Discover Boating Transforms to Sell the Boating Lifestyle

Discover Boating was launched by the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) almost 20 years ago. The overarching goal was simple—get more people boating. Since the early days, the platform has grown and evolved in line with changes in the recreational boating industry. As the number of boaters continues to grow, Discover Boating is again redefining how it operates and shifting a bit in its purpose.

A Boater’s Changing Face
While the arrival of the pandemic and the associated boom in boating has factored into the Discover Boating rehash, the plans to make significant changes were sparked with the arrival of NMMA’s new leader Frank Hugelmeyer. According to Ellen Bradley, chief brand officer for Discover Boating, Hugelmeyer came to NMMA after spending time working in the recreational vehicle industry where he saw the benefits and success of a marketing campaign targeted at the consumers touting the joy of the RV lifestyle instead of putting buying an RV at the forefront. GO RV-ing played a significant role in the growth in popularity of RV-ing and Hugelmeyer saw a similar opportunity for boating. “We have boat shows that are a huge asset, but they are all under different brands. Frank saw that we weren’t leveraging Discover Boating and that we should put the power of the brand behind the boat shows,” Bradley said.

As this thought process was underway, COVID-19 hit and the boating consumer changed by leaps and bounds. The Discover Boating team began researching how boater demographics overall changed, and more specifically what the next generation of boaters looked like. They worked to determine how the marine industry could meet their needs. Common threads were that those who showed an interest in boating or who were already boaters had an interest in the outdoors and the notion of the freedom that being outdoors presents. “We did a brand refresh to make sure we’re connecting with our target audience by capturing the emotions and experiences that boating brings–that freedom they can feel on the water. We’re no longer as focused on the boat, but boating. It’s not the products, it’s the joy on people’s faces, the pure delight of getting up on a wakeboard for the first time. That’s in our brand and even our logo which resonated strongly with the consumers we tested,” Bradley said.

Sharing The Boating Lifestyle
That concept of selling the boating lifestyle is exploding in 2022 as NMMA and the Marine Retailers Association of America (MRAA) are beginning to integrate Discover Boating into boat shows and other industry events starting with arguably the pinnacle of boat shows, the 2022 Miami International Boat Show. The event will give visitors a chance to see how Discover Boating can help them along every stage of the boating experience with educational materials, and tools to help customers learn to safely operate their vessel and learn about boat maintenance. They can also see how the Discover Boating platform can help them connect to other boaters and experts and begin to feel a part of a boating community. “We’ll bring the brand to the forefront of boat shows and talk to not just those we want to bring into boating, but also to those we want to retain—especially those first-time buyers. We’ll amplify the brand as a resource and community for a boater, no matter what stage they are in,” Bradley said.

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Industry Partners
While Discover Boating is predominantly a consumer-facing program that is led by the NMMA, marine industry businesses are part of the strategy. After forging a strategic partnership just over two years ago, NMMA has handed the industry-facing side of the equation to the MRAA under the auspices of the Discover Boating B2B. This program replaces what was formerly the Grow Boating campaign with the goal of ensuring buyers experience great products as well as business performance from exploration to purchase to storage to eventual maintenance and repair. Product and dealer certification programs are a part of this. A new library of images and resources will be available on the Discover Boating B2B page of the website and marine businesses will be encouraged to use them.

Bradley said those in the marine industry can help to amplify the Discover Boating brand as a resource and a community for boaters no matter what stage of boat ownership they are in. “The more businesses like marinas that echo the brand message, as easily as providing links on their websites or tagging on social media, the more they’ll be recognized by boaters as being part of this larger community. Supporting Discover Boating will add credibility and build connection with consumers as well as trust among boaters,” she said.

Bradley sees trust-building as a critical element. The industry is on a high with record numbers of new boaters, especially younger boaters taking to the water but she knows the marine industry is traditionally cyclical and as fast as it saw gains, it could experience loss. Matching newcomers with old salts to teach them the ins and outs of a day on the water, and ensuring access to the nation’s waterways are both important components to continued success. The NMMA’s advocacy team is always focusing on maintaining easy access to the water and passage of the infrastructure bill will further highlight that issue. But Bradley warned, “Across the longer term, if we don’t take care of the boaters we have and keep getting new ones, our population dwindles, and then access is no longer an issue.”

Keeping boaters happy remains a priority across the marine industry to ensure continued success. Discover Boating’s latest reiteration should stand as welcome news.