2018 Digital Marketing Guide

Industry experts offer tips for refining strategies, tactics

Dealers and manufacturers are forging ahead with revised and more aggressive digital marketing tactics to address potential customer changes. 

The successful digital marketer is adapting to customers’ extensive use of mobile devices as the main form of communication. 

Earlier this year, Boating Industry surveyed dealers, service providers, manufacturers and others about their 2017 marketing plans. From websites to social media to mobile, there’s increasing and focused reliance on digital.

Facebook is still riding high, with 64 percent of surveyed Boating Industry readers reporting the social media giant would get increased use during the year. 

Producing high-quality content for blog use, pushing YouTube videos and boosting SEO were listed at top digital marketing concerns, along with using social media platforms as primary branding tools.

In today’s digital marketing universe, so many options exist: Search, mobile, social media and many others, but where should you focus? 

“You have to look at the consumer and what’s important to them when they are trying to make a decision,” said Aaron Weiche, chief marketing officer at GetFiveStars.com, a customer feedback and online review platform that serves Fortune 500 companies. 

During this year’s Marine Dealer Conference & Expo, Weiche will present a comprehensive case study that addresses industry digital marketing issues. 

“What we did is a two-part study. The first part was, ‘Do you really understand your key performance indicators, and do you understand what really matters in local digital marketing that moves the needle,’” Weiche said. 

Google domination

The biggest social media driver remains Google. “We looked at all different types of actions, from a Facebook post, asking for recommendations, sharing, filling out a contact form, Facebook messaging, click to call and driving direction requests,” Weiche said. “Seventy percent of those actions took place on Google, and 25 percent took place on a dealer’s website.” The amount of information that Google displays, even with a basic search result, builds engagement for a consumer.

“To me, this is a huge thing that people don’t even get. It’s already very lopsided. It really makes Google a new type of home page.” 

Weiche said he’s most interested in Google Post, which was introduced earlier this year. The feature allows users to post information about their businesses, like a sale, special or feature of a service. 

The product allows a business to micro-blog directly to its Knowledge Panel result, create posts of up to 300 words in length and include a photo. The post can be further defined as an event with a date range or a call to action link can be added with a URL to a page that the business chooses. 

However, Weiche said Google’s search dominance isn’t reason enough for abandoning a company’s website. 

“Google’s goal is to be the presentation layer of the web. They want to have more control over how the web is presented. You need to be smart. Are you feeding the right information to Google? Some of that comes from things you might directly fill out, like your business profile.”

It’s also critical to fully outline key performance indicators, Weiche said. “Some businesses have a lead form on their website that says contact a sales person, or inquire about this boat. We find many businesses don’t do any type of tracking. Many times, people rush to develop digital marketing tactics, and they don’t consider the overall strategy,” Weiche said. “They really need to bind those two things together. Probably one of the misconceptions that I see the most is people still view online marketing as a one-way street, instead of a two-way street.”

Digital marketing requires driving communication back and forth. Marine businesses should be finding a way to get feedback from every customer, Weiche said. 

“That means everybody who comes in for service, everybody that comes in to buy a boat, you have to find out how their first experience was, did you get your questions asked, how was the match with your salesperson. If you ask those three quick and easy questions, it will go a long way in determining if they will be back or if there are things you can do better to ensure they will come back. The only time a lot of business talk to their customers is after they have bought something. That only teaches you about the successful cycles. What happened to all of the people who went and bought somewhere else, or felt rushed or pressured?” 

The successful digital marketing strategy engages customers in real-time. When a dealer or marine business starts working with a digital marketing agency or partner, they need to have real conversations and amplified discussion, Weiche said. 

“People are going to their digital agencies and saying, ‘What’s the steroid of today? What’s hot? They should address fundamentals and talk about the things that are great about the business. Then, get down to the tactics that will make the goals happen.”

In June, TechCrunch reported that 13 years after launching and less than five years after hitting 1 billion, Facebook had 2 billion monthly active users.

