For marine businesses looking to create successful events, there is one simple tactic: plan ahead. Any event that is intended to make an impact on customers should take weeks to organize, develop and execute.
“To have any successful event, you have to plan far enough in advance,” said Dave Commander, president of Russell Marine, the Boating Industry Top 100 Best in Class winner for Best Events. “You’ve got to get everybody to believe in the event [and] the importance of the event, and then proper planning makes the event successful.”
Planning successful events means thinking ahead about the marketing strategy as well to make sure you get customers through the door or to the marina.
“When the [events] are planned and advertised correctly, whether it’s via social media or on our website, and people have time to coordinate their schedules to attend, if they do have time and we do plan it ahead of time, then we find that the event is much more successful,” said Monica Reed-Hurst, sales manager at Spend-a-Day Marina.
The minutia of cooking or purchasing enough food, decorating and making the event fun is tedious but well worth the time and dollar investment.
“It’s about the marketing materials that you use actually at the event too to make it seem and appear that it’s an event, not just an [average] day at the marina,” said Reed-Hurst.
Once you’ve identified what events you want to hold and when they will be held, follow these tips to use your events to build up your brand.
1. Understand it’s not always about selling
Your end goal is to ultimately sell boats, marina memberships or whatever product/service you offer – and many events can directly help you do this – but understand that events shouldn’t be planned with the sole purpose of selling.
“It’s more about the lifestyle of boating versus being too hard marketing. For these types of events, it’s not necessarily where we will advertise promotions on boats or motors or anything like that,” said Reed-Hurst. “We try to make sure they know that we’re the dealer that will have fun with them and takes the extra effort to do these types of things on the lake, because there’s other dealers on the lake that don’t.”
Marine business should host events that serve the community and build relationships. These help build goodwill with existing and new customers.
“We have a big charity event that we work in conjunction with the Alexander City Lions Club, and that [return on investment] is determined about how much money we end up making for charity,” said Commander. “We believe boating is fun and we want to create a fun, exciting atmosphere … and also giving back to the community too.”
2. Collaborate across the company
If you want to hold successful events, you don’t have to – and shouldn’t – do it alone. Your best assets for event planning are your existing team members.
“It’s definitely a group effort when it comes to the implementation that day, of course, because it takes a lot of work from every department to coordinate,” said Reed-Hurst.
Identify which team members are willing and able to help plan your events, and determine who will be responsible for each aspect.
“Determine an action plan and assign specific responsibility to certain people, and then develop that action calendar and meet regularly to make sure all those actions are taken care of,” said Commander.
3. Use your existing network
You don’t have to promote the event all on your own. Use your existing networks and business relationships to share event details through print ads, sharing social media posts, hanging posters and more.
Lisa Almieda, a Freedom Boat Club franchise owner in Jacksonville, Fla., uses the Downtown Jacksonville’s email list from its citywide boat parade to promote events at her marina.
Russell Marine teams with the city of Montgomery for its annual RiverFront WakeBattle, which won Nautique’s Event of the Year two years ago.
“We team with them on [their] second Saturday event every year and they bring in a band to the amphitheater,” said Commander, “and they do a lot of advertising and publicizing that event for us and building the event for us. They bring in a lot of vendors and it’s really a team effort with the city of Montgomery that has made it such a successful event.”
4. Create hype
The only way to get customers excited about your event is to give them a reason to be excited. If the promotion of the event is bland, the audience will be indifferent.
Almieda has hosted a “Floatapalooza” event at her marina in the past, which has attracted 1,000 attendees, and she posted a countdown photo on a Facebook page every 10 days to remind customers of the event and generate excitement.
“The key is we created a lot of hype,” said Almieda. “Really cool photographs and all of that made [the marketing successful]. Everyone was sharing.”
If you create enough hype, you don’t have to market as aggressively the following year – the word-of-mouth from past attendees will bring new blood.
“If we have a successful event, we’ll have it the next year. So it’s a lot of word-of-mouth [promoting the event] and it just grows,” said Commander.
Almieda’s Boater Skip Day encourages customers to skip work on the Friday before the city’s poker run weekend to raft up to Freedom Boat Club’s sandbar, which has generated a lot of buzz.
“It has become literally [something people plan around]. In January, [people] were texting, emailing, Facebooking me ‘When’s Boater Skip Day? I’ve gotta schedule a day off!’ It’s definitely become a thing. That was all done through social media, word-of-mouth and associated with the poker run,” said Almieda. “We’re known in Jacksonville as the company that does boating events. It gets us branding and awareness.”
5. Digital marketing drives attendance
While marine businesses have seen success using traditional marketing like TV, radio, print and direct mail to promote events, the best methods they found for bringing people to their facilities were through digital marketing.
Using search engine optimization, search engine marketing, email marketing, Facebook boosted posts and other social media channels helped marine businesses bring in new and existing customers.
“You almost work just as hard getting the people there as you do for the event. It’s not just about doing the event – you’ve got to market it,” said Almieda.
6. Treat your customers like VIPs
Many marine businesses have seen some of their biggest event successes with holding VIP customer events, which are aggressively marketed to the existing customer base through email marketing, direct mail, phone outreach and social media.
Russell Marine hosts an annual in-water boat show at its marina every year, which includes boats on the water and on land for customers to demo or preview, along with paddleboard and wakeboard demos, PWC courses and more. The night before the main event, Russell invites its VIP customers for a preview party, giving the dealership’s customers a taste of the event before anyone else. This helps Russell Marine sell boats to hot prospects.
Spend-a-Day Marina’s VIP event has netted the dealership boat sales, part sales, accessories sales and more. The dealership has a loyalty rewards program and if a customer brings a friend to the VIP event, drawing new prospects for the business, the customer earns extra points for the program.
7. Record the event to promote next year
In the age of social media, we all like to show off the best parts of our selves. That should absolutely be true of businesses. So if you spend all of this time and money making an event successful, why wouldn’t you document it?
Be sure you are taking photos at the event, whether they are on a smartphone, you hire a photographer or you ask an existing employee with photography skills to be the on-duty photographer of the day.
Once the event is over, meet with the planning team to talk about what did or didn’t work so you can determine if the event is worth repeating and what can be done to make it even more successful. If you repeat an event, use photos of excited customer’s from last year’s event to draw in new prospects.
I think that it is essential to realize that hosting an event is not always about selling. The end goal will be about this, but you might not have to do it at your event. For something like boating, I think that getting people out on the water will be enough. Once people get the experience of what having an event or party on a boat is like, then they are more likely to want to do it again which will result in further customers and sales.