Leveraging digital marketing expertise

Experts explore marketing evolution at IBEX summit

Boating industry digital marketers continue to hone their craft and understand the importance of providing effective user interaction.

Making better and faster decisions with data is a mission-critical task for industry’s digital marketers, who are digging into multiple data sources to mine metrics that improve the bottom line.

Earlier this year, Boating Industry surveyed dealers, service providers, manufacturers and others about their 2017 marketing tactics. 

From websites to social media to mobile, there’s a hyper-focus on improving digital.

Facebook is still riding high, with 68 percent of surveyed Boating Industry readers reporting the social media platform received use during the year, followed by Instrgram (30 percent), YouTube (27 percent), and Twitter (20 percent).

Adding staff to directly work on marketing using exclusively digital tools, coordinating campaigns across multiple platforms, expanding precision digital advertising, and directly connecting with customers and prospects, even to the point of bypassing traditional media, were listed as top digital marketing trends.

Marine marketing connection

The most effective marketing is about making meaningful connections. And while human nature hasn’t changed, the ways in which people consume content and media has changed the marketing landscape forever. 

Today’s consumers live online. To reach them, the boating industry’s marketing efforts need to live there as well. 

The Second Annual Grow Boating Marketing Summit at this year’s International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition & Conference – appropriately entitled “Join the Evolution” – provided a wealth of expert information from premiere professionals.

Speaker topics included a heavy emphasis on leveraging different digital marketing channels—display ads, video, social media, email, search, websites and more.

Jack Ellis

To kick off the Summit, Jack Ellis, managing director at Info-Link Technologies, Inc., presented a recap of today’s marine market and tomorrow’s boaters.

A huge digital marketing potential exists among people who grew up boating, but are without a boat or currently don’t own one, Ellis said. 

“This is a group of 20 million. Over the past two decades, most of them have had 2 1/2 children on average,” he said. “And from a lifetime value perspective, our greatest opportunity remains Gen X and Millennials.”

Boating buyer breakdown

First-time boat buyers represent 20 percent of today’s boat owners, and eight out of 10 people in this group have entered boating via a pre-owned purchase, Ellis said. 

Sixty-three percent of first-time boat buyers are married, and the vast majority of them own their own home, the same as the dedicated core of boat buyers.

According to Ellis, the “Boaters without a Boat” group have embraced the sharing economy and inspired services that provide access without ownership. 

This group is digitally intertwined and electronically dependent, and by all indications, they are seeking the same experiences and social opportunities boating offers today’s boat owners. 

“We must address the unique needs of several primary market segments, including the dedicated core of boat buyers,” Ellis said, referring to those who have owned a boat for more than six years, or are repeat boat buyers. 

The Second Annual Grow Boating Marketing Summit at this year’s International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition & Conference provided a wealth of expert information from premiere professionals about leveraging different digital marketing channels.

Capture the core

The dedicated core represents 80 percent of today’s boat owners; 60 percent of these owners bought their first boat more than 15 years ago, and 40 percent bought their first boat more than 20 years ago. 

Three-quarters of this group is married, and more than 80 percent of them have children. 

“We need to insert ourselves into the purchase process and serve as a source of information and support,” Ellis said, adding the industry needs to provide candid information about the boat purchase process and responsibilities of ownership. 

Digital marketing will remain a critical part of that process, as younger generations consume boating differently. “We need to be patient and listen carefully,” Ellis said. “They will tell us what they want. Boat and equipment sales will follow, albeit differently than what we are used to today.”

New marketing language

Steve Pizzolato, strategist at AVALA Inc., a Rollick company, said during his presentation it’s critical for the industry to change the way it speaks to boating consumers. 

Steve Pizzolato

“You cannot market to boaters through mass marketing,” Pizzolato said. “It has to be done digitally.” 

Creating effective landing pages is an important part of that process because of long purchase cycles and brands being shopped or flipped, he added. 

“Twenty-five percent of dealers are suggesting other brands to your prospects, and 81 percent of prospects are considering other brands in addition to yours,” he said.

