You may think you’re in the business of selling boats. Sure, the word is in your company’s name. Your bottom line relies on people paying you money for vessels they can take out on the water.

We’ll suggest, though, that you’re not really selling boats; you’re selling boating. The lifestyle. The feeling of being out with family and friends, of being part of a community of anglers and sailors and water-lovers. More important, you’re selling your brand’s unique version of the boating lifestyle. In other words, your culture.

We’re not talking about your internal company culture (though that’s important, too). We’re talking about culture as it applies to branding and marketing, which combines these three elements:

  1. The company’s higher calling. Where do your brand’s ideals come from? What vision did your company founders have beyond just building a product that doesn’t sink? Is the company built on a mission of conservation? Does it exist to help families spend time together and create memories? Is the goal to enable world-class sport fishing?
  2. The promise of quality. Brands with a strong culture commit themselves to building products with integrity, exceptional design and materials, and attention to detail.
  3. The values of the community. Enthusiasts want to align themselves with brands that share their values and promote a lifestyle they can personally relate to.

Why A Boating Brand’s Culture Matters

Culture is a differentiator.

Taken together, the three elements of culture are distinctly ownable for a brand. Lots of boating companies manufacture great products. But the higher calling and the community’s values differentiate one builder from another. Think about the different types of culture a boating brand may exhibit, whether it’s catch-and-release fishing, luxurious port-to-port sailing, family beach cruising, or laid-back weekend partying. Your brand’s culture sets you apart from other builders in your space.

Culture influences buying decisions.

It’s absolutely true that a prospect chooses a brand based on the end use of the boat: Experienced deep-water anglers will seek out a certain type of boat, and family cruisers will gravitate toward a different model. But at the same time, every prospect wants to align with a brand that values the same things and attracts other owners with similar interests. (The tendency to look at what others are doing when we have to make a decision is called “social proof,” and it’s a smart marketing tactic for boating brands.) Of course, the quality has to be there, too, but assuming equal quality, owners will choose the brand that simply feels right to them.

Culture engages owners.

Building a culture of boaters, recreationists and enthusiasts around your brand is key to retaining current owners when it comes time to make their next purchase. Does the brand support their values and vision for their recreational experiences? Do you communicate with them in an authentic way? Using social media to connect with your community of owners helps you understand how they’re using your products and hear what they value about the boating lifestyle.

Culture is internal, too.

We’ll bet that your front-of-house team — the folks who are designing, marketing, selling and talking about your products — are probably boating enthusiasts, too. It’s the nature of our industry: Companies are stocked with boating geeks who are out on their own vessels when they’re not in the office. The passion of those employees is fuel for your brand, and it rubs off on the prospects and owners they interact with every day.

Culture is a bit fluid.

At the end of the day, culture happens naturally and evolves over time. Others, like your owners and your brand ambassadors, help shape it.

How to Define Your Brand’s Culture

Your brand’s culture captures what you believe as a company, why you do what you do, how you build your products and who you build them for. If you haven’t taken the time to define your brand’s culture, use these questions to help guide you:

  • What is our larger goal, beyond building boats? What do we stand for? What is the vision our company is based on?
  • Why is what we do important to our owners?
  • How do our goals and values influence the way we make our products?
  • Who are our ideal owners? What’s the boating lifestyle they dream of? What’s important to them?
  • How do people outside our organization, including our brand ambassadors, our retail partners and others, enhance our vision?

Culture exists where your company, your products and your customers’ interests align.

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