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The Art of Boat Show Marketing: Tips for Exhibiting and Networking

by Kavya Sebastian

From IBEX to the American Boating Congress and everything in between, there are dozens of consumer and industry boat shows that help marine businesses create unmatched recognition and authority. 

However, attending a trade show is a significant investment for your business – and you should treat it like one. Sure, showing up with your booth and some boats is a fun time for you and your potential customers, but that’s also what your competitors are doing.

To stand out from the crowd and make a difference in your business, boat show marketing is key. As a full-service digital marketing agency with experience in trade show marketing, we recommend a strategic mix of booth design, pre-show marketing, and email + social media marketing.

Read on to set yourself up for success at your next boat show:

Setting Clear Goals

Attending a boat show isn’t something to do just because everyone else is doing it. You need to understand what’s at stake for your business! 

Whether you’re aiming to boost sales, educate about a new boat model, or strengthen customer relationships, defining your objectives is crucial. Ask yourself:

  • Are you there to build brand awareness, network, or establish new partnerships?
  • Are we aiming to increase sales, generate leads, launch a new product, or build brand awareness?
  • Are you targeting existing customers, potential clients, distributors, or industry influencers?

Knowing your mission sets the course for your entire boat show experience.

Once you’ve identified your goals, quantify them. Maybe it’s a target number of units sold, gross sales, contacts made, or some other measurable metric. Align these numbers with your overarching business goals and set up some type of tracking system with your team. This will ensure accuracy before, during, and after the show.

With well-defined goals and a strategic approach, you’ll not only sail through the show but also leave a lasting impression.

Maximizing Networking Opportunities

Of course, in addition to selling and marketing, boat shows are great networking opportunities. To maximize the effectiveness of your team being there, take a proactive approach by reaching out to key contacts and prospects in advance. 

This means identifying who you want to connect with and why so you can have targeted and meaningful conversations that lead to real business relationships.

Consider hosting networking events or social gatherings before or after. Pre-show or after parties are a great way to create a casual, organic setting for building genuine relationships. Moreover, it creates strong brand awareness for your business and allows attendees to connect with you in a more relaxed environment.

Be sure to also follow up post-show to solidify your new connections. Promptly reaching out to the contacts you made and expressing your interest in continuing the conversation is a great way to set yourself up for success – whether that’s future collaborations, campaigns, or partnerships.

By diligently networking at boat shows, you can turn a marine trade show into a goldmine of opportunities for your business.

Designing an Eye-Catching Booth

At the end of the day, we are all visual creatures. A beautiful, eye-catching display is sure to grab attention. Therefore, the importance of visual appeal cannot be overstated when it comes to designing your booth for a boating trade show. 

At Champ, we have extensive experience designing trade show marketing materials for many industries, including boating and marine. We can help you use vibrant, on-brand colors, create compelling graphics, and design striking imagery to turn heads.

Incorporating branding elements seamlessly into your booth design is crucial for reinforcing brand identity. Consistency in color schemes, logos, and messaging across banners, displays, and promotional materials helps create a cohesive and memorable brand experience.

Attendees should instantly recognize and associate your booth with your brand, but it should also stand out from the sea of competitors around you. 

For this reason, we recommend incorporating hands-on product demonstrations, touch-screen displays, or interactive experiences to captivate attendees. The more experiential your booth, the more likely it is to leave a lasting impression.

Designing an eye-catching booth is a strategic blend of visual appeal, brand reinforcement, interactive engagement, and thoughtful planning. When executed effectively, your booth becomes a magnet for attendees, drawing them in and leaving a memorable imprint that extends beyond the trade show floor.

Pre-Show Promotion and Marketing Strategies

Here’s the deal: if you’re sitting there twiddling your thumbs, expecting attendees to miraculously sense your booth’s magnetic charm, think again! 

While it’s great to attend the show armed with a plan, it’s equally important to create some buzz with your audience and industry beforehand as well. 

Here are some pre-show promotion and marketing strategies to help make your next boating show a success:

Leveraging Social Media

If a tree falls in the forest and no one’s there to Instagram it, did it even make a sound? Nowadays, people would argue not.

Teasers and announcements on social media leading up to the event are a great way to engage your audience about the show before it even happens. Again, it’s a large investment for your business, so maximizing the potential of your booth traffic through digital marketing is a great way to build anticipation.