Making a good first impression with a quickly loading page, especially for mobile users, is a top priority.

“If your landing page doesn’t open up in 3 seconds on a mobile device, people get turned off,” Pizzolato said. “The average right now is about 15 seconds.” He also suggested use of third party reviews and authority symbols. 

“You see it on Amazon all time. You can do that on the marine side. Prospects come to a landing page based on how you’ve reached out to them,” he added. “If you carry all types of boats, make sure your landing page reflects that.” 

Today’s boating industry is one of the few high-end, durable goods industries where pay-for-use information collection is still possible, Pizzolato said. 

“Automotive and RV are shut down for privacy,” he said. “However, in almost 20 states, you can still buy boat ownership information. That’s hundreds of thousands of records. You can append emails and phone numbers and opt these people in, and build up your databases.” 

Learn about landing

According to Pizzolato, the landing page is like a camera. It captures information to utilize later. Marketing automation platforms and customer relationship management systems are entirely different entities.

“They are two different things,” Pizzolato said. “CRM is one-to-one. Marketing automation is one-to-many.” He suggests using a best practices checklist when designing new landing pages. Continually test new offers, designs, and content, and use Google Analytics and user experience tools like Hot Jar and Lucky Orange. 

“You can literally watch someone navigate on your website,” Pizzolato said. “You can go behind the scenes.”

Pizzolato also suggests optimized landing pages, collecting more contact information, combating brand flipping by nurturing prospects over a longer timeframe with relevant content and tracking invisible buyers.

“We are not going to change the demographic makeup of the boat buyer,” he concluded. “We are not going to change the cost of the boat, or suddenly add water, but we can change the way we engage and talk with prospects.”

Understand search trends

Tannis McKenna is a New York-based agency development manager at Google. 

Her Grow Boating Marketing Summit presentation addressed consumer search trends, smartphone use, and customer interaction. 

Eight out of 10 U.S. mobile users 18 to 34 rely on Google before buying something new, McKenna reported, adding people remain “very truthful” during a given search engine experience.

Tannis McKenna

“We took a look at the boating industry to determine what’s changed from last year to the first half of this year,” McKenna said. 

Local quires are up 8 percent, with an across-the-board uplift of 1 percent, she said.

“Make sure your mobile website is as beautiful as the front door of your dealership,” she advised. “That’s what people are going to use to judge you, quite frankly.” 

Using the automobile space as an example, McKenna said that the average path-to-purchase for someone who is buying a car involves almost 20 digital touchpoints.

“Nearly 80 percent of people are using their smartphones to do research,” she said. “Build your search for the phone first, because chances are, people will look at you there and spend more time there.” 

McKenna added that 75 percent of adults start a transaction on one device, but continue or finish it on another.

Data value transformation

Customer data is incredibly, incredibly valuable, McKenna said. Make sure you are working with a CRM or very organized system to identify customers. 

“If you lose someone you should know,” she said. And track everything possible that occurs on your site. 

“Make sure you know what’s most important to you and track it,” she advised. “Go through your website and find everything that’s an important customer action.”

Brad Dixon is a vice president of accounts at Adaptly, a Chicago, Ill.-based company that is also a social marketing partner with Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram. 

His presentation focused on using social media as a performance marketing solution.

“We are more of a technology company than a media company,” he explained. “We scale campaigns and provide strategic services.”

Social has been transitioning from engagement, and has grown incredibly, Dixon said. Nearly half of Internet time — 41 percent — is spent on the previously mentioned social media platforms, with 80 percent of users logging in from mobile device, Dixon reported. 

Digital ad spending topped television ad spending for the first time in 2016. It’s continuing to increase, and desktop is staying relatively consistent. 

Social media is a key piece in the quest for information. These platforms share the ability to post reviews and profiles, and they share advanced targeting.

