Not your parents’ Discover Boating

If you haven’t taken a look at the Discover Boating program lately, you might want to.
While the program was criticized for being ineffective in its first few years, organizers now say they can show a direct correlation to boat sales. And those boat sales are expected to quadruple this year.
Discover Boating was launched by the National Marine Manufacturers Association in 1999 to fill the knowledge gaps of boat show attendees, says Discover Boating Director Steve Tadd. In its second season, 80 percent of Discover Boating’s budget was being spent on boat shows.
Since then, the Internet has helped to fill that gap, says Tadd. In addition, critics responded to the program, suggesting that NMMA was preaching to the choir. Boat show attendees already had an interest in boating. Where the program was really needed was in getting new people interested in boating.
It seems NMMA was listening. Now, only about one tenth of the Discover Boating budget is spent at boat shows. The rest is going toward getting new people excited about boating – and converting that excitement into boat sales.
Over the years, the budget for the program has grown substantially – from about $50,000 in its first year to close to $2 million this year. The cost of the Discover Boating and Fishing Tour alone has gone up about 40 percent since last year, according to Tadd.
This tour, presented by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Water Works Wonders campaign, is one of two main focus points for Discover Boating this year.
Extending its reach
The increase in funding for Discover Boating is going in part to extending the reach of the program. The tour, for example, is expected to stop at 26 events over a 26-week period. This compares to 19 events over the course of 18 weeks last year.
The quality of the events is “so much better this year,” according to Tadd. However, with this increase in quality has also come a three-fold jump in exhibit fees at NMMA’s expense, he explains.
Some of that is due to an increase in the exhibit’s footprint. With the program’s new 18-wheel truck, the minimum space the exhibit requires is 80 feet by 40 feet. More often, NMMA contracts for 100 feet by 50 feet at each event, Tadd adds. Previously, the truck required a minimum of 60 feet by 40 feet.
The new truck will help on two fronts. For one, Tadd feels the display is more powerful now and thus will have a greater impact on visitors. It includes the most popular features of last year’s truck in addition to several new features.
At each exhibit, there will be up to five boats, instead of the two last year’s exhibit typically contained. There is an immersion theater, complete with rumble seats and point of view cinematography, which gives visitors a feel for being out on the water. An underwater walkway offers education on fishing, water as a resource and the types of boats used for different on-water activities. The fishing simulator that was popular last year will be offered again.
Secondly, the exhibit will be designed to help NMMA track consumers’ attitudes toward boating through surveys both before and after their experiences. This approach to surveying visitors will help the association determine what impact its exhibit is having.
The survey asks about 20 questions, including, “Are you interested in buying a boat in the next 12-18 months?” Tadd predicts that 30 to 40 percent more people will answer this “Yes” after they’ve traveled through the exhibit. Ultimately, the results will help NMMA determine whether its investment has been worth it, he adds.
Last year, Discover Boating collected information on consumers who traveled through the truck exhibit as well as those who attended the program’s on-water demos. Through a partnership with InfoLink, which tracks boat registrations, Tadd says they were able to determine that at least 11 percent of those consumers have purchased boats since their Discover Boating experience.
Getting them on the water
Another new aspect of this year’s tour is the inclusion of demo rides for all of the truck visitors that say they’re interested in buying a boat in the next 12-18 months.
Discover Boating tried a similar concept in Louisville last year. They invited 1,000 people who had filled out surveys at a local tour stop and indicated they would be interested in a boat ride. Of those invited, 300 people showed up and five boats were sold on the spot, says Tadd.
“Every bit of research we’ve ever conducted indicates that if you can get people out on the water, that’s the best way to motivate them to take the next step,” he says.
This year, Discover Boating has partnered with Boating World magazine, which will follow the tour, offering free demo rides, lunch, fishing clinics and boaters’ education seminars in the local area three weeks after each event.
Within 72 hours of closing down the truck exhibit at each event, NMMA will have entered the survey data into its database and sent the contact info for the prospective boat buyers to Boating World. The magazine then will invite them, in addition to its own subscribers, to an upcoming demo day in their area.
Those who attend the demo will receive a thank you postcard with a photo of them and their family on a boat. Included will be information on the boat they rode that day and any promotions the sponsoring manufacturer or dealer is offering.
The leads generated by the truck initially will be available to the tour and demo event sponsors. After a predetermined period of time, however, they will be made available to any NMMA members interested in them.
“We want to make sure the people we’re coming into contact with are getting the information they want,” Tadd explains.
Discover Boating launching DVD-ROM
The second area of focus for the Discover Boating program this year is a new DVD-ROM it’s launching, says Tadd. The DVD, which is similar to Sail America’s Discover Sailing video, is targeted at people who are new to boating.
Registration for the DVD will take place at However, NMMA will ask its members to provide links on their Web sites to Discover Boating’s registration page. Without any advertising, over 6,000 registrations have already been entered.
There are three parts to the DVD. Part one is a boating lifestyle video designed to make viewers feel good about boating.
Part two is an 11-minute video intended to help viewers decide which type of boat would best fit their interests. It also includes a laundry list of practical tips on topics such as test drives, boat shows and tax benefits, Tadd explains.
The third video recaps the four suggestions NMMA offers new boaters: 1. Use the Internet for research 2. Go to a boat show 3. Ask your local dealership for a test drive 4. Take a boater’s education course. For those people with a DVD drive on their computer, NMMA has included a complimentary boater’s education course provided by on the disc.
Tadd says by the end of the year, he expects to have shipped 50 to 60 thousand DVD-ROMs. Shipping was scheduled to begin in April.
A $70,000 grant from the OMC Foundation is helping NMMA pay for the new DVD, Tadd says. — Liz Walz

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