Content, SEO strategies

Content marketing and SEO optimization are linchpins in any successful digital marketing effort. 

“What do dealers have? They have product experts,” said John Burnham, former editor of Sailing World, Cruising World, boats.com, YachtWorld and Boat Trader. 

“If you can work with someone to productively channel the positive energy of your sales force and knowledge, you can build a library of content and a digital marketing program,” Burnham said. “My feeling is every company that currently has a digital presence or aspires to have one ought to give some thought to that line of thinking.”

If a dealer has website content that’s fairly evergreen, the material can resurface every few months and draw attention, Burnham said. 

“You can sit down at any point in the year and look three months ahead, and pick out spots where you can do a quick 15-second video of a new model, launching it at the ramp and bringing it into the dock,” he said.

Refreshing and republishing the same website article isn’t a problem, Burnham said, because Google has already indexed it. 

“So, if you aren’t changing the URL, you are not losing any links, but you might have a better picture or something more topical to add. Don’t assume that everyone has read it before. You can refresh it and put it back out in your dealer newsletter and social media.” 

You don’t have to build a Taj Mahal of great information before you launch, Burnham said. “Just try something. Make sure you have Google Analytics and the ability to see what happens to the content. You need to have some idea if you are getting traction. What questions are sales and customer service answering? Those are the topics you should be writing about.”

A key part of successful content marketing is incorporating website photos, Burnham said. “It’s one thing to train people to take photos and video, and it’s another to get them to place and store media in the right location.” He suggests using Google Photos, Dropbox, or iCloud.

Purchasing journey

Seventy percent of a customer’s journey takes place before they talk to a sales representative, said Armida Markarova, founder and chief strategist of marketing consultancy firm, Marketing Strategy Hub. 

Markarova is the former National Marine Manufacturing Association and Discover Boating vice president of interactive and digital marketing. She participated in September’s IBEX Marine Industry Marketing Summit.

“Customers are researching and asking questions and want to find answers,” Markarova said during her presentation. “We all like sales funnels because they are so simple. We put something in the top and hope something comes out on the bottom. There’s one problem with that. That’s not how people think and buy high-ticket items like boating products. Consumers don’t want to hear from just one resource,” she said. “They want information throughout their entire purchase journey.”

Dealers and other marine industry marketers need to take the initiative and hold the customer’s hand throughout the entire purchasing journey, and not just when the customer is ready to buy a boat or products.

“You’ll be rewarded in a major way if you do so,” Markarova said, adding 92 percent of consumers surveyed said they would buy a product from a company that moves them across their purchasing journey. 

Since qualitative and quantitative research takes time and money, using existing website keyword search tools such as Google Keyword Planner, BuzzSumo, or InfiniteSuggest.com will help analyze what boating buyer topics are being discussed and how much attention a given topic is getting, Markarova said.

Content needs to be organized in a way that your customers will use it. “We want our websites to become the Netflix of the boating world,” Markarova said. “Content needs to be continuous, and bundled.” 

According to the 2017 Content Preferences Survey published by Demand Gen Report, 58 percent of buyers want related content packaged together, yet only 24 percent of marketers can deliver such content. 

In an effective digital marketing world, SIX Marketing buyer persona Marine Mary operates within a very specific network and interacts with highly specific content.

Markarova suggests weaving answers to your customers questions into your website product offerings to improve content marketing. Markarova said the next time copy arrives from website writers and editors, digital marketers need to look at it through a customer’s eyes.

“Boat manufacturer and dealer websites are very focused on product,” she said. “We want to provide model information, product descriptions. Customers want answers. The No. 1 thing that you need to keep in mind is not all of the customers who land on your product pages are ready to buy today.” 

Digital marketers also need to pay attention to the language and tone of product pages. Website heat maps can be used to show where consumers are looking, but it’s important to speak in layperson terms. “Do they get past the product specs page? That may good for people who are buying their second or third boat, but for someone who is just getting into the boating lifestyle, product specs can be intimidating.” 