Platforms, paid social

Social media is a key piece in the quest for information. These platforms share the ability to post reviews and profiles, and they share advanced targeting, he added. Paid social offers unparalleled opportunities for digital marketers to connect with the right audience, at the right time. However, as new platforms appear and exiting ones evolve, the way people use these channels continues to develop.

“Understand your brand’s strengths, leverage the right channels, and customize your content, Dixon advised. “Traditional media planning isn’t set up to connect with today’s consumers in the way they experience your brand,” he added. “You can’t win with just a Facebook strategy, or even a social strategy. We win by building a strategy with the consumer at the center.” 

Shape-shifting consumers

Shifting consumer attention impacts purchase behavior, Dixon said. In 2018, $138 billion will be spent on purchases made via mobile, with 31 percent of mobile users considering Facebook as a primary platform that influences them to make decisions. 

“If somebody is comfortable inputting their credit card number on mobile and making an Amazon purchase, they are in a mindset to make a larger decision. Consumers may not be buying cabin cruisers on social media, but I include this stat to remind you the mindset consumers are in when using certain platforms.”

As the industry looks to sell more boats, increasing discovery is as important as ever, Dixon said. That need is driven by consumer behavior found on other consumer platforms. 

“Your business outcomes need to move past pure measurement of shares and likes and comments,” he said, adding: “Do you want to increase awareness of your brand, sell more boats, or just increase website traffic?”

Regarding LinkedIn, Dixon said the platform’s strongest social media quality is its ability to message to someone’s actual persona.

“If you are looking to target dealers or people in the industry, it’s probably one of the strongest platforms to do that,” he said. “You may even pay more to reach some people on those channels, but if you can do that with marketing piece of mind, I would say it’s worth it.”

Automotive industry examples

Brooke Skinner Ricketts is chief marketing officer at Cars.com. Her Grow Boating Marketing Summit presentation, “Winning with the New 4Ps of Digital Marketing,” explored digital marketing trends in the automotive industry. 

Brooke Skinner Ricketts

“Boats and cars have some things in common when it comes to the shopping journey,” Skinner Ricketts said. “There are quite a few overlaps and parallels, but there’s nowhere to go but up with this experience. Even as we become increasingly more digital, the personal connection matters more than ever. At Cars.com, we leverage consumer understanding to drive our customer strategy and offering.” 

People don’t fall in love with products, Skinner Ricketts said. They fall in love with brands, but only if the product delivers on a promise. The brand and the products must tell the same story. 

“We took cues from Tinder,” she said, referring to Cars.com’s creating a matchmaking experience and process that ties together user preferences, comprehensive vehicle data, sentimental analysis, and site intelligence. 

Successful digital marketers leverage data to create connections. The net effect is spending more time on site. Transparency sells. It’s the right thing to do for shoppers. Most people just want to know that they’re getting a fair deal, she said.

Uber experience urges

Millennial shoppers want an Uber-like experience where they immediately get their questions answered. Overall, Skinner Ricketts suggested a 55 percent chat-to-lead ratio for getting prospective customers through the sales funnel faster. 

“The message here is understand your consumers full shopping journey, and that true value comes from connecting with shoppers where they are, on their terms,” she told attendees, adding boat customers are going to demand that the industry catch up with the latest in digital marketing. “Shopper expectations are being well set outside of the automotive and marine industries,” she said.

Cultivate video assets

Web marketing guru Marcus Sheridan provided insight on the important of using video in digital marketing. Sheridan’s former company, The Sales Lion, merged earlier this with IMPACT, an inbound marketing and sales services provider. 

Marcus Sheridan

Video is one of boating’s best digital marketing assets, Sheridan said, adding that by next year, 80 percent of all content consumed online will be video. 

“We are all media companies. We just happen to sell boats,” he said. “A videographer today can do the work of a dozen sales people if you use them the right way. It’s not a matter of budget. It’s understanding where the industry is headed.”

OEMs need to think about their dealer base when it comes to effective video and developing relationships, Sheridan added. “We have to stop leaning on others to do our jobs. Video is the best way to eliminate what gets lost in translation.” 

