One of the biggest challenges faced by the superyacht industry to date has been bringing in clients who haven’t experienced, or who don’t have knowledge of, yachting. It is the experiential facet of ownership – the emotional enjoyment of owning a yacht and all the things you can do with it – that some brokers think needs to be capitalised upon in the marketing and selling process in order to bring more clientele into the industry.
“We spend a lot of time marketing the product,” says Jamie Edmiston, chief executive of Edmiston & Company. “Most yacht adverts are based on the product, whereas we are perhaps failing to excite people by the emotional experience and the enjoyment they can take from visiting and exploring different parts of the world with their family and friends. We have to drive the market a little bit more using the experience, as the product is simply a vehicle to allow them to gain that enjoyment.”
The established thinking that superyacht brokerage and marketing processes should focus predominantly on the product is partly down to buyers and would-be buyers generally being already well informed and, as such, looking specifically for product information. “This buyer demographic isn’t often a new entry into the superyacht market and therefore doesn’t need to be tempted by the experience,” advises Alev Karagulle, director of marketing and communications at Burgess.
Karagulle admits that product-marketing materials in brokerage can often be of poor quality or incomplete, and the priority should always be to improve these rather than to introduce the experiential element. “A degree of experiential marketing in certain mediums and environments for the brokerage process can extend the reach of a sales campaign, but it’s viewed as a non-essential extravagance without a measurable ROI,” she explains.
Cromwell Littlejohn, sales broker at Northrop & Johnson, adds that another issue with experiential marketing in the superyacht industry is that it is virtually impossible to describe or simulate the experience of ownership or charter. “It’s one of the sweetest rewards for the successes of those fortunate enough to experience it,” he explains. “Offering extended trials to truly experience all yachting has to offer isn’t in the current bag of marketing tools; superyacht charter provides the best alternative.”
While Littlejohn admits it would be fantastic if the industry could handpick groups of UHNWIs and find a yacht to use in their location and time of choice, it’s not realistic. The company has, however, had numerous ownership prospects charter a yacht with the charter fee agreed on to be credited towards purchase. For him, this ‘try before you own’ premise is as close as the industry is likely to see experiential selling go for the time being.
Experiential selling, however, can be interpreted in a number of ways. Karagulle believes that the notion can be more effectively applied to the marketing of charters, and this shift has already occurred over the last decade. Twelve years ago Burgess launched the annual Burgess Superyacht Living and Style magazine, with the specific aim of establishing a platform for showcasing the many facets of the superyacht lifestyle.
“It was a bit of a wild card, as this hadn’t been attempted before, but the publication has seen tremendous traction and we are now preparing our thirteenth edition,” she says. “While the focus is predominantly on the charter experience, tactical spin-offs do extend to brokerage and new builds. Marketing is more complex nowadays and the experiential approach has to work cohesively with product marketing in order to achieve commercial objectives.”
For OCEAN Independence, the key driving force behind owning a superyacht has altered, and as such so has the marketing strategy. “For the ultra-wealthy, there has been a seismic shift from ‘what you own’ to ‘what you do’ over the last five years; life on board a superyacht allows clients to enjoy the best of these two worlds,” comments the marketing team. “The interest of owning, chartering or building a superyacht is growing in line with the demand for the ultimate in experiential luxury.”
Littlejohn agrees that there has been a shift in the way that potential clients think and, in turn, how superyachts are marketed. “It’s likely the shift will continue to slide towards ‘lifestyle marketing’, which is, in essence, based on experiential marketing,” he explains. “Postage-stamp-size photos plastered in boating magazines are being replaced, or supplemented, by dedicated vessel pages, videos are popping up everywhere, and the sterile photography that was once the norm in yacht marketing is being replaced with carefully staged photography.”
Karagulle trusts that this type of selling does produce results. “A number of years ago we signed a 70m new build for sale and charter, and the owner was very marketing savvy, in that a full suite of marketing materials were commissioned to encompass both product and lifestyle content to support both campaigns – the yacht sold within three months,” she describes. “If done well, experiential marketing is expensive to capture and budgets are usually quite lean, so by and large the superyacht industry’s lifestyle marketing is light years behind other luxury industries and frequently doesn’t reflect the price point of the product.”
The larger brokerage houses are certainly investing in initiatives to introduce the appeal of superyachts to a wider audience of UHNWIs, both in traditional and new markets globally. However, the acquisition of new clients is not an overnight process and the success ratio isn’t high. The marketing approach to those unfamiliar with yachting is becoming increasingly experiential and, complemented by a push towards chartering, should begin to provide reward.
Images courtesy of Burgess and Northrop & Johnson