Sport as social activity: We see this in a lot of outdoor pursuits. Mountain bikers gather for rides on the weekend, and they end up hanging out together. Hikers meet up for an early morning route and then grab coffee afterward. The same thing happens in boating. People go out to a sand bar, park their boats, hang out, have a few drinks and cook out. Boating, fishing, paddling — they’re more of a social scene than a solitary activity.
So it’s natural that boating brands make these social gatherings happen. Since they’re naturally inclined to gather anyway, boat owners especially love attending events with others who share their passion for a particular brand.
Owner-specific events such as fishing tournaments, sailing regattas, water ski/wakeboard tournaments, owners rendezvous and the like are powerful ways to support the community and culture of your brand. They’re also effective sales efforts, retaining existing customers and attracting prospects who seek to become part of the group.
One-day or weekend, competitive or not, elegant or casual, the type of event you host is limited only by your imagination — and, of course, your budget. Planning and pulling off a great owners event takes time, effort and promotion. But if you build and sell boats — and you want to build and sell more of them — then events should absolutely be part of your marketing efforts.
We recommend that boating brands host at least one annual event, ideally two, along with other activities like demo days and event sponsorships. Depending on your owner base, you might expect around 100 people to turn out for a fishing tournament or similar event. Owners events carry a pretty wide budget range, from a couple thousand dollars for a simple, one-day meetup to upward of $10,000 for an extravagant weekend with a competition, dinner and entertainment. Don’t shy away from charging admission for your brand events, particularly for tournaments, which may have tiered pricing for the competition, family activities, an award dinner and the like. If your brand supports a nonprofit organization, consider adding a fundraising component (such as a silent auction) to your event.
10 Tips for Planning & Executing a Great Boat Owners Event
1) Allocate internal resources
Designate a point person responsible for planning, coordination and event management. This event leader should assign tasks to others on the team and enlist an outside agency for help with marketing communications, swag and signage design.
2) Align with your brand
Your owners events should look and feel like your brand’s culture and personality and reflect what you promise to your owners. For example, if the majority of your owners are fly fishermen, they’re likely catch-and-release anglers who are conservation minded. Your brand’s fishing tournament should follow that ethos.
3) Match the event with owner interests
Similarly, the event should mesh with your owners’ interests. Each different style of boat attracts different types of people and creates a community with a unique vibe. So if you’re selling pontoon boats, don’t host an event that’s super competitive but rather make it family-friendly.
4) Add a competition — or not
If you sell center-console offshore boats, your events should revolve around a tournament; what else would your owners want to do but fish and compare catches? Build cabin cruisers? Maybe your event is an easy 30-mile trip down the Intercoastal that ends in a meetup at a marina.
5) Choose the location
While some die-hard fans of your brand will trailer and travel, you should locate your event so it’s accessible to the majority of owners. Beyond geographical location, though, consider the site: It should deliver on your owners’ expectations, whether it’s an inland lake or an upscale Bahamas resort. Choose a place that can accommodate the group with enough slips, rooms or campsites and related amenities.
6) Create special events/activities
Spouses are usually OK with just hanging out, but you’ll need to keep kids busy with activities like knot-tying or casting lessons. Enlist your brand ambassadors to do signings or workshops.
7) Work with lodging/catering
For larger weekend events, you’ll need to arrange room blocks with discounts for attendees, choose catering menus and plan other onsite logistics. The earlier your event leader can begin working with hotel or restaurant managers, the better.
8) Promote, promote, promote
Email outreach to your owners list is the strongest way to market your event, since you should already be regularly communicating to your existing list. Social media marketing reaches not just owners but also your entire community of followers. They’ll see that the brand hosts really cool events, and they’ll want to be part of the excitement.
9) Execute flawlessly
During the event, it’s all hands on deck for your brand team to make sure it goes smoothly. Yes, your staff may want to be out fishing in the tournament, but this isn’t the time — there are lots of details to attend to.
10) Share the event on social in real time
Your team should post live from the event on Instagram and Facebook using your brand’s handle and a special event hashtag. Encourage participants to do the same. If you’re hosting a fishing tournament, you can even use social media as the platform for recording catches. Give participants a ruler and a marker (like a playing card) to photograph and document their catches with the event hashtag.
Hosting special events for your owners isn’t just a fun thing to do; it’s an effective sales tool. Boat owners generally look to upgrade every five years or so, so keeping them engaged and reminding them how fun your product is ensures that they’ll stick with your brand when it’s time to buy again.