Mark Duncan had some time on his hands. He’d spent a decade leading the marketing department at Yachting Partners International, and it would be months before he assumed the role of business development director at Fraser, this past October.
He used the free time to write a nearly 450-page book that reveals much of what ultra-high-net-worth clients have long paid those companies and others to tell them in private meetings, about the best ways to market and sell yachts everywhere from Monaco to Fort Lauderdale.
“I just found myself in a position of having three or four months of imposed gardening leave, and then another six months or so of doing consultancy,” says Duncan, who released “Smart Yacht Marketing 101” this past winter in hardcover and e-book formats. “For the better part of a year, I was neutral and not having to worry about sharing secrets.”
While the book is written primarily for industry brokers, its tips, tricks and suggestions for marketing brokerage and charter yachts likely will be useful to owners and captains as well. The chapters explain how great, good and below-average companies approach marketing and sales, giving readers insight into what the best brokers should be doing, and how to ask questions to find and work with those brokers.
As of mid-December, Duncan says, yacht owners entering the brokerage market with the right message had a good chance of finding buyers. The number of yachts 78 feet (24 meters) and larger sold in 2018 was higher than the number sold in 2017, which in turn was higher than 2016’s sales.
“With the exception of one or two years, ever since about 2009, the brokerage market has grown, on average, 14 to 17 percent a year,” Duncan says. “The pricing on boats is not dropping in any significant way, and the number of boats being sold is increasing, and the average size is hanging around about 37 to 39 meters [121 to 128 feet]. That’s healthy. Not only that, but when you look at many of the shipyards, they are not even taking orders until 2021. Is it a booming, wonderful market? I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s still growing, and there’s tons of room for growth.”
Selling a yacht in these or any other market conditions, Duncan says, is about far more than setting the right price. It doesn’t matter if a yacht is newer or older, in great shape or in need of a refit, or built to a custom pedigree or on a production line. With the right approach to figuring out a yacht’s unique selling points—really knowing what makes a boat special, and then marketing that message in the right ways—any yacht has just as good a chance as any other of finding eager buyers.
The trick for yacht owners, Duncan says, is working with brokers who are willing to put in the work that’s required to determine and properly package those unique selling points.
“Some companies don’t even have a marketing strategy that’s dedicated to a yacht. It’s one size fits all,” Duncan says. Experienced owners understand this and look to brokers who handle individual-yacht marketing better: “They want to know the strategy that is specific to their boat, and they want to know how the marketing techniques will reach out to and convert to buyers.”
Yacht owners, Duncan says, should look for brokers who know key statistics and trends, but who also realize that they always have something to learn about the particular boat in question.
“You want a broker who can prove to you that they don’t just know about the specifications of the yacht, but that they understand the inherent value and the inherent benefits of your particular boat, as it stands now, and as it may stand in the future with a refit,” he says. “They have to get your boat. They also have to understand the type of buyer who would most appreciate that value proposition.”
When a broker tries to land an owner’s business, Duncan says, the broker should be coming to the table with far more than a standardized presentation. Owners should look to see not only how well the broker is trying to market the specific yacht, but also how that message will fit in with the brokerage company’s overall marketing efforts.
“You want a broker who can show you a coherent marketing strategy for your yacht,” he says. “Not just, ‘We’ll put it on a website and in a catalog and reach out to our network of clients.’ You want to say, ‘OK, you’re going to put it on the website. Well, how do you promote your website? And how do you promote my boat on your website? How do you drive traffic to my boat’s page on your website? And how do you get clients from what you’re doing to drive traffic to my boat’s page on your website? And how often do you do these things for my boat on social media? And how often do you report to me about what you’re doing and whether it’s working?’”
The yacht industry suffers from a ‘gaping disconnect’ between sales and marketing. While marketing is often great for a brokerage company’s brand awareness, it’s not always ideal for selling a specific yacht.
Duncan’s book offers that level of detailed thinking about everything from using email and social media to taking effective marketing photos and creating compelling videos.
Many of the concepts, at their core, involve working with a broker who knows how to understand, and articulate, the detailed story that surrounds a yacht going up for sale.
“That’s what sells things today: Tell a story around the product,” Duncan says. “Very often, when you have somebody who’s looking to buy a boat and they’re talking to their family or friends, they’re not usually talking about the size or the make or the engine hours or the design. Very often, they’re saying, ‘Hey, you know what? This boat used to be owned by this famous person, and he took it here and he took it there, and he even had this or that on board.’ That’s what is getting them excited about the boat. You can’t tell those stories if you don’t know them and you don’t know what they’re supposed to be about.”
Marketing tips from ‘Smart Yacht Marketing 101’
- Yes, you still need all the basics, including a lengthy list of accurate yacht specs and a price that is appropriate for the market.
- Yes, you need a brochure, one that can be handed out in real life as well as shared online.
- Photograph the yacht, and its benefits. If, for instance, you’re selling an explorer yacht, then don’t photograph it in the South of France. Show it somewhere that other yachts can’t cruise, to highlight what makes it special.
- Video accounts for 74 percent of all internet traffic. Make a video of a photo compilation, interviews with captains or guests, a walkthrough of the yacht, or people using the gymnasium and cinema on board.
- Testimonials matter. Get quotes from people who know your yacht, talking about everything from the way you maintained it to the great time they had aboard it.
‘You want to say, “OK, you’re going to put it on the website. Well, how do you promote your website? And how do you promote my boat on your website? How do you drive traffic to my boat’s page on your website?”’ Advice for any owner choosing a sales broker
Brokerage Facts & Tips
- About 2,000 yachts 79 feet or longer are publicly or privately for sale at any time.
- The average length overall of yachts sold is about 118 feet (36 meters) and the average age is 11½ years.
- Before signing off on a marketing campaign, ask how it’s going to generate more business for your specific yacht, and whether that business is the type that you want right now.
- Every year, 338 yachts are sold on average, at an average final asking price of about $10.25 million.
- Can’t figure out your yacht’s selling points? Ask your captain, crew and charter clients to tell you about their experiences on board.
- Make sure your yacht’s marketing highlights unique selling points—what makes your yacht special—as opposed to communicating only general selling points such as size, range and builder.
For more information: smartyachtmarketing.com