Boats sure are pretty. Though I might be a little biased (I’m a shallow water guy), in my humble opinion, there’s just about nothing sexier than the clean lines and uncluttered fishing platform a skiff offers. However, not everyone’s into stalking the backcountry in search of shallow water gamefish. Your idea of the perfect day on the water might be cruising the Intercoastal Waterway, skiing your local lake with friends and family or sailing to Barbados.

One thing is certain: no matter what type of boating excites you, there are many, many quality options to choose from. And as a manufacturer, I’m certain you’re pouring your heart and soul into the vessels your company designs and builds. After all, no one’s in this with the intention of building sub-par boats, which pale in comparison to your competitors’.

The question is: how does your brand measure up to the quality of boats that roll out of your factory?

In our experience, we see a good number of boating manufacturers who truly produce drop-dead-gorgeous, quality watercraft with upmost confidence in their products. Unfortunately, the branding just doesn’t communicate the same; which is a
shame, because these folks could be selling more boats.

Why Branding Matters for Boating Companies

First, let me start by saying that your brand is NOT your logo. That’s a bit of a misconception and while your logo is certainly an integral part of your visual brand, it is NOT your brand.
In his article ”
What is Brand, Anyway?“, Jerry McLaughlin, Forbes Contributer states:

“Put simply, your ‘brand’ is what your prospect thinks of when he or she hears your brand name. It’s everything the public thinks it knows about your name brand offering—both factual (e.g. It comes in a robin’s-egg-blue box), and emotional (e.g. It’s romantic). Your brand name exists objectively; people can see it. It’s fixed. But your brand exists only in someone’s mind.”

In other words, your branding and marketing (yes, your marketing is also a part of your “brand”) are everything you communicate to your audience – for better or worse.

But why does “branding” matter? And does it really have an effect your bottom line?

Your brand matters because it helps potential buyers understand and remember what’s unique about your company and its products. It tells your story, helps attract new customers, and keep the ones you already have. That’s a tall order, but that’s why brand matters!

Building a Brand With Purpose

Building a brand for your boating company that expresses your values, quality, and tells your story is equal parts branding and marketing. In fact, there’s a fine line between the two but they are not the same thing.

You could think of branding as being “who you are”, while marketing is how you build awareness with your audience. Branding is why. Marketing is how.

While I agree with Matt Sellhorst in his Boating Industry article entitled “The Myth of Branding” that “branding as a goal is a total waste,” you shouldn’t be lead to believe that branding itself is a waste of time or money. Branding alone should not be the end goal. Strategic activities implemented to gain qualified leads and understand the prospect’s mindset (marketing) should be the goal.

The sale of any product (boat or otherwise) would be a much tougher sale without a brand that separates itself from the competition, communicates quality, standards, longevity etc. Again, the brand is why. The marketing is how.

Both of which need to be in balance.

A Holistic Approach to Branding and Marketing

As the manufacturer, creating and cultivating a product’s brand is your responsibility. So is the development and execution of an overall marketing strategy that supports your brand and products – all the while, communicating everything that’s unique about your product offerings.

It can be extremely helpful when considering your marketing and branding to take a more holistic approach to the two, thinking of them as one cohesive unit, interdependent on one another.

We like to think of this interdependence as creating a complete “marketing ecosystem,” which includes your overall branding, along with both in-bound and out-bound marketing techniques. And at the center of your ecosystem is your website – the one place you have a captive audience and can truly tell your story.

By thinking of your brand and marketing strategy in terms of building a functional ecosystem, you can better consider how the two relate and support one another. This approach communicates a brand that’s as strong as the boats and marine products you make.

A Brand Audit is the Best Place to Start

If you’re not familiar with the term “brand audit”, think of it as a comprehensive “checkup,” for the health and vitality of your brand. Whether performing a formal documented process or taking an impromptu
inventory of your brand, the purpose is the same: assess where your
brand stands today, and how its elements work together.

The idea behind a brand audit is to collect all of your marketing and branding elements in one place and then review the collection to identify strengths, weaknesses, inconsistencies etc – in an objective manner. Often, we find we’re so close to our own brand and collateral that we forget to look at it all together and determine if the “whole” works.

In addition, it can be helpful to pull other members of your organization (as well as trusted partners and customers) who aren’t routinely involved in marketing into the process. Often, these are the folks you get the best feedback from as they’re not as close to the projects as you might be.

A brand audit is often where you’ll see the gaps between the products you manufacture and what your branding & marketing communicate about them.

I’ve written a more comprehensive article about brand audits if you’re interested.

Build a Brand as Great as Your Boats & Products

It’s an easy trap to fall into as a manufacturer – putting so much emphasis on building quality boats and products that you fall behind on cultivating a brand that best supports them. We see it a lot and surely you know of at least a handful of manufacturers who build much better boats than their marketing shows. Maybe you see that in your own brand.

My advice is to take a step back to look at your brand from a 1,000 foot view and consider if it’s truly representative of your products. If not, it’s time to get to work.


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