
“We are warming people up and shifting them to where they can purchase the boats. We are getting people in the mood to shop,” said Blackwell. “We do, as an industry campaign, what individual companies can’t do alone, and that is reach consumers outside the endemic boating world. … We reach new people, reignite people that might have gotten out of boating and remind those folks that are in boating why boating is so important to them.”
Tweaks to Discover Boating’s website to better navigate users to manufacturers through the prominent Boat Selector tool helped drive the impressions and referrals, according to Blackwell, which eventually led the customer to a dealer. He calls the Boat Selector the “gateway” for consumers to answer questions and choose the right boat. Consumers want information now and by providing the option to bounce from their website to a manufacturer, the desire to find a boat is fulfilled instantly.
Discover Boating used Google Analytics to track data on a regular, almost daily, basis to see where customers are coming from and where they leave the site. Blackwell encourages manufacturers to check their own Google Analytics to see how many users are coming to their sites from the U.S., Canadian and French Canadian Discover Boating websites.
Genuine stories of real boaters
Using editorial-quality content to promote boating versus traditional advertising yielded positive results in 2014. Blackwell believes because the content was more editorial in quality, users were persuaded to click on Discover Boating’s information and follow through to the site.
Discover Boating created documentaries instead of online commercials to promote genuine stories. All documentaries performed well in 2014 but the documentary with the most clicks in 2014 was of the Ader family, whose boating legacy spans three generations.
Blackwell attributes this to the family-oriented nature of the video and its message of passing along boating experiences. Discover Boating also partnered with country music star Jake Owen on a documentary, whose story garnered 57 million media impressions from 60 stories alone, but the Ader family’s story was more universal.
“People saw the connection and it ended up being more heart-tugging than the other [documentaries],” said Blackwell. “This strategy made a dramatic difference in our efforts.”
Another Discover Boating video that tugs at the heartstrings of viewers is the “Good Run” video Discover Boating produced in 2013, which Blackwell says is the best piece he has been associated with. The video is available to be placed on industry websites and he wishes it was used more often.
“It makes people reminisce about their own lives or they might think about their father or grandfather, and it shows how boating has really touched this person’s life,” said Blackwell.
Discover Boating also aimed to be inclusive with minorities through its content and marketing, ensuring they are included in images and the messages are resonating, which the team succeeded in doing partly through the story of the Vasquez family.
Leveraging social media
One interesting form of content marketing Discover Boating used in 2014 involved Twitter and the Indiana Pacers. Roy Hibbert had a poor game in the NBA playoffs and his teammate Paul George took him fishing. Discover Boating saw George’s tweet about the outing and noticed Hibbert’s performance improved dramatically in the next game, so the Discover Boating team invited all of the Indiana Pacers on a boat to go fishing.
Media outlets noticed and tweeted about the invitation, eventually being picked up in the Bleacher Report. Even though the Pacers didn’t accept the invitation, the number of retweets, exposures in email marketing and on websites allowed Discover Boating to connect with new audiences. Blackwell called this type of engagement “right-time marketing.”
In addition to following key words and hashtags on Twitter, Discover Boating created its own hashtag in 2014: #boatie. The team influenced followers to use the hashtag when taking selfies on a boat, which did very well on social media, according to Blackwell.
“We started a catalyst to spread our message through our best ambassadors, which are boaters: people that are taking pictures on a boating and sharing with their friends,” said Blackwell.
Though Facebook requires users to promote posts to further exposure to customers, Discover Boating’s promoted post expenses were cost efficient in 2014, at 50 percent of what they were in the previous year. The key is selecting the strongest posts to promote rather than promoting them all.
The best advice Blackwell can give the industry about marketing the boating lifestyle is to be true and real. Boaters relate to boaters and young boaters like to document experiences. For example, boat sale promotions from dealers on Facebook don’t work as well as posts that generate conversations and connections. Take advantage of the social attributes of boaters to share natural pieces of content – just be genuine and creative in whatever you do.
“It’s essential for us to build the awareness,” said Blackwell, “Capturing those moments from real boaters and having them share their photographs or stories, especially on social media channels, is something that can be very successful.”
Looking ahead to 2015
Blackwell says Discover Boating’s 2014 results are a good sign for the industry as a whole. He believes the success from Discover Boating is an indicator that people are preparing to buy.
“Because we’re seeing increases in our awareness, now they know where to go,” said Blackwell. “We’re there when consumers now are in a mindset that they can start to shop again.”
The success from awareness building in 2014 is a momentum Discover Boating will use to create more content and stories going into 2015. The team is working on a video of a young woman in Canada who gave up her job to become a fishing expert and how it has changed her life. This video will release in April or May.
Being inclusive with younger audiences is a continued goal for Discover Boating. The average age of a boater today is around 55, according to Blackwell, and that age increases by six months every year. Replacing people who are aging out of boating is key to the industry’s survival, as well as engagement with minorities and women.
“It’s more about being inclusive and not exclusive,” said Blackwell. “We’re making sure we are getting the message out that boating is a great value.”