Investment in digital media sparks rewards

When attempting to reach new buyers, marine businesses need to be where those customers are rather than stay where they have always been and hope new customers show up. Robalo Boats knew this when launching its new 16-foot walkaround center console and decided to find a unique way to reach those people.

Robalo launched the R160 on social media as well as through traditional channels. The R160 was designed to fit into the niche market of the small boat category and comes with a 50, 70 or 90 hp Yamaha outboard engine. The boat, motor and trailer package is priced just under $20,000, the first of its kind for the Robalo brand.

Because first-time boat buyers were one of the many audiences Robalo wanted to reach with the R160, the company believed Facebook would be the most efficient way to target a younger demographic than Robalo typically attracts. In addition to two full-page ads in Saltwater Sportsman and On the Water magazine, Robalo launched a teaser campaign on Facebook and the company website one month ahead of the release to create buzz.

“We figured that the traditional launch of just sending it to our dealers and getting a few ads, taking it to a boat show, we wouldn’t really hit the same appeal because you typically don’t get a lot of first-time boat buyers in boat shows,” said Joe Pegg, regional sales manager at Robalo Boats. “We figured Facebook would be the best place because you do hit a really wide spectrum of customers.”

On June 16, Robalo launched the boat through four videos: an introductory video, a walkthrough, a partner video with Yamaha educating customers on outboard engines and explaining the benefits of Yamaha, and a testimonials video featuring local Destin, Fla., boaters who were given the opportunity to sea trial the R160. Robalo’s dealers, vendors and other partners were encouraged to share the videos on their own Facebook pages.

The social media launch wasn’t just for consumers: Robalo’s dealers also saw the R160 for the first time on social media. Robalo alerted dealers that a new boat was being released but wanted the dealers to be as excited about the buzz as consumers.

“They were all sitting on their computers at 9 in the morning, waiting for this launch here, and they logged in and watched these videos, and all of a sudden their phones started ringing from customers that had saw it and wanted to see the boat,” said Pegg.

Trackable marketing success

Spencer Communications, the ad agency that has represented Robalo and Chaparral for over 30 years, approached the advertising for the R160 through a three-prong attack on social media: they advertised the teaser video, the June 16 launch and the company’s Facebook page.

Mark Spencer, president of Spencer Communications, said the company boosted the Facebook posts, targeting men and women between the ages of 30 and 50 using key words such as center console, saltwater fishing, and more.

“It’s fascinating how it works. It exceeded our expectations. We knew it was going to work [but] we had no idea it was going to work like this. It just went completely nuclear for us,” Spencer said.

One of the largest benefits of using digital marketing is how easy it is to track a campaign's success. Companies can select key words when running an Ad Boost campaign on Facebook, track the analytics for two hours, and if it is not working, pause the campaign and change the key words to see if the ad pulls better. Companies can also identify how many people watch the videos, how long they watched, how many people moved from the videos to other pages on the website and more.

“Unlike when you run an ad in a print magazine and you never really know exactly what you get – you’ve got to obviously go with [print advertisements], no question about it – but the beauty of all of this digital advertising is we can track it,” said Spencer. “As you’re delivering content to them in a video format, you can deliver a lot more information, a lot more key messaging in a fast, entertaining way that people will absorb.”

Robalo linked the Facebook activity to the company website and has been tracking the campaign's success on both digital mediums. Robalo’s website traffic was 500 percent above its normal levels on the day of the launch, and two weeks after the launch it remains 200 to 300 percent above the same time period last year. The four launch videos have over 100,000 views between them and Robalo’s Facebook page has tripled its number of likes. The videos also have over 200 shares from dealers and vendors, leading to more potential engagement.

Spencer said the agency followed models of social media launches from other industries to design the R160 launch. A social media launch had been under consideration for several years but the boat package under $20,000 offered an opportune product for Facebook targeting.

Spencer added how easy the teaser campaign and launch were to execute compared to expectations. The agency created the four videos during the standard photo shoot for the R160.

“While it is a lot of work, it’s surprisingly not as much as one might think because we were going to photograph and do all of these things anyway,” said Spencer. “It wasn’t an overwhelming task as much as it refocused our advertising. We’d always advertised boats before, we had never focused on just advertising a boat with a drape over the top of it, but let me tell you, it worked. We got more buzz out of [the teaser campaign] than we ever could have imagined.”


Robalo has been able to measure the success of the launch through sales as well, as several customers have called dealers asking to see the boat. Pegg said several customers have already left deposits over the phone so they can secure one of the first R160s off the line.

“Right off the bat, we had retail phone orders on this boat without even having a boat to show people, which is pretty remarkable,” said Pegg. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a boat like that where we’ve actually sold boats without customers even looking at it other than seeing the video.”

Pegg and Spencer both said social media launches would be something Robalo considers again in the future but that much of their advertising decisions are made based on the product.

“We’ve seen the value in investing in getting those product launches and instead of following traditional channels of launching at one individual boat show or launching through a dealer show, launching to the consumer and they get to see it first,” said Spencer.

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