Marketing strategies for growth: Creating a competitive advantage with your marketing

By David Gee

Do you make – and sell – boats, or family memory-making machines? Are you focused on turning glass into cash, or do you see your role as something loftier, such as playing a part in improving people’s mental health, or reducing stress in demonstrable ways?

When I was at the recent Miami International Boat Show I ran into a long-time industry acquaintance who has spent the last 30 years developing websites and marketing platforms of various kinds for dealers and manufacturers in the recreational boating industry.

He saw that I was going to be in Dallas the following week speaking about creating emotional connections with content. He asked for some details.

I told him that in my presentation I would opine that too much of our marketing and messaging lacks context and contrast, that it focuses on brand positioning rather than differentiation, and that it’s informational and not persuasive. Too many features and specs and not enough storytelling I concluded.

He told me it wasn’t always this way, at least not in the recreational boating industry. He said back around 1999 – 2000 every dealer and manufacturer he would encounter across the country would say things like “We don’t sell boats. We sell fun!” After kind of gazing off into the distance for a beat, he turned back to me and said, “I’m not sure why we got away from that type of messaging, but we did.”

What the science says


Research in neuroscience tells us reasons lead to conclusions, while emotions lead to actions. And every single decision we make, including every buying decision certainly, is rooted in – and driven by – emotion.

And what buying decision is more emotional – and discretionary – than buying a boat? Especially when you have to wait for one.

So why in most sales and marketing interactions and touches, are we trying to inundate the left brains of our prospects and customers with data and specs and stats and reasons they should buy from us, when it’s their right brain that is going to do the buying?

You can’t reason your way to a sale. You won’t get the prospect or customer to simply “conclude” you offer the best features or the most value or the best buying experience. You instead have to make an emotional connection for a buying decision to occur. And we do that with stories.

Stories take the conversation away from data and facts, away from processing and organizing, away from skepticism and transactions. Bake that into your content. You are unique. And that’s the ultimate differentiator.

Author Daniel Pink wrote in A Whole New Mind that abstract analysis is easier to understand when told through the lens of a well-chosen story.

“Stories represent a pathway to understanding that does not run through the left side of the brain,” Pink offers. “We have a hunger for what stories provide – context enriched by emotion, a deeper understanding of how we fit in and why that matters.”

He also says that stories can be differentiators for businesses, a vital way for brands to distinguish their products in a crowded marketplace.

“The information society has enormous consequences for how we work and live,” continues Pink. “When facts become so widely available and instantly accessible, each one becomes less valuable. What begins to matter more is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact.”

Setting the context 

What percentage of your marketing and messaging is focused on the solution (a boat), rather than the problem (stress!)?

Think of all those leaf gutter guard products we see advertised. They also show a problem-centered present, contrasted with a solution-centered future. Their solution obviously.

This is you before…climbing on ladders, and maybe falling off the roof God forbid, fumbling around in a dangerous spot on a Saturday afternoon when you have better – and safer – things to do.

And this is you after, with their solution, not going on the roof to clean your gutters.

Value is created in the before and after transformation. What are your customer’s struggles? How can you help? What does their world look like with you and without you?

Your boat buying customer or prospect might be concerned about their own mental health, the mental health of their kids, how much time they are spending on screens, or perhaps they feel like the only interaction they have with their kids is to “yell at them” to get them to do something.

A boat and an afternoon at the lake can change that as we all know! How about instead of telling them to put their phone down and go outside you’re already outside and their friends are using their phones to video your kids surfing, wakeboarding or tubing?

Position your solution in terms of how it solves a problem. Hey look, we get it. These are stressful times we are living in, as a person or parent, and we have a cure for what ails you! Life is better on a boat, right?!

Translate a problem into a solution. Set the context, show you understand the problem and that you can fix it, then demonstrate the value.

We must always show we know, understand, appreciate, empathize and respect our audience better than anyone. And when we do that, our marketing and messaging stands out. And that is a competitive advantage.   

David Gee is a communications consultant, keynote speaker and former editor-in-chief of Boating Industry.

Marketing strategies for growth: Creating a competitive advantage with your marketing

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