Use countdowns, interactive posts, and other social media outlets to make some noise about your booth and let your audience know you’re there to make some waves.

Strategic Email Campaigns

Similar to using social media, it helps to shout from the rooftops – or in this case, from your inbox – about your attendance at an upcoming boat show. Marketing your business and booth through email is a personal way to touch base with key contacts and potential customers. 

Whether you send a blast to your existing mailing list or create a strategic sequence based on exhibitor or attendee contact lists, you can remind your audience that you’ll be at the show and encourage them to add you to their must-see list. 

Email marketing for boat shows is also a great way to share more information about your booth activations. From hosting fun contests to interactive activities, you can build excitement for the event and your business.

Utilizing Official Boat Show Channels

You know the whole thing about working smarter, not harder? Well, good news is you can do that when you attend an official boat show. 

While organic marketing on your own channels is highly recommended, there are also plenty of paid advertising options available when you sign up for an advertising package from the trade show organizers. 

Groups like the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) and others often provide advertising packages or benefits for exhibitors. However, if you’re going to use boat show channels, it’s best to dive head first! Look into package deals that shower your brand with love across print, websites, emails, and even social media. 

It’s like the VIP treatment for your boating and marine company, and who doesn’t want to be the VIP?

You can also do some pre-show groundwork by connecting with other exhibitors that are complementary to your business and networking with individuals to let them know you’ll be there. This can help generate additional buzz at day-of, at the event! 

Harnessing the Power of Social Media Day-of

Speaking of generating buzz at the event, you’ll want to harness the power of social media to make the most of your day. In addition to networking and pitching yourself to potential customers, you’ll want to share your day on platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and others.

This is a great opportunity for your brand to gain some exposure and show people exactly how involved you are in the industry. Some ideas include: 

  • Updates on your Story to keep your audience engaged throughout the show
  • Live videos from your booth, product demonstrations, or interviews with team members
  • Behind-the-scenes content, such as booth set up or travels to the event
  • Utilize event hashtags in your original posts and interact with others using the hashtags
  • Collaborate with influencers or industry leaders to amplify your business
  • Tag other businesses and the boat show organizers to gain exposure through resharing with their audiences
  • Use interactive features like polls and Q&A sessions

Using these tactics, you can establish your authority in the boating and marine industry and get the best bang for your buck while attending these events. 

The Best U.S Boat Shows for Boating and Marine Businesses

It is overwhelming to sift through lists of all the technical marine shows in the industry. There are nearly endless opportunities to leverage your business at these trade shows, so we’re rounding up some of the best U.S. Boat Shows for your boating and marine business. 

Discover Boating® New England Boat Show® – January 10-14, 2024

This consumer boat show takes place in the great Bay State at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, Boston, MA. The New England Boat Show gathers dozens of NMMA-certified boat and yacht brands for consumers to shop around with and participate in exciting activities, like paddle sports, fishing, and more.

Discover Boating® Miami International Boat Show – February 14-18, 2024

Another consumer boat show, the Miami International Boat Show will be taking place at the Miami Beach Convention Center in Miami, FL. With tens of thousands of attendees and over 1,000 exhibiting brands, this is the world’s largest boat and yacht show – and definitely worth attending in some capacity. 

American Boating Congress (ABC) – May 8-10, 2024

This industry advocacy conference in Washington, D.C. is meant for recreational boating stakeholders featuring discussions with members of Congress and administration officials, timely political and policy updates, and more. Keep an eye out on the NMMA website for the 2024 schedule – coming soon!

International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition (IBEX) and Conference – October 1-3, 2024

Considered to be one of the largest, most prominent boat shows in the industry, IBEX – which takes place in Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, FL – features over 700 exhibitors every year with industry networking opportunities and educational sessions for marine professionals.

For more information on major US boat shows for marine businesses, visit the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s event calendar.

Work with Champ for your next boating trade show 

Boat shows happen almost year-round and it’s important to target select tradeshows and attend them with a plan in place. By partnering with Champ, you’ll have a team dedicated to your success that can help you strategize the next boating event you attend.

Take advantage of our professional and industry experience and grow your business with strategic marketing campaigns that are backed by data and over 14 years of expertise. Get started by reaching out to our team today