The boating industry has to know its customers before the handshake. If they come into a dealership and feel that’s the first moment of contact, it’s a failed moment. “The relationship should have already started,” Sheridan said.

Pump up product pages

Every single product service page of a boating industry website should have a specific video about that product or service, Sheridan added, pointing out that landing pages that are form-laden can increase the conversion rate up to 80 percent. He suggests creating a video to explain the form completion process. 

“Your customer should look at your site and see themselves,” Sheridan said. “You want to create customer journey videos.” And backing up claims about the what a business offers is equally if not more important. “Go back to your team, and verbally identify all of the claims that you make about your organization,” Sheridan said. “The second thing that you want to ask is, ‘How many of our competitors make a similar claim. Third thing you want to do is say, ‘How many of these have we also shown and not just stated. There’s a very big difference in just stating it as opposed to showing it. Tell them what you believe via video.”

Someone from within the organization needs to take ownership of video for it to be an effective digital marketing tool. 

“Don’t just throw your sales team in front of the camera,” Sheridan said. “Embrace it as a culture. There will be a messy learning period that eventually become an organizational strength.”

Innovation investment

Tom Martin, founder of Converse Digital, a marketing strategy agency and author of “The Invisible Sale,” helped Grow Boating Marketing Summit attendees tie the day’s presentations together with marketing suggestions and ideas for innovation. 

In 2002, 42 percent of all boat buyers and new sales were new boat buyers, Martin reported. 

By 2015, that number had dropped to 33 percent, a 37 percent reduction. If that trend continues to be less and less, the industry prospect pie will get smaller and smaller. 

Tom Martin

“It’s not enough to buy Google apps or do landing pages or add video,” he said. “You can’t just add a piece of technology or think of using a simple solution. You have to completely rethink your go-to-marketing strategy because your buyer is fundamentally different. That’s where the boating industry is.” 

Self-educated buyers

Martin used automotive as an industry that’s effective in completing the invisible sale. “What you have is self-educated buyers,” he said. They don’t have to rely strictly on a brand, and don’t talk to the dealership. They buy on their terms.”

Current sales and CRM systems are built to track lost sales, but they aren’t enough, Martin added. 

“You may be leaving thousands and thousands of dollars on the table, and you don’t know it,” he said. “The buyer is coming in invisible, and they are hiding behind the anonymity of Google, which is extremely powerful. It’s probably your biggest referral resource.”

Self-educating buyers do not want to be sold, Martin said, referring to a strategic inflection point that’s amplified when smartphones enter the picture.

Developing an “invisible buyer” strategy is critical to digital marketing success.

Get smartphone strategic

“Smartphones are pervasive,” he said. “Buyers no longer have to call a brand, ask a dealer or a manufacturer. You are going to have to change your mindset. Think about capturing all of the activity that’s out there. Build a system that captures new leads and buyers. Bait with content, then wait.”

Martin also urged attendees to get in front of buyers before they ever get to Google. 

“If the first time you are talking to someone is at the handshake, that’s too late. And, I’ll argue if the first time someone sees you is a Google search, it’s still too late.” 

Google is the great equalizer of marketing, he added.

“If you are a smaller company that doesn’t have a massive, million-dollar budget, you want to intercept as early as possible in the purchase process,” Martin said. “You have to continuously be teaching the prospective buyer something new.” 

Educate everyone

Personalized or dedicated landing pages and clean pathways are critical. 

Sixty-four percent of first-time buyers, according to Grow Boating, felt like they just didn’t know enough. 

“They eventually get to the dealership because they can’t complete their education online,” Martin said. 

When a prospective customer arrives, the person in dealer sales moves into an old, traditional sales mode, trying to sell the way they did 10 or 15 years ago.

“You have to teach sales that people trust content more than they trust people,” Martin said. “You have to persuade them that content is infinitely more persuasive than they could ever be. Digital marketing has to provide the right content. It has to be deep, vertical, and it has to deliver.”  


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