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Inbound Marketing, Meet Inboard Engine

by Peter Schrappen

$180 billion. That amount is the grand total spent by advertisers in the United States in 2015, according to statista.com. If you do the math, $180 billion is $553 spent per United States resident. Whew, that would buy a lot of diesel! Mind blowing, and to think about how much of that money is wasted should give you pause. When was the last time you watched a live TV show? Flipping on the tube is getting rarer and rarer. Compound that lack of TV watching with the birth of the remote control in 1955, and it’s increasingly bewildering why such large companies would spend so much money with so much uncertainty with regards to their return on investment. Next time, just send me a check for $553 and I’ll give you all the attention you need.

Fortunately, a new marketing strategy is taking hold both in the United States and around the world that is helping the Pacific Northwest pro-boating community and maritime industry: inbound marketing. It’s an approach that puts the consumer, not the company/salesperson, at the center of the buyer’s journey. By making the consumer the center of the relationship, a transformation occurs that results with buyers seeking out information, and ultimately products, as they leverage their purchasing power. I spent some time in December of 2016 getting certified in the inbound-marketing philosophy online.

Why is a pro-boating nut and lobbyist like me checking out an online sales and marketing course? If you’ve read my previous columns, then you know that sales and marketing are the cornerstones of any lobbying effort. Just look at the components of the “inbound marketing buyer’s journey” as it relates to boating issues, and hopefully these truths become self evident. When it comes to the political arena, it is the lawmakers who are the customers and everything flows around them in a manner that respects how they like to receive information.

If you don’t like getting cold-called during dinner, spammed about a new product, or talked down to at a doctor’s office, you are no different than your state senator or two state representatives. Like them, we, their constituents/salespeople, need to provide appropriate context and content to make the pitch.

The first step in inbound marketing is to “attract strangers” with blogs and social media posts. At this stage, the future customer has no idea that a solution like Product X exists. To “close” the deal would be inappropriate in this infant “education phase.” An example of how inbound marketing and “attracting strangers” relates to boating is the Meet Your Candidate forum that brought the two candidates for the head of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) together in October, 2016 organized by the Northwest Marine Trade Association (NMTA) and Recreational Boating Association of Washington. The attendees at this event educated the candidates on key boating facts (like the $4 billion economic impact recreational boating had in 2016) with open-ended questions, and the candidates offered the public a framework as to their respective points of view. You could say we were customers in that situation too, shopping around for the right DNR leader. Keep in mind that the head of the DNR is the landlord for the 2.4 million aquatic acres in our state. The DNR is the real owner of the “land” upon which our marinas and boatyards sit.

After the strangers (in this case Hilary Franz and Steve McLaughlin) were attracted to us via the forum, it was time to move the process along. While inbound marketing is certainly web-centric, an important distinction is that politics are more people-focused than internet-centered. I set up a lunch with Hilary Franz and a prominent member of NMTA to strike home a simple message: Marinas and boatyards are lynchpins of the working waterfronts. Non-boaters see white fiberglass. Boat owners see gems that rely on small business for upkeep and repair. These marine trades are a critical aspect of many economies around the state. That pro-business message resonates and hopefully provided a chance for some “I never thought of your issues that way” moments.

Franz won the vital race for the head of the DNR and will be sworn in on January 11, 2017. In inbound marketing terms, she’s transitioned from stranger to visitor to a lead to a customer, and now the time has arrived for boaters to “delight” her (Commissioner-elect Franz) so she can turn from a “customer” to a “promoter.” How great would that be? Promotion is the ultimate goal. Any interest group (defined as having lobbying representation in Olympia in this case) needs a handful of champions to promote said interest group’s legislative agenda.

Time will tell what type of leader Franz will be for the Pacific Northwest boating community. What I can tell you is that she is pulling together the right team and asking the right questions. Just yesterday, she met with key principals from the Washington Public Ports Association, NMTA (okay, me), the Recreational Boating Association of Washington, and marina lease-holders to ensure that she gets off on the right foot. The brutally honest conversation focused on the previous (and disappointing) regime, and then the conversation segued to areas we can collaborate and rely on each other to ultimately make her succeed as the steward of so many aspects of the recreational boating industry. I’m not sure if we “delighted” her, but she now knows where we are coming from and that we will be with her all along this journey, looking for the right times to make the “sale.”

If you want to look into the inbound marketing strategy for yourself, free courses are offered on Hubspot (academy.hubspot.com).

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