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Wednesday
Feb152012

Seeking ROI on Marina Marketing

This article, by Dennis Kissman, was published in Marina Dock Age –  September 2002. 

Through the years, I have written articles on topics such as profitability, customer service, and a marina’s value.  But rarely have you heard me talk about marketing your marina.  We often overlook what we get in return from a good marketing effort because it is often difficult to tangibly identify the results that we get in return for our marketing dollar.  In reality, more often than not the difference between a marginal but profitable business and a highly profitable one is the marketing effort that goes into promoting the business.    

Marketing a marina does not have to be difficult or expensive, but it must be well thought out and well executed.  The first thing you need to understand is that when you market your marina you are aggressively going out to sell your goods and services.  How that comes across to your intended audience is the difference between a successful marketing plan and a failed plan.  No matter how good you think your plan is, if your intended audience does not see it the same way, you do, and then you have wasted your time and money.    

I like to break marketing down into four broad categories: paid advertising, promotions, public relations, and “word of mouth.”  A good marketing plan will include a combination of all four categories.  If I was asked to rank them as far as importance to the success of marketing my marina, I would have to say that “word of mouth” advertising is by far the most important single category.  It is also the least expensive to implement.   

“Word of mouth” advertising is something that you do not have full control over.  However, there are things that you can do to assure that the “word of mouth” regarding your marina is positive.  If you provide excellent customer service and charge a fair price for the services offered in a clean and friendly environment, I assure you that it will be positive and you will receive positive financial results.  Just remember, as powerful as positive “word of mouth” advertising can be for your marina, it is just as powerful if it is negative.

Following “word of mouth” advertising in importance and cost-efficiency is public relations, or “PR.”  There are two aspects of PR, obviously: publicity and relations.  Publicity is making your news known through the media, while relations consist of cultivating of those media relationships.  I have found PR to be very effective in getting the message out, but there are limitations.  For example, there is no guarantee that everything you submit to the media for publication will be published; and if it is published, there is no guarantee when or exactly how it will be phrased.   

A commonly used PR tool is the press release.  In order to have a press release acknowledged in the media it must be well written, informative, and newsworthy.  You want the recipient of your press release to acknowledge that you are a credible source for the information that is written in it.  A well written press release will be informative and complete, but not so complete that the recipient has no more questions.

Since you are not in control of when or even if your press release will be published, make sure you include dates if it is time sensitive.  Also, if you are relying on print media, you need to know the lead time required to be effective.  You shouldn’t promote an event like National Marina Day a week before the event if the publication in which the information is printed doesn’t come out for another month.

If, like most of us, you have limited resources for marketing, I would strongly suggest that you consider engaging someone in the public relations business to help draft and distribute your press releases.  A good PR person knows how to write an effective press release, and knows the right people to which it should be directed in the media.

The third element for cost effective marketing is promotions.  Often times the first word that comes to mind when we say promotions is “giveaways.”  When I think of promotions, I think of events in conjunction with the promotion.  For example, if you host a fishing tournament at your marina, it may include some special rates on dockage during the tournament.  But you must look at the overall cost and return and not just at the reduced dockage revenue, you gave away.  On promotional events, I always look at the total income and expenses compared to not having the event at all before judging whether it was a success or failure.   

The fourth and most expensive element of a good marketing plan is paid advertising.  To the novice this can be a real turn-off.  Usually, at first glance anyway, it appears to be very expensive and hard to measure.  But there are a few tips that can help guide you in this area.   

First, know your market.  We have found that national advertising is not cost-effective for a marina except when your customer base is transient mega-yachts.  Even regional advertising provides a marginal return.  Your paid advertising should focus on your heaviest market concentration, not just the occasional customer.  If you decide to commit to paid advertising, plan to stay with it for a long period.  Consistency and repetition are the keys to success in paid advertising, and like the PR person who knows how to write a press release, engage someone to assist in laying out your ad.  Most publications will assist you with this task for a fee.  In paid advertising more often than not, the more that is said, the less effective the advertising.

I want to close with one observation, and that is that in this industry, it seems to be universal that when business takes a downturn, the first thing a marina operator does is stop marketing the marina.  This is the time you need to get your name out in front of potential and existing customers.  Don’t sell your marketing effort short.  Marketing is an ongoing process and not a single event, and the best way to measure, the success of your efforts is to ask every new person who comes through your door how they heard of you.  It will surely make preparing your next marketing plan easier, and you might be surprised at what you hear.

Dennis P. Kissman, president of Marina Management Services Inc. in Boca Raton, FL can be reached by phone at 561-338-5800 or via e-mail: dennis@marinamanagement.com.

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