Marine Businesses Are Prime Candidates To Take Advantage Of Inbound Marketing
by Phil Friedman, Marine Industry Consultant
Look, I don’t pretend to be a marketing guru. But I am experienced in boatyard and marina operations. And as a freelance writer/editor, I have, over the years, worked on contract for several marine marketing firms. So, I’m not exactly ignorant of marketing approaches and principles.
In fact, I bring something to a discussion of marine marketing which is not all that common, namely, experience on the marine business manager’s side of the desk. And what I propose to share with you here is a hard-won perspective on a popular form of contemporary marketing that has the potential to be very useful to boatyard and marina owners and operators — if and only if it’s done right.
If done correctly, inbound-marketing is an effective tool for brand-building and creating a community of loyal customers. And that requires understanding what inbound marketing is… and what it isn’t.
What is Inbound Marketing?
Inbound marketing is often conflated with content-marketing by even a significant number of digital marketing pros. Inbound and content marketing are, however, quite different from one another. To be sure, both approaches focus on the delivery of content (information) to customers and prospective customers. But content marketing —sometimes referred to as “outbound” — involves “pushing” that information out to customers and potential customers pretty much in the same way that traditional advertising does.
In contrast, inbound marketing works to “pull” readers into engagement with your firm by consistently presenting content whose value to the reader (potential customer) stands independently of any specific product or service.
For this reason, inbound marketing on social media and in the form of digital newsletters becomes an effective way to foster longer-term development and nurturing of brand recognition and loyalty. Inbound marketing is a subtle, though not deceptive method for encouraging customers to think of and come to your firm as a known and trusted authority when they are thinking of buying.
Effective inbound marketing proceeds by:
- Drawing customers and potential customers into a trust-based relationship with your boatyard or marina and the product(s) and services you offer, rather than pushing traditional advertising and sales pitches at them.
- Building a community of prospects and customers with a durable interest in what you do and who you are and how their lives and activities can be made better by what you offer.
- Focusing on brand recognition and loyalty, as opposed to settling for raw visibility and notoriety.
A keystone in these objectives is the development of Community which, in turn, depends on creating engagement with the targets of your marketing efforts.
Developing a community begins with providing genuine take-away value in the content your marketing vehicle of choice delivers. That means rising above the canned “fun facts” kind of filler you too often see in a firm’s monthly newsletter.
Let’s be clear about this: Nobody gives a hoot about how to clean engine grease off your off your hands with peanut butter. Well, almost nobody anyway. But if you can explain to your marine customers and potential customers how to pick the correctly-sized engines for their new boat or how to attain maximum longevity from those engines or how to select a boat that will run softly and dry in a chop — in clear, understandable, and authoritatively correct terms — that will start them thinking of you as reliable and credible when the time comes to buy. Moreover, if you provide them on a regular basis with information and advice that improves their boating-related experience, without always trying to sell them something in the process, the magnitude of the payback in terms of brand recognition and loyalty is often surprising.
Getting started the right way
So, how do you get started if you haven’t already and how do you retrench if you’ve already gotten a weak start? Pick your tools … carefully.
Some commonly-employed vehicles for inbound marketing are:
- a digital newsletter (usually distributed monthly);
- a blog (either standalone or as part of a website);
- content published on one or more social media sites.
None of these are prohibitively expensive, even if outsourced. But if treated in a casual manner or assigned to someone not well qualified, you might just as well save your time and money. Here are some other tips:
Creating e-Newsletters That Get Opened
If you’re sending out a periodic e-Newsletter, the single most important hurdle to overcome is to assure the recipient opens the letter. One of the best ways to accomplish that is to include in every e-Newsletter a meaningful discount coupon or sale notice for some item or items that your customers commonly buy on a regular basis.
You don’t need to list or advertise that discount special in the newsletter’s subject line or heading — indeed, it’s preferable not to — but if your customers know there is inevitably a potentially useful coupon inside, they will open the newsletter to see what it is. And then, “bam”, you’ve created the opportunity to catch their attention with a well-crafted heading and an image leading into value content you’re providing.
How To Create An Effective Blog Post
If you have a blog or other published content, a key factor is to gain the attention of your customers by injecting a hint of controversy in the topic chosen. This draws questions and comments, thereby creating engagement — which is the lifeblood of brand-building.
Naturally, a lot depends on who you are, and what your business is. And despite what some may try to tell you, there is no single, one-size-fits-all solution for inbound marketing.
Just keep in mind that engagement comes from conversation. Therefore, anyone ― in-house or outsourced ― must know enough about the goods and/or services you market and sell to be authoritative in dealing with and answering questions. And they must be sufficiently knowledgeable and experienced to credibly carry on the conversation that is so essential to building engagement.
Spread Your Message and Brand Using Social Media (but do it with authenticity!)
Forget what some marketing whiz kids will tell you; you can’t fake it. I can tell you for sure that, in the boating market, you can’t fake it because in boating and yachting, your customers and potential customers are relatively well educated, have read books and articles about their pastime and its associated hardware, spent days and days at boat shows, and perhaps even taken courses in relevant subjects — not to mention likely spent years actively discussing issues on the docks with their compatriots.
So, you will either have to participate yourself (if you are your company’s only expert in the field), or you will have to assign one or more employees, who are themselves sufficiently expert and articulate to carry on the conversation. And you may have to contract outsourced help in packaging and managing that in-house participation.
But whatever you elect to do, do not overlook that fact that the opportunity which inbound marketing presents for building credibility, brand recognition, and loyalty, and eventually to convert engagement to sales, is double-edged. Without proper preparation, the opportunity for brand-building engagement can become the occasion to make a fool of yourself and your firm, if you allow unqualified people to represent you in the conversation.
― Phil Friedman
About the Author
Phil is a marine industry consultant, project developer/manager, and marketing and small-business startup expert with the Port Royal Group in the greater Fort Lauderdale, FL area.
With 30 some years in the marine industry, Phil worked as a yacht designer, boat builder, marine business manager, yacht surveyor, consultant, yachting writer and editor, and industry educator. He’s also trained and experienced in interest-based negotiating and mediation. His current work includes the start-up management for two new yacht lines being built in China.
Phil is always up for talking about new projects and can be contacted at 1.954.224.2145 or email@example.com
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