Differentiation in Marine Marketing

Differentiation in Marine Marketing

Co-Authored by Phil Friedman

In marketing, differentiation is the process of distinguishing a product or service from others. In order to make it more attractive to a particular target sector. If you’re a boat dealer, marine manufacturer, boatyard or marina operator, differentiating your product — whether goods or services — from the competition can be challenging. Yet today more than ever, establishing the unique qualities of that product is the key to successful marketing.

Developing a Strategy

Building a marketing strategy around differentiation involves clearly identifying and highlighting the unique value and benefits your product brings to a customer who chooses your product over someone else’s. Which may sound easy, but may not be. There are numerous potential differentiators. Some have to do with the physical qualities of a given product, say, a boats durability or fine finish. Others have to do with the level of customer support and service you provide, for example, your 24/7 support or perhaps a help desk.

A potential differentiator could be your decades of experience in the boatyard as an example and the earned wisdom you can make available to your customers. Or it could be the exciting innovation your product or service represents in and by itself. But whatever the differentiators are, they have to answer the question, “Why select my product over all the others on the market?

Pricing Alone is Not a Strategy

If you’re marketing and selling the very same boat or related services as numerous other marine businesses, you might be tempted to seek differentiation solely on the basis of price. In such circumstances, it’s natural to feel that, all other factors being equal, the lowest price wins the sale. But that’s often a mistake.

A successful marketing program needs to be built on what might be termed “durable differentiators”, namely, those which are not easily mimicked or duplicated. And price is one of the most easily-matched differentiators, witness the number of chain-merchandisers who simply offer a blanket price-matching policy or guarantee. Beyond that, differentiating on the basis of price alone is a game that small-business simply cannot play in the face of competition from big business.

On the other hand, competitive pricing can be combined with other values and benefits to create a durable differentiating package. For example, if you operate a marina or boatyard where you sell batteries, you can combine competitive pricing on the batteries themselves with economical and convenient installation and old-battery disposal — for successful differentiation from off-water mass merchandisers who also hawk batteries.

Differentiating by Means of Value Packages

A marine product or service that you are marketing could be unique in and by itself, its own natural differentiator. But just as often it isn’t. And if it isn’t, your best approach is to combine it with supporting products or services that, taken all together, create a unique package.

Customer service is always a potential differentiator. Buying decisions are frequently made on the basis of factors other than the nature of the product itself. And identifying and highlighting value-added support in areas such as selection, installation, operation, not to mention maintenance and warranty, can create a powerful marketing package — provided you deliver “the goods” and not just pay lip service to customer support.

Keep in mind, however, that customer service is not the same thing as customer relations management (CRM). CRM is a recently-emerging approach to marketing that emphasizes bolstering the customer experience with the impression of personalized attention and service, whereas customer service focuses on delivering the product as promised and paid for.

Customer relations management is generic, that is, the techniques involved are not specific to any particular product or service or market segment. As such, it cannot function as a marketing differentiator. In contrast, customer service requires product-specific knowledge, skills, and experience. And as such, a highlight of customer service can be combined with a core product to create a unique value-added package that is uniquely differentiated in the market. We recommend you have a closer look at customer relations management and customer service with a great online resource, Customer Relations Management Versus Customer Service.

Beware of Negative Differentiation

One of the pitfalls to watch out for is negative differentiation. This occurs when you end up not offering a feature, value, or benefit that is commonly available from your competition in the market.

For example, I recently consulted in the start-up planning and management of a new line of yachts. In the course of discussions about marketing and related issues, we came to the topic of how to structure warranty coverage. One suggestion tabled was that the new line should have a limited 5-year structural warranty. I observed that might be too short from a marketing standpoint in today’s market, as many of the higher-end production and semi-production yachts have, in the last decade, gone to 10-year limited structural warranties. Which would make a 5-year structural warranty a negative differentiator.

The counter-observation was that ten years was inordinately long and that, anyway, if no problems showed up within five years, it was highly unlikely any would in ten years. To which I argued that if no problems were likely to show up in ten years that had not shown up in the first five, there was no disadvantage to extending the structural warranty to ten years. And that not to do so would present a strong negative impression to potential buyers, given that ten years was common among a significant percentage of the key competition. Fortunately, in this case, my client could see the forest for the trees in the matter.

Be Noticed or Be Left Behind

Differentiation as a core strategy provides a basis for being noticed by the market — which is often a first step along the path to sales success. Pursuing differentiation as a strategy also constitutes an opportunity to get in touch the key value and benefits the product you’re seeking to market. Indeed, developing a differentiation-based marketing strategy can sometimes help clarify other necessary business planning and decisions as well.

About Phil Friedman – Phil is a Marine Industry Consultant, Project Developer & Manager, Marketing and Small-Business Startup expert with the Port Royal Group (Fort Lauderdale, FL, USA). With 30 some years in the marine industry, he has worked variously as a yacht designer, boat builder, marine business manager, yacht surveyor, consultant, yachting writer and editor, and industry educator. He is also trained and experienced in interest-based negotiating and mediation. Phil can be contacted at 1.954.224.2145 or info@portroyalgroup.com.

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