local media insider
Case study

Marketing campaign for boat manufacturer wins Top Ad

A combination of SEM, targeted ads and engaging social scored a home run for Bennington Pontoons

Bennington Pontoons boosts its social marketing - and leads to retailers with campaign, "Yes you can afford a Bennington"

Customer: Bennington Pontoons, manufacturer of luxury pontoon boats
Home Base: Elkhart, Indiana
Market: High end buyers, marinas, boat stores and individual resellers

Media: Federated Media and Federated Interactive
Key executives:  Shannon Allen, Director of Digital Marketing and Sales, Federated Interactive; Amanda Searer, Account Executive

Challenge: Bennington Pontoons is a national manufacturer of both luxury and affordable pontoon boats, based in Elkhart, Indiana, near the Great Lakes boating area. The company sells its pontoons through retailers and other distributors all over the country.

Like automotive giants such as Ford or Chevy, Bennington's goal is to market to the end user so they ultimately walk into one of the marinas or boat dealers that carry the product and purchase a boat. So the challenge of this campaign was to "connect the dots" with marketing that would increase leads generated via the website - people who would ultimately walk into a dealer to buy.


Federated Interactive's team has become B2B specialists and targets national headquarters of manufacturers, such as Bennington, based in the area. 

After analyzing Bennington's current marketing plan, they offered a three part strategy that provided improved conversions from search, added horse-power to the brands overall communications with end users, and most importantly, drove leads to the distributors.

The new plan had five components:

1. Developing two new central messages

Since there were two kinds of pontoon buyers - the high and the low end of the market - Federated developed two different messages.

For the lower end message the company used, "Yes, you can afford a Bennington" for the brand. This message helped spark investigation at the "awareness" stage of the buying cycle, and encouraged individuals researching to explore the product pages for the lower end models.

2. Addressing all landing pages

Landing pages were converted to the new messages and redesigned for lead capture if necessary. This meant that ads could drive hard, recontactable leads to dealers. Here's an example of the message on one of the new lead capture landing page:

3. Beefing up search presence

Messages carried through bigger, more consistent and better optimized search campaigns. Here are a few of the specific components that helped improve leads from search, using Federated Interactives, inhouse SEM buyers on the Matchcraft platform:

A. Text ads messaged were changed from a generic message to a call to action. Previous text ads had simply iterated "We cover all your needs." New ads stated "Affordable Pontoons. Pricing starts at $19,000." AB tests showed that people responded to the more direct call to action.

B. Landing pages were adjusted to match the ads. Instead of linking to the home page of the website, the landing pages were directed towards product pages, such as the one above. "The goal was to increase conversions to make the clicks more valuable," Allen said.

C. The buys themselves were increased and paced more consistently. Since SEM is seen while people are searching, it was important that the size and pacing of the buy was also optimized so that people would find the company more consistently.

4. Adding on re-targeting campaigns

Marketing via Simpl.fi's platform allowed Federated to create super-efficient buys that retargeted customer email lists, key words, and competitor names. These are ad network buys that are essentially search based - served to retarget five "next" web pages viewed by people whose searches matched contextual-based key words, had hit a customer web site, etc.

5. Building social media engagement 

Bennington purchased the "concierge package"  - the new social media for the company includes Facebook, Twitter and Google+, so that the brand is able to communicate directly with consumer fans around the country.

Typical messages include:

• Reminders of boat shows where Bennington will have a presence.

• "Find a dealer near you" messages with a link to a landing page for dealer search.

• Images of pretty people enjoying their boat, or, even, as a fall-back, great waterfront houses that need a boat:

Notice all the shares and likes on the posts with images:

• Reminders of Bennington gear and swag sales.

• Editorial posts from magazines featuring Bennington (note the post targets a page of the magazine's electronic flipbook) or related articles such as boating safety tips:

• Images on Vimeo and Instagram:

• Conversational items, such as, "What do you like about your boat?", "Wouldn't you like to be here?"


• In three months the $8,525 SEM campaign delivered 476,213 impressions, and 24,705 clicks.

• The cost per click was $.35 monthly, with an outstanding SEM CTR of 5.19%.

• In July alone, Simpli.fi targeted marketing delivered 417,353 impressions and 498 clicks. The mobile site CTR was .47%. Overall average was .12 %, far above national averages.

• The social media strategy greatly increased comments and engagement.

Judges remarks:

Judges of the Top Ads contest selected this campaign for August's winner based on three factors: strength of message, multi-platform distribution and interactivity, and measurable results. Seeing a radio group launch a digital B2B campaign got their attention from the outset. However, there is also much to like that met all three criteria:

1. The messaging was improved and clarified, especially to engage the lower end of the market. 

2. In the choice of focus for mult-platform distribution: search, retargeting and social was ideal for a B2B brand with a unique set of customers, but which also intended to engage the users in building a lifestyle preference around the brand.

3. Finally, results were exceptional - the Facebook pages show heavy engagement in conversations (50 to 100 likes is not atypical) and the CTR's for both the SEM and target buys indicate these were professionally executed at a high level. Most importantly, the emphasis on sending promotions to landing pages designed to show product and encourage lead capture helped make these leads more valuable to the client.

"Many markets have unique B2B companies like Bennington that local media should be calling on, even if the buy is entirely digital and not on media-owned properties. This is a great example of how to do it successfully," Judges said.

Tools used:

Matchcraft for SEM

Simpli.fi for retargeting

Congratulations to Shannon Allen, Director of Digital Sales and Marketing, and to Amanda Searer, Account Executive, of Federated Interactive.

Shannon Sikkema-Allen Shannon Allen, Director of Digital Sales and Marketing, Federated Interactive

Amanda Searer Amanda Searer, Digital Marketing Consultant, Federated Interactive

Find technologies used in this story in the directory, MediaExecsTech.com.

Recommended in this story:
- SEM provider Matchcraft and retargeting with Simpli.fi

Finally, a big thank you to all our media associations partners for helping recognize excellence in marketing created for local merchants:

Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute
Alabama Broadcasters Association
American Society of News Editors
Colorado Press Association
Inland Press Association
Kentucky Press Association
Local Media Association
Missouri Broadcasters Association
Missouri Press Association
Nevada Press Association
Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association
South Carolina Broadcasters Association
Washington State Association of Broadcasters 
Wisconsin Broadcasters Association
Wisconsin Newspaper Association
Washington Newspaper Publishers Association


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