Track invisible buyers

Right now, there is an industry propensity to send very generic, non-specific emails that don’t engage the customer, said Steve Pizzolato, CEO of Avala Marketing Group, another participant in September’s IBEX Marine Industry Marketing Summit. “While we are improving, we still aren’t very effective in using digital techniques, whether it’s developing long-term nurturing streams, because the purchasing cycle is so long, or developing more targeted and segmented content emails,” Pizzolato said. Consumers are less likely to fill out lead forms because they don’t want to provide information at an early stage in the buying process, he added. “I just sat through a dealer meeting, and everybody is talking about inbound content marketing. Tracking the ‘Invisible Buyer’ is what we are doing with most of our clients. What is a more valuable prospect? Someone who fills out a lead form because they want to get a brochure, or someone who doesn’t fill out a lead form, but for two to three months, has been visiting brand online sites doing numerous Build a Boats and researching pricing, looking at events and certain videos?” 

According to Pizzolato, having an intelligent consumer conversation will lead to a higher close rate. “That takes a lot of education. It’s a mindset shift.”

Successful digital marketing moves away from thinking a lead is only someone who fills out a form to thinking that person is someone who is engaged with your website 24/7, Pizzolato said. “It’s amazing how much non-traditional media that some brands utilize,” he said. “It’s the effectiveness of non-traditional media that has now taken over and is generating leads at very low cost with very high conversion rates.”

A dealer has to provide interesting content, but it doesn’t have to all be about buying Brand X, Pizzolato said. “Dealers have to give consumers a reason to go to their website, and it has to be just more than what boats are for sale. Dealers have done a great job of posting pricing on their websites, but what they have not done is provide interesting content to the consumer who wants to stay engaged.”

Inbound persona basics

Using buyer personas as part of an inbound marketing strategy is one way for dealers to learn more about the importance of content driving digital marketing, said Christopher Ryan, CEO of Saratoga Springs-N.Y. based SIX Marketing, which serves manufacturers, dealers and marinas, as well as marine industry suppliers. The most common misconception about digital marketing is that people think what used to work in traditional marketing still works, Ryan said. 

Businesses used to be able to craft their own brand stories and advise their customers through their marketing. Now, through the internet and social media, everyone is connected in real-time and a dealer’s products and services are frequently researched before they a customer reaches out. Savvy consumers are educated before a dealership visit. 

“Buyer personas are representations of your ideal clients,” Ryan said. “Through research, we take a much more in-depth dive into the everyday lives of these personas to learn about their challenges, needs and goals. By exploring personas in detail, we can deliver more receptive messaging.” 

Part of the buyer persona process also involves interviewing each of the organization’s departments in order to establish a cohesive understanding of their goals and to provide them with a simplistic view of their target market, Ryan said, adding that marketing and sales teams should work together, which ultimately provides consumers with a better user experience and increases sales. 

“Traditional demographic targeting tends to makes assumptions that a particular group thinks alike and are at the same stage of the buying process,” Ryan said. 

Boat dealers can benefit by becoming early adopters of this modern marketing way of thinking. “When you choose to connect with customers on a more personal level, your entire perspective tends to change,” Ryan said. “This connection will increase market share and mitigate costly mistakes. Moreover, consumers are smart and can spot general sales-focused advertising immediately.” 

People are served so much content on a daily basis that they are trained to filter out the typical advertisement. Giving them a personalized experience significantly increases a brand’s chances of converting this interaction into a sale. 

This plays directly into the boating industry promoting a lifestyle based around social interaction.

“When boating, we wave to one another and are excited to share the boating experience with friends and family,” Ryan said. “Naturally, the best way to promote social interaction is through social media.” 

Growth-driven design (GDD) for websites adapts to customers’ needs and serves them with a website experience that will leave them wanting more, Ryan said. 

These sites are built around the user’s behavior. The idea is using data to create a better, ongoing experience.

“Making assumptions of what your customers want on a website is a thing of the past,” Ryan said. “Let your competitors lease a website or use a cookie-cutter template that looks just like everyone else’s. If you adopt a GDD website philosophy, chances are you will obliterate the competition.”  

