Even at a time when all marine companies are faced with shrinking marketing budgets, right now is a great opportunity to expand your company’s marketing footprint. At SAIL, we work with marketers from every category in our industry, helping them develop the advertising component and widen their range of marketing strategies. We see today’s leading marketers in the sailing industry implementing integrated marketing plans and having the determination to stick with it. See the approaches of Raymarine, Harken, North Sails, Garmin, IMTRA, and Beneteau—all fine examples.
Whatever your goal is—drive direct-to-consumer sales, generate leads, feed business at the dealer level, increase brand awareness and preference, advance new product and technology—you must identify your target audience. Then, you can balance a number of marketing tools to efficiently reach that audience. No single tool can adequately accomplish the task.
At the core of an integrated plan is a print advertising campaign. Independent research still proves that print builds brand awareness, generates excitement, and is the proven #1 driver of traffic to your web site. With print you can establish a foundation for your message with a highly engaged audience. Your advertising builds both awareness and preference, which are essential steps to take before prospects begin to search on-line, at shows, or among retail sources.
We’re seeing today’s print campaigns supported by more complementary marketing tools than ever before. Some are really innovative. Some are low cost. They include market research and product development, boat show efforts, e-marketing campaigns, social media, direct mail, call-to-action online media campaigns, catalogue work, consumer-focused events, and so on. All should be considered for your marketing plan and integrated within it.
Here’s a look at three tools I see being used well in 2009, with some examples of companies that are maximizing their returns.
Market Research: Speak with anyone in the industry launching new product—builders, hardware, electronics, etc.—and you will hear how investing in new product, as difficult as that is right now, has been vital to sales. The marine electronics field is hyper-competitive and notable for its fast pace of product development. This year is no exception. See what’s going on at Garmin, Raymarine, Navico, NKE, and others, and you’ll see great product innovation. Behind those developments are investments in market research. And research can be as simple and low-cost as just being a better listener at boat shows, on online forums, and in dealer showrooms.
Email Marketing: A strong email database is critical in today’s market, especially if you’re operating with a reduced budget. Once you build your database, you must then find the best way to reach that potential customer pool. Regular e-newsletters are a must, and some have had success using e-news content to build customer loyalty and expand a marketing footprint. Sunsail and J/Boats are two examples. For years J/Boats has maintained excellent contact with a very loyal base of owners and prospects with regular e-newsletters that often highlight results at racing events but are also useful to the performance cruisers in their audience.
E-blasts are ideal tools for sales promotions, a staple for any sailboat dealer trying to energize their prospect list. Joint e-mail efforts help increase your e–marketing reach. Part of doing business with SAIL, for instance, allows access to our email and direct-mail lists, and more and more of our partners are capitalizing on this.
Social Media Strategies: In my opinion, Twitter is a killer marketing tool (follow @gillfoulweather and @sailmagazine for examples) and Facebook is for personal use. Yet some companies really thrive with their use of Facebook. For example, Jamestown Distributors, a direct-to-consumer retailer of marine products with an outstanding web strategy, is particularly savvy on Facebook. They feed their page constantly with interesting content and also use the page to promote daily deals. Murray Yacht Sales and Edson Marine also get a lot out of their Facebook presence.
Bottom line: even if you’re a small marine company feeling strapped in this challenging economic environment, you can appear huge to the consumer. And not all tools for reaching your targeted market will break your budget.
Josh Adams is an avid sailor, publisher of SAIL Magazine and serves on the board of directors for Sail America.