Marinas and Boatyards Need Marketing Strategies That Fit Their Business Models
Fad Advice on Marketing Often Has Little to Do with Real Needs
As I’ve said before, I don’t pretend to be a marketing guru. I have, however, been involved in marina and boatyard management for more than three decades. As a result, I have had opportunities to develop and run several marine-related marketing campaigns. Consequently, the following observations and suggestions are grounded in real-world experience.
You may have noticed that most of the marketing advice you read online fails to differentiate between the needs and objectives small-business versus those of big-business. Yet, the differences between the marketing needs of small-business and big-business are, in fact, significantly different. So let’s get into what sort of marketing strategies can apply to marinas, boatyards and other marine businesses.
It’s about more than just the size of your… marketing budget
Those differences do not derive from the relative size of their respective marketing budgets or gross sales revenues. Instead, in my experience, they are a function of fundamental differences in a) organizational structure, b) business goals, and c) market segment.
Consider that, independent of annual gross revenues, small businesses generally exhibit a relatively flat organizational structure. Small-business executives and managers are almost always called upon to perform cross-functional duties.
It is rare for a small business to have a dedicated marketing executive, never mind a stand-alone marketing department. In most small businesses, marketing functions are performed by executives, managers, and line employees who have concurrent responsibilities in areas outside of marketing.
Moreover, the core goal of small businesses is generally operational profit. Hey, don’t look so perplexed. That’s in serious contrast to big-business, where market dominance (and an exit strategy), or sales growth (and an exit strategy), or increased stock share value (and an exit strategy) are often the primary drivers in marketing campaigns.
Lastly, small businesses do not generally serve broad markets, delineated either horizontally or vertically. But rather, by their very nature, small businesses frequently serve “niche” markets.
By definition ― at least, by mine ― small businesses deal in niche markets…
Granted, opinions differ as to what constitutes a “niche market”. Some definitions are formulated in terms of concentration on a single product or service, or on a very small range of products and services within a broader market context. Others definitions of a niche market see it as being a very small segment of a larger market, delineated geographically.
I believe the nature of a niche market is best described by a combination of factors and in various permutations of these factors. Consider, for example, the market for large luxury yachts is a global market (wide geographical coverage), but still a niche market because the number of potential buyers is infinitesimally small compared to the total number of potential buyers of luxury items in general ― and notwithstanding that the gross revenue numbers involved in luxury yacht building and sales can be as high or higher than many businesses with a broader market base and annual numbers for manufactured units that is 100 times or more greater than for luxury yachts.
Or consider that you can also delineate a niche market in terms of restricted geographical reach, again even though gross sales revenue generated by a given firm in that niche market seriously exceed what might be generated by many firms with much broader geographical market bases.
For example, a firm that markets skyscraper window cleaning services may not, as a practical matter, operate in a very large geographical area, and so would serve a niche market ― yet its annual gross sales revenues could be quite high, if that geographically constricted area included, say, New York city.
Marketing in niche markets differs from that in broader markets…
Some key points to keep in minds are:
- Niche markets are smaller, and therefore, marketing to them must be more targeted. You can’t just play the numbers in such a market, especially not in the recreational marine market which is relatively small. Rather, you need to understand clearly to whom you are speaking. And you have to tailor and deliver the message very directly to that audience.
- Niche markets are frequently, if not always comprised of enthusiasts or, at least, consumers with very specific interests and a higher-than-average level of relevant product knowledge. So, you need to be careful to deliver a credible message and to maintain a profile of competence and trustworthiness. Nowhere is that more true than in the recreational marine market which
- What works in one niche market may not work in another. Each niche market exhibits its own idiosyncrasies, depending on its unique demographic makeup and the nature of the product or services sector involved. The recreational marine market is a prime example of a niche.
From these points, a couple of important conclusions can be drawn:
- A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. A small-business, such as a boatyard or marina, needs to decide how much in-house labor and talent can be assigned/applied to its marketing effort. And it’s important to avoid overburdening execs and managers whose efforts are critical to producing/delivering the firm’s products and services. In most instances, it will likely make the most sense to outsource the brunt of the creative marketing work.
- The marketing materials for marinas and boatyards need to be developed and any marketing campaign managed by people with intimate knowledge of the products or services involved, as well as insight into the recreational marine sector. Boating consumers are generally more experienced and knowledgeable than those in other, larger markets. And gossip spreads in the boating community quickly and easily. So, it’s particularly important to avoid having someone “speaking” for your marine firm who is faking it, hoping to eventually make it, as credibility easily lost is terrifically hard to regain.
You cannot market boats in the same way you market toothpaste…
Pretty much everyone accepts the need for toothpaste, so a selection comes down to which product to buy. But not everyone thinks he or she needs or even has the slightest interest in a boat. So, the marketing of boats and related services begins with convincing the potential recreational marine sector consumer to spend his or her dollars on boats and boating, as opposed to, say, motorcycles or bicycles or surf boards.
Yet, as a marina or boatyard operator, you’ll be presented with broad blanket statements such as, “You should be marketing to millennials, as they are today’s dominant market.” Never mind that millennials aren’t, for the most part, buying or even interested in buying yachts that cost hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars. Even if they have the discretionary income to do so. Therefore, if you build or sell yachts, today’s popular advice to market to millennials is exactly the wrong marketing advice.
So too, you may be told by a digital marketing guru that, “Content marketing is your perfect solution.” Never mind that the consumers in your niche market have no affinity for the generic content you will next be offered by that same marketing guru. And so, if you follow that advice, you will expend time, dollars, and energy on trying to pump content marketing out to an audience that couldn’t care less.
The best approach is to adjust a marketing program to the target niche…
Maybe that seems self-evident. However, self-evident or not, it’s a fact that’s often overlooked, particularly in the recreational marine sector.
In order to tailor a marketing campaign or program to a given niche market, you have first to know, or at least learn about that niche ― its demographics, its history, its culture and idiosyncratic social conventions, and so on. You have also to familiarize yourself intimately with the product or service being marketed into that niche. For most of the time in a niche market, if you don’t demonstrate you know what you’re talking about — that you understand and are willing to connect with your target customers, and that you are worthy of their confidence and loyalty — your marketing efforts will fall upon deaf ears and glazed-over eyes.
There are no shortcuts. Unfortunately, all of this takes a lot of effort and time and, moreover, may not appear profitable to some outsourced marketers, who see a better ROI (for the marketer, that is) in using more generic approaches. Which is why marina and boatyard owners and operators need to think more than twice about marketing advice that is not specific to their market niche. And your marine management system should reflect that as well. ― Phil Friedman
About the Author:
Phil Friedman 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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