Using a website keyword search site such as InfiniteSuggest.com can help analyze what
boating buyer topics are being discussed.

How good is your digital marketing?

Source: AVALA Marketing Group

Are you creating publishing content that’s of interest to potential customers, or are you only publishing content about your boats and your company?

How sticky is your website? What is your bounce rate? Time spent on site? Pages viewed per visit?

Is your website fully optimized for organic search?

Do you show up on the first page of Google when customers search using relevant, unbranded keywords such as “center console” or “runabout?”

Does your website prominently feature lead generation activities and capture contact information whenever a customer builds a boat, requests a brochure, or signs up for your factory tour?

Do you send a series of future emails to prospects after they submit a lead? Does it extend beyond 180 days?

Do your autoresponders include images and content specifically about the prospect’s model of interest?

How well do your email and click-through rates compare to others in the industry?

Do you know what lead sources (and digital media) are generating the highest returns on investment?

Leveraging Facebook Lead Ads

Source: LotVantage

According to Facebook, consumers spend an average of 50 minutes per day on the social network. They are also using the internet to conduct pre-purchase research. Your brand is competing for attention not only with other manufacturers, but friends, family, groups and other types of businesses. To be seen by your desired audience and make it easier for them to take action, consider Facebook Lead Ads.

Facebook offers powerful targeting options that allow advertisers to precisely serve ads, to not only warm audiences and previous website traffic, but there are also behavioral and interest based targeting options to choose from, said Jim Jabaay, vice president of LotVantage, a digital marketing company for dealerships and original equipment manufacturers. 

Displaying your ads in front of the right audience who will take action is important because it will keep your cost per acquisition low. Once you get in front of them, Lead Ads simplify the process for consumers and makes it painless to submit their contact information.

Lead Ads are mobile friendly forms that are pre-filled with what has been provided to Facebook, such as name, email and phone number, Jabaay said. You can also customize Lead Ads to meet your business’ needs. Leads Ads can be used to advertise factory incentives to capture the contact information of a potential customer. Try advertising a “Facebook only” deal where they have to fill out the form to see what the incentive is.

Once a consumer fills out a Lead Ad, as the advertiser you have the option of sending them to a page on your website or a thank you message. You could also send them to your dealer locator page on your website, so they can see which location would be closest to them.

Let’s say you are planning your third quarter factory incentive and want to drive traffic to your special offers and incentives page on your website.

Step 1. Design your Lead Ad using Facebook Ads Manager using the same imagery and copy found on your website for consistency.

Step 2. Decide whether you want to connect a CRM to your Facebook Ads Manager, so you can follow up with incoming leads. You will also be able to download a .CSV file of Facebook leads from your page’s Forms Library.

Step 3. Choose your ideal audience. You have many options when it comes to audience targeting. 

Note website traffic of who previously landed on your special and incentives page, but did not fill out a contact form. You’ll need to implement the Facebook Pixel to manage this, too.

You can upload a list of names, emails and phone numbers from previous promotions to create a custom audience.

You can use Facebook’s built-in behavioral and interest targeting to target fans of your brand and even other brands for conquest marketing.

Step 4. Decide what the follow-up process will be. Will you be sending these leads to your dealer network? Will someone on your team be following up? Are you sending them to a page on your website where they can learn more?

Step 5. Create an email follow up campaign for those that filled out a Lead Ad, but have yet to become a customer. Remember, if consumers are willing to give you their contact information, they have intent to buy, and you could experiment with other offers if the initial one didn’t capture their interest.

Lead Ads will help you increase your conversion rates as an advertiser and ensure you are getting accurate customer information.

To determine if your Facebook Lead Ads were successful, you can compare your cost per lead, cost per click and cost per customer acquisition with other forms of advertising outside of Facebook or even different ad objectives within Facebook.

You can also compare factory incentive utilization numbers from the previous year and/or quarter to see if your campaign helped move the needle.


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