A more honest message
How marketing and messaging can evolve to express character and engender honesty. We speak to Heesen's new marketing director…
Following the announcement that Mark van Heffen will be joining Heesen as their new marketing director as of 1 September, SuperyachtNews speaks with van Heffen about the next step in superyacht marketing and messaging, as well as exploring how the industry and media must be more willing to accept fair criticism and commentary.
“Stepping into this world, the overall challenge is to make this business a little bit more exciting and to make it more attractive for younger clients, new entrants and new target groups,” starts Mark van Heffen, marketing director at Heesen. “I think the superyacht industry has much more to offer than we currently communicate. Future potential target groups are also expecting new and interesting and we need to reflect this with more exciting marketing and communications.”
While marketing and messaging has undeniably shifted in recent years towards a more experience-based model, it could be argued that this shift has been relatively homogenous. How then can the market, especially the superyacht builders, develop more unique marketing languages?
“When you look at yachting language throughout the years, there hasn’t really been a strong evolution. When you look at the language, the feel and the tone of voice, the whole umfeld feels conservative,” continues van Heffen. “We use the same terms, the same colours, the same type of photography and the same type of filming. When you look at the press releases throughout the years, they have all basically said the same thing.”
One of the frustrations that SuperyachtNews has long held when it comes to the provision of press information from the market has been the formulaic and predictable nature of it. Indeed, any one of our experienced journalists could write the press release for a new concept or project with their eyes closed. There will be mention of floor to ceiling windows, panoramic views, oneness with the ocean and any number of design superlatives that describe essentially the same thing. Indeed, hearing such an admission from a marketing director at a major shipyard is a breath of fresh air.
“The terms we use in our language like elegance, heritage, sophisticated, quality and so on, you could play bingo with. The market could be more straightforward and compact in its messaging. I am not saying we need to adopt street slang, because we are still a luxury market, but we could do with less of the superlatives. We need to find fresher more dynamic ways to communicate. We need to build character. Current marketing language tells the client what we do, not who we are,” explains van Heffen.
Van Heffen supports a style of marketing and communication that is more honest in its messaging. For as long as it has existed the superyacht industry has sold the dream. While this was suitable for a time, marketing and branding has evolved. Many clients, according to van Heffen, no longer trust inauthentic perfection. The image of the perfect family on the back of a superyacht enjoying a glass of rosé no longer reflects what the superyacht experience about. Families and experiences are not always perfect, they are flawed, humorous and sad even at times, and yet these things are what connect people together. That being said, negative messaging is not required, rather the market should be presenting a positive reality, rather than inexistent perfection.
“We communicate a lot about families, but we do it in a very artificial way. It doesn’t feel genuine, it feels stale. But also, from the side of the magazines, when you read articles from the past and articles today you still see the same language and perspectives. I think the industry can become more critical towards each other and challenge each other moving forward,” comments van Heffen.
While SuperyachtNews prides itself on being far more critical and analytical than its competitors, generally speaking, van Heffen is right. Many businesses in the superyacht industry conduct themselves in such a way that one would be forgiven for believing that they had a codified right to not be criticised in any public format. In the instances where fair criticisms are levelled the responses from the businesses in question tend to be swift and disproportional to the commentary.
“One of the challenges we face as an industry is showcasing our quality and service. Our products and services must be of the highest level across every dimension of the market. However, we are not in an industry where client feedback is public, unlike for cars, hotels, restaurants and so on. In these industries you will find feedback online,” says van Heffen. “In our case, we hear feedback, but it is not public. In that sense, we are not very transparent.”
The engrained secrecy and faux positivity that exists within the superyacht market has a negative impact on the client. Without honest appraisals publicly available, they are almost entirely reliant on word of mouth feedback, which has enabled below par businesses to be more competitive than they otherwise should be, while the market’s top performers have struggled to separate themselves, at times, from the competition. A more critical and fair media landscape can only be for the long-term betterment of the industry and SuperyachtNews provides such a platform for all commentators who are willing to honestly appraise the market.
Where marketing and messaging is concerned, the superyacht industry has been going through the motions. While small changes have occurred over the year they have occurred throughout the market with almost no differentiation. With van Heffen laying down the gauntlet, let us hope this signal a shift towards a newer and more exciting form of marketing and messaging that challenges the superyachting norms, builds brand character and excites new clients.
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