Big boat at the ocean with Gene Moran logo.

Knowing Your Customer

It’s no secret to the readers that I am an avid boater and always enjoy the opportunity to attend the larger boat shows. I have clients in the marine industry who also do crossover business in the federal space: USN, USCG, USA, Offshore Support Vessels, etc. Superyachts, those above roughly 100 feet in length, share many standard systems with smaller government-owned vessels. Beneath the shiny white surfaces lay many of the same hull, mechanical, and electrical systems. While attending the recent Fort Lauderdale Boat Show, known colloquially as FLIBS, I observed a level of customer understanding from which any business development or sales team could learn. Defense trade shows could also learn a thing or two.

In 2020 while the global pandemic was raging, the marine industry sold almost half a million yachts. A boat is a boat until about 35’ in length. Yachts are roughly 35’ to 100’ in length. 2020 was a record year for boat, yacht, and superyacht ownership changes, both new build and brokerage boats (the industry doesn’t use the word “used”). If you were to order a yacht in 2020 or 2021, the backlog is such that you’ll have to wait two-plus years. Many boat owners of more accessible-sized boats and yachts took advantage of the hot market and traded up while commanding high prices. Superyacht supply was completely exhausted in 2020.

As we enter a post-COVID trade show era, we should challenge industries to adopt some FLIBS practices and re-think the trade show experience to make the experiences richer, more satisfying for the real customers, and ultimately a more profitable… Share on X

The Robb Report, describing FLIBS activity this year, identified one superyacht brand reporting they had “a billionaire every few hours” during the 5-day show. How many billionaires are there in the world? This industry knows because The Superyacht Group and The Superyacht Report track and report this data. The industry also knows that yacht ownership is an emotional condition and that many yacht owners know of and aspire to even more capable vessels. Said differently, we all have boat envy and follow the leaders to a degree. Like any buyer, we want the best within our budget.

How to Effectively Attract the Narrowest Slice of a Consumer Population

Citing a Deloitte report from 2019, the yachting industry knows that only 3 percent of billionaires own large yachts. The industry might love to see that number grow to 10 percent or more, but recognizes a movement to 4.5 percent would dramatically shift the market. So how does this industry attract this narrowest slice of a consumer population so effectively? Here are a few observations that I believe can cross over to any industry.

  • They don’t just sell their yachting products at boat shows. They sell a lifestyle. At the largest boat shows, it’s not just boats for sale. In multiple colors and finishes, you can sit in an exotic car, like a Lamborghini or McLaren. Personal security companies demonstrate their tools of trade, equipment, and practices, highlighting services unique to people who travel and live in a unique style. You can see helicopters and personal submarines that may or may not fit on your yacht. Visitors may also tour the largest and most luxurious recreational vehicles.
  • The show’s programming allows attendees access to experts who aren’t there to sell, but to educate and inform. There are public and private panels, seminars, and meetings where boaters can learn from experts how to operate more safely and extend their boating travels to further reaches.
  • The events are fun. Food, music, and drink are plentiful and allow the visitors to take a break and reflect on what they might have just seen. The show’s structure also allows visitors to see the show in the company of others, such as business partners or extended family.
  • The industry associations collaborate with the show producers and the local community in assuring equitable access to the show for all vendors. There are events within the main event spread throughout the show grounds and show schedule. The US Superyacht Association does an outstanding job offering a combination of these things with relevant programming, meeting areas, gathering events, meals and receptions, and awards recognition.
  • The industry recognizes its own. Before the show begins, boatbuilders bring new boat types to market and compete for the best of the show by category. The process generates interest, goodwill, and sales. Manufacturers showcase new technologies with enthusiasm for the industry’s advancement instead of identifying winners over losers.
  • The show runs like clockwork, and the logistics to make that happen are not simple. Since the show covers miles of waterfront and multiple sites, including a convention center, the movement of people is critical. Shuttles, water taxis, traffic management, excellent signage, a quality mobile app, and qualified support staff are on full display.  The investment in a great experience contributes to the favorable environment for an intense sales event.

FLIBS generates an annual economic impact for the Fort Lauderdale area equivalent to that of multiple Super Bowls. COVID dealt a particularly tough blow to trade shows and the hospitality industry at large. As we enter a post-COVID trade show era, we should challenge industries to adopt some FLIBS practices and re-think the trade show experience to make the experiences richer, more satisfying for the real customers, and ultimately a more profitable investment.

In January, I will again attend the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). It is also the largest of its type in the world. I will report the experience, but I know from the pre-show communication already, its focus on the customer experience will be superb.

If you are interested in complimentary access to a group of professionals who share your goal of success in the federal space in The Big Top, reach out to me by email with the subject line: “The Big Top.” An invitation-only, online forum, The Big Top is where topical federal issues, useful federal engagement tips, and proven better practices can help fuel your understanding and success working toward improved federal sales.

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