Communicating the boating lifestyle with marketing messages and ideas that appeal to younger demographics
The problem of the aging or “graying” boater demographic is a known challenge for the boating industry. We know that we need to lure in a new generation of boaters for the industry to continue to grow and thrive.
Just take a look around the dock of your local marina and it’s easy to see that the majority of boaters are getting older. At my marina, many boaters are starting to resemble that “old salty dog” persona rather than the “new generation boater” that we hope to attract to the industry.
I think about this issue often because throughout my years as a boater I have always been considered the “younger” boater demographic. When my husband and I started out in boating we were young adults around 30 years old (around the age of the “millennial” demographic of today) and we were noticeably the youngest couple at our marina at that time.
We started boating when another couple invited us out on their boat for a Fourth of July weekend. We loved the relaxed lifestyle, the social aspects and the ability to enjoy the outdoors. By the end of our weekend getaway we were hooked on boating. And by the end of that summer we purchased our first boat – a 1985 25 foot Bayliner Ciera.
The crazy thing is that we are now entering our 15th season boating (on our third boat) and we are still considered “young”. We are now forty-something boaters with a forty-something foot boat and our dock “peers” (the other boaters on our dock with larger boats) are mostly a good 10-15 years older than us.
Where are all the other boaters our age? My guess is that the situation at my marina is very indicative of many other large full service marinas. There almost seems to be a missing generation of boaters that the industry did not lure in as well as it did with the baby boomer generation.
How our boating story began is very much the story the industry hopes to create for today’s millennial generation. Get them hooked on boating while they are young and create lifelong boaters that sustain the industry into another generation.
To keep the boating industry growing – along with your marine business – we must appeal to a younger demographic. We know there are some bigger changes we need to make as an industry… like making boating more affordable and embracing new innovations to get buyers excited… but what messages and ideas can we market to potential younger boaters TODAY that can create value and motivate them?
From a “once younger boater perspective”, here are some marketing messages and real actionable ideas I think we can work on to get younger boaters hooked:
A Lifestyle Accessible for Everyone
Boating has long been considered a recreation reserved for the wealthy… and with good reason. New boats cost more than ever, and you need to have a good amount of discretionary income to support expenses like maintenance, docking and fuel (not to mention the boat payments).
The industry needs to support and promote programs that make boating as a recreation more accessible and affordable. For example, we are seeing more and more peer-to-peer boat rental companies come onto the scene lately because it offers a viable way for people to get access to boats and offset boat owner expenses. As a bonus, the rental or trial of a boat is a great way to get prospective boaters hooked on the lifestyle at a younger age – so they can become buyers later.
Fractional ownership and club-owned boat programs are another way to make the cost of entry lower for boaters… particularly younger boaters with time constraints that are juggling longer workdays and kid’s activities that may make owning a boat not seem worthwhile.
Entry level boats – either less expensive new boats or used boats – should continue to be encouraged as a first step into the boating industry.
KEY MESSAGES: Boating is more affordable than you think and we can show you how.
Not Your Grandfather’s Boat (or Marina)
As a technology driven society and we expect the latest and greatest features. The cool factor will entice younger people to get into boating, and that’s why we see builders investing in wow-factors that matter most for young boaters. But there needs to be a balance with cost-effective technology or features that don’t drive the cost up too much.
And the technology doesn’t stop at the boat. Your marina better be in tip top shape, offering conveniences like speedy Wi-Fi connection (at ALL docks… not just the one closest to your marina office). Marinas and dealers need to adopt customer service apps for smartphones, be accessible and responsive on social media and embrace technology to make your marina more tech-friendly.
There’s a balance of using technology and connecting with the real world. The trick will be showing a younger generation that they can stay connected when they need to… but they can also unplug and connect with the boating lifestyle.
The technology theme also encompasses the entire marine industry – from marine accessories to innovative online resources and apps. It’s time to sink that old school mentality and move with the times – in terms of both innovative products and marketing techniques.
KEY MESSAGES: Boating is progressive, innovative and in touch with the lifestyle you lead.
Create Content to Inform or Entertain, Not Sell
We have heard a lot about the term “content marketing” as a new way to reach your target audience. It will continue to be important to sell the boating lifestyle, but as more of a soft-sell approach through the use of engaging content for potential boaters. Tools like blogs, videos and social media are great ways to tell the boating story and cut through the clutter to reach younger demographics.
In a recent article entitled How Inbound Marketing Can Save the Boating Industry, Kathleen Booth of Quintain Marketing suggests that traditional marketing is about pushing stuff (through direct mail, cold calls and advertising) and that producing more online content will help cut through the clutter and pull people toward your business.
The main idea here is that it’s about BOATING and not just the boats. It’s not enough to try to get people hooked on boats; they need to get hooked on the activity of boating. I always describe boating as an investment in our leisure time – it’s so much more than the boat itself.
KEY MESSAGES: We’ll show you why you’ll love boating and how you’ll be hooked on the lifestyle.
Bringing Families Together
The current millennial generation is either starting a family or thinking about starting one soon. As a family they will have decision to make – how to invest discretionary income for family time. Most young families I know decide to invest in a property by the water or opt to spend their money on one nice vacation a year. And some may even decide to buy an RV or boat.
We need to focus on the family-friendly aspects of boating and how it delivers a great value for family time. I always say that boating is like a mini-vacation every weekend – instead of just one vacation a year we get dozens. And we make dozens and dozens of family memories each season.
As a boater with young kids, I want to see more emphasis on family-friendly and kid-friendly features – particularly at marinas and waterfront destinations. From focusing on boat safety for kids to special marina events like Family Fun Day, these make a big difference in my continued investment in boating.
KEY MESSAGES: Boating brings families closer together, making memories that last a lifetime.
Building a Community
Everyone wants a place where they feel like they belong. Building a sense of community or association is a great way to attract people to boating. The younger generation is very social and social connections matter to them.
Last year the Marine Trades Association of Maryland shared with Soundings Trade Only about how marinas are doing little things to lure in new boaters like holding slip holder parties and potluck events that help build a sense of community. These types of special events can draw in new boaters while contributing to customer loyalty.
Whether these programs are online with social media or website forums, or offline with specialty clubs or events, creating social connections with boaters will drive loyalty to your marine business and the industry.
KEY MESSAGES: We welcome you into the boating lifestyle and this is where you belong.
These are just some of the ideas and strategies I envision the boating industry adopting to get younger boaters hooked. Not one idea is a “winner” but they all build on the end goal of getting younger boaters interested in boating and staying with it.
Please share your best practices and thoughts in the comments below.
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