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Dealer Case Study: Be the Resource for New Boaters

Posted By Jerrod Kelley, Wednesday, August 5, 2020
Attracting new buyers is essential in the effort to get more people on the water and keep them there. Despite all the economic impacts and health concerns, 2020 seems to be banner year for first-time boat buyers and the new-to-the-marine industry types. We all welcome the growth. And by growth, we’re talking about boat sales, website traffic and the increased demand for information. Now is the time to dedicate time, energy and resources to capitalizing on this surge of new customers. Dealer Case Study: MarineMax

MRAA spoke with Abbey Heimensen, Director of Marketing, and Lisa Harrison, PR and Content Manager, at MarineMax about their New to Boating webpage and unprecedented growth, which has seen a 461 percent year-to-year increase in pageviews in the past 90 days. Harrison says MarineMax, which has 59 locations and 29 different brands, has seen its reach flourish and grow within its own database. In fact, new site users are up 40 percent due to the increased consumer interest and the in-house New to Boating initiative.

“Statistics from the MRAA and NMAA tell us that approximately 3 percent of the [US] population boats, which is a very small percentage,” explained Heimensen. “We spend a lot of time supporting MRAA, Discovery Boating and things like that to help move that gauge. We know that we personally may not help move that gauge to four percent or five percentage, but we know we want to get a larger piece of the pie of the people who boat.”

They then took a different vantage point to determine how MarineMax could help get more people in, says Heimensen. “And once they get to our website, we found that one of the things they were searching for was ‘new to boating.’ We had been relying on other sources for that, like I have mentioned, and we felt that we were not doing our customers justice by not having that information on our website.”

She explains that when pandemic hit with full force, MarineMax was kind of catapulted forward and made to move more quickly and get the New to Boating page completed. “We got it out there for not only the customers who come to our website, but also in general for the boating industry. As much traffic as we are able to generate to our website, it really made sense to help the industry as whole have that information there.”

The site itself is pretty straightforward, and Heimensen says they didn’t reinvent the themes of fishing, cruising, tow sports, etc. “We knew those were things we didn’t have to reinvent. We did the design work from the ground up, and we featured products that MarineMax carries,” explained Heimensen. “If it was going to be on our website, we felt it was very important to reflect the brands we carry because we picked those brands very specifically in our portfolio to make our customers’ choices that much easier that they have the quality of brands from which to choose.”

Essentially, the New To Boating page features all the basic information a new boater and new buyer would need to know about the marine industry, MarineMax and its brands, including information on boat types, boating resources, education (classes and seminars) and online community initiatives. And for those consumers who seek to know even more, MarineMax features other consumer-related marketing and content in an effort to answer questions, enrich the purchasing process and enhance the overall boating experience.

The New To Boating page is an educational stop before making a purchase. “This is helping you make a decision before you make a large investment,” stated Heimensen. “It doesn’t matter if it’s an aluminum bass boat or a $6 million dollar yacht. It’s an investment of your time, your family, it’s a very serious investment … one that is different than purchasing a car. Purchasing a boat is purchasing a lifestyle for your family. You’re making a commitment that we’re going to be on the water, we’re going to do this on the weekends — everybody’s in!”

Our conversation has generated plenty of topics and tips to also aid you in enhancing your own marketing and content resources to capture more new boaters.

1. Grow your family: To target new boaters, you can use current resources provided by the MRAA, Discover Boating, NMAA and related outlets to enhance your site and social content. But the idea is to share your own industry knowledge with these new customers. One way to build a larger family is to sell them boats, but another way is to offer them informative and related education, ownership tips and buying advice according to your market, areas of expertise and brands. This also can make you their trusted source both on and off the water.
2. Develop a content team: MarineMax has its own in-house team comprised of content suppliers, proofreaders, graphic designers and also a new CMS (content management system) engineer. While most dealerships can’t afford to build a team that large, adding a content producer to your marketing team could be beneficial. That person could be in charge of creating content for your website, social media, videos, e-blasts, ads and more. At MarineMax, the CMS engineer’s role is key in the development of the site-specific page because they build platform from the ground up, using current site stats and things like heat maps to determine consumer flow and viewing patterns. This role, whether in house or provided by an agency, creates the behind-the-scenes work and steps necessary to keep many visitors headed down the purchasing funnel. The other team members serve as content writers, editors and experts to enhance the brand’s voice. Finally, the design team blends the behind-the-scenes with the content to ensure the message is on point, attractive and on brand. In addition, this original content comes from you and is in your voice, which further connects you with the customer.
3. Budget for time and resources: You’ll save some cost if you have the ability to do everything with your internal team, from management to sales to parts and PR. If not, you must be prepared to reserve money for site development, freelance copy, proofreaders and site designers. MarineMax says a lot of responsibility falls upon the team’s shoulders because people can use the content and it’s out in front of the entire industry. Your team’s leaders and most experienced boaters make fabulous information resources. The goal is to improve your customer’s experience and to act like a one-stop shop to them. One location with all the answers.
4. Educational by design: Educating the customers with content is essential, but it also comes in handy for your sales consultants during interactions with consumers. They can find the right answers and the correct boat for customers the first time; a must do to create repeat buyers.
5. CRM: Investing in data collection technology (like HubSpot) and lead generation is vital, too, says Heimensen. Using the insights from the data helps a better roadmap and other ways to interact with customers. This includes CRM efforts like, newsletters, live boat demos, giveaways and virtual events for those new to boating. Try meet-and-greets on Zoom, Facebook Live forums and weekly podcasts to connect with certain consumers. The “Boating Tips Live” effort from MarineMax involves a designated captain to discuss different topics with consumers.
6. Have some class: This is more about offering your customers or potential customers classes to learn more about boat ownership prior to buying or boat ownership after the purchase. It’s really about re-investing in your customers. MarineMax says it offers specialty trips, like its Getaways!® boating events — complete with integrated safety and social-distancing protocols — for its customers as a way to entice more interaction and to offer them a better boating experience.
7. Lifelong boater, first-time buyer: Always remember that just because someone has been in boating all their life, doesn’t mean they have ever purchased their own boat or know everything about boat ownership. You can help educate them and further gain their trust.

MarineMax’s New To Boating page is a clear winner for its ability to attract new customers who want to learn more about boats, the lifestyle and ownership. But it’s clear that MarineMax has also made a legitimate all-in effort to better connect with customers — new and old, alike — by becoming a resource people can depend on, pre-sale and post-sale. It’s a winning formula that, with these seven shared best practices, can also help you go next level as well.

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