Sea Ray's Direct, Database Campaign Goes Full Speed Ahead

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A national direct mail campaign launched earlier this year by pleasure boat manufacturer Sea Ray Boats Inc., based on a comprehensive database marketing system, has brought impressive results.


The promotion, called The Time of Your Life, was sent to 300,000 customers and prospects in January. It was mailed to the best Sea Ray boat owners -- those who have owned boats since the early 1990s -- as well as to every individual who contacted Sea Ray but had not bought a boat from the company within 18 months of the promotion's start date, and other prospects.


The campaign ran through March 31, and the company finished tabulating the results this month. The promotion offered a Tag Hauer watch to anyone who purchased a boat during the run of the promotion. The watch cost from $900 to $15,000 at retail; those who purchased a less expensive boat would get a less expensive watch, and a more expensive boat would bring a more expensive watch.


To reach customers and prospects, Sea Ray, Knoxville, TN, turned in part to its database, which includes information about Sea Ray's 250,000 boat owners. The database is maintained by Avala Marketing Group, St. Louis, a database marketing company that specializes in high-end recreation products marketed to affluent customers. Avala has been working with Sea Ray since 1997. Sea Ray also turned to dealer-supplied lists, lists of competitive boat owners and other sources.


"The promotion was fantastic; we sold a lot of boats," said Rob Noyes, vice president of marketing for Sea Ray. "We gave away a value-added item that added to our brand equity."


Noyes said that as of last week, 3,500 Time of Your Life cards were redeemed, though some people chose to take cash instead of the watch.


Sea Ray sends direct mail promotions to its customers and prospects regularly --and supplies its dealers with promotional material -- promoting a variety of events.


For example, Sea Ray and its dealers often run Demo Days, when customers and prospects are invited to marinas to try Sea Ray boats. They also promote Rendezvous events, where owners of Sea Ray boats get together at destinations such as the Bahamas, Lake Powell, AZ, or Newport, RI, and participate in boating activities and group dinners.


To target the right prospects or customers for these events -- such as those who have a high propensity to purchase a new boat -- Sea Ray also turns to its database and its prospecting program, called the Concierge Program, which also was developed by Avala.


Here's how the prospecting program works: Whenever customers or prospects enter or call Sea Ray or any of its dealerships and inquire about any of its boats -- or visit its Web site -- they are asked 10 questions with scores attached to them.


After customers or prospects answer the questions, they are given a value index -- called either the prospect value index or the customer value index -- which is based on the question scores and is determined by purchase triggers such as product need, product usage/frequency, product purchase timing, and product and category loyalty. The customer is scored on a basis of 1 to 100.


Customers, for example, are scored based on factors such as past ownership; the size of the boat they are looking for; whether they are interested in a new or used boat; the usage frequency and type; their proximity to water; and how often they use their boat, if they already have one. These scores are automatically tabulated and entered into Sea Ray's database. This information allows Sea Ray to gauge how interested customers are in Sea Ray boats -- or what type of boat they may be interested in.


The survey information is important because if customers say they live 700 miles from the water, they may buy a boat, "but we know that the chances are less likely that they will buy a boat because their need and ability to boat and to enjoy it is less -- versus someone who lives 40 miles from the water and fishes and water-skis regularly," said Steve Pizzolato, president of Avala.


The information is also key because several states, such as California and Illinois, have restricted markets from obtaining data on boat owners for marketing purpsoes, and Sea Ray's system allows the company to build a model that will show who are likely prospects without having to use this data.


Once the consumer receives a score, that drives a follow-up strategy using direct marketing based on that score.


"A higher value score, for example, is going to receive -- over a 180-day period -- a more aggressive direct effort, which can be print, e-mail, phone or a combination of all of the above," Pizzolato said.


Targeting the right group of people through direct mail to attend a Demo Day can bring significant results. Sea Ray said a dealer can sell about 30 boats during a Demo Day, which can equal $4 million to $5 million. This is particularly impressive when the cost of holding a Demo Day -- direct mail included -- is about $25,000.


"These events bring six or seven regional dealers … together with their customers to celebrate the boating lifestyle in a low-key way, but at the same time, customers check out boats that may be bigger than their boats and may get them thinking what it might be to operate something like that," Pizzolato said. "It keeps people in the boating lifestyle."
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