By David Huntington
Marketing is a critical component in the success of all businesses, and marine fabrication is no different. You may be booked weeks in advance, but even established shops should include marketing in their annual business plan to continue to build “brand equity”—making your brand valuable to the customer. Strong brand equity improves customer confidence in the buying process. Examples of companies with strong brand equity are Amazon, Apple and Costco, to name just a few.
Make your brand stand out
Brand awareness is highly visual, which is why it’s important to use a professional logo in everything you do, including signs, business cards, trucks, uniforms and invoices. Make your logo something that pops. It should define your business and separate you from your competition. There are many resources for creating a logo and artwork for your business. One of my favorites is an online group of independent creatives at www.crowdspring.com.
Carry your brand into your online marketing efforts, including your website and social media accounts. Your website domain name should be easy to remember and similar to your business name or brand. Your email address should be your actual domain name, not a personal email address using a third-party hosting service like Gmail or Yahoo. For example, let’s say you secured the domain name www.mycanvasbiz.com. Your email should be something like email@example.com instead of firstname.lastname@example.org. As simple as this may seem, it separates the hobbyist from an established business in the eyes of the customer and it further defines your brand.
Active vs. passive marketing
There are many different ways to market your business in today’s digital world, and some of the most successful can be done for free with just a little time and effort.
Marketing basically falls into two categories: active and passive.
In “active marketing” you are driving the message and engaging directly with potential customers. You are establishing yourself as part of the community, whether it be online or in the actual boating community you are working in. Examples of active marketing include posting on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest; attending tradeshows and networking events; and handling calls and emails from customers who are shopping for services.
In “passive marketing” you are relying on your business website, press releases and paid advertising to get customers to reach out to you. While these things cost more up front, they create more of a long-term mass marketing effort that takes very little time overall to manage.
A good business website is key
Your company website is the backbone of your online presence. It showcases your brand and is the central hub for all your other marketing efforts. Invest the time and money to make it look good and function properly. If you can’t create and manage this yourself, hire someone who can. This could be an employee, a college student or a retiree who has the time and skills to periodically update the site on your behalf.
A few recommendations include:
• Make sure the site ownership is verified with Google™. Verification is the process of proving that you own the site you claim to own. Once you are verified for a site, you have access to its private Google Search data, and it can also affect how Google Search crawls the site.
• Make sure the site is optimized. Search engine optimization (SEO) can be tedious, but there are many things you can do for free to increase your ranking in search results. For starters, create content that people will want to see, as all search engines try to identify content that may have value to someone else. Properly naming photos and using third-party plugins, such as Yoast SEO, can also help (www.yoast.com).
• Create links to other resources. Reciprocal links tie all your marketing efforts together and help keep your website high in the search rankings, which helps customers find you. Include links to care and maintenance information on the social media platforms you use and link them back to your website.
• Include photos and articles. Customers browsing your website are looking for useful information and compelling content. They’ll click away too soon if there’s nothing of interest. Keep them on your site by adding a photo gallery of your projects, photos that showcase the beauty of your area, and blog posts related to boating, maintenance and things going on in the marine industry.
Use Facebook for business
Why use Facebook for business? Because it gives you access to 1.2 billion users, is an inexpensive way to gather leads and lowers your marketing expenses while reaching a targeted audience. It also builds loyalty with current customers, increases traffic to your website and makes your business mobile-ready.
Getting started is easy. Just create a business page and begin adding your business information, photos and content. Your posts and everything included in your site should be strictly business. Do not include things from your personal life or post anything political.
It’s OK to include posts about the community you work or boat in, or events or articles that other boaters would find interesting. Definitely cater to your target audience and post regularly!
Some examples of different types of posts include:
• photos of recent work
• upcoming boat shows
• care and maintenance tips
• professional development activities
• news articles promoting the upcoming season; e.g., “The lake has thawed!”
Boost your Facebook posts
Your posts generally reach a very small audience—that’s why it’s good to periodically “boost” posts. Boosting means paying a small fee to get your post out to a targeted audience. Why pay to boost? It increases visibility, keeps your brand fresh in followers’ minds and attracts new followers.
Convert likes to followers
Once people like your posts, invite them to follow your page. Click to see who has liked your post and then use the invite button to send them a message with an invitation to follow your page.
Be prepared for results
Be ready to handle inquiries. Your potential customers want your attention and if they don’t get it, they will often call someone else. Answer your phone and return calls promptly with a cheerful and positive attitude. If it’s not a convenient time to talk, get contact information, tell them when you will be calling back and follow up as promised.
All of these suggestions are easy, inexpensive ways to keep your brand equity strong. Keep in mind that even if you’re only open during the actual boating season, marketing is a year-round event.
David Huntington and his wife, Barbara, own River Custom Canvas LLC in Clayton, N.Y. The business was founded in 2014 and focuses on serving boaters in the 1000 Islands region of New York. David has 28 years of direct sales experience with a strong emphasis on marketing and lead generation.
Yelp is a great app used to find local businesses. Register your business for free and add a reciprocal link on your website to increase traffic. (biz.yelp.com)
- Your local chamber of commerce offers an inexpensive way to build awareness about your business. Add your business information on their website with a reciprocal link and take advantage of after-hours networking events to meet potential customers.
- Community newspapers and local free papers are inexpensive sources for a small advertisement, especially seasonally.
- Community bulletin boards are typically found in small grocery stores. Post your business cards on these boards; then check back and replenish your cards.
- Boat shows often take place in winter and early spring. Customers are primed to spend money for the upcoming season.
- Snap-on business cards are an effective way to leave your calling card when visiting marinas. Create cards on plastic translucent material that is weatherproof and add a snap-on button to the top corner. This makes it easy to snap onto boats when visiting marinas or working on neighboring boats.