One luxury brand’s quest to generate demand through digital marketing and experience – CMO

Investments into people, processes and systems, along with a fresh digital marketing agency, are all part of Ahoy Club’s aggressive plans to scale the luxury brand and business, its marketing chief says.

Ahoy Club is a four-year-old, Australian-owned company created by the Malouf family to disrupt the luxury yacht chartering space. The family created the world’s first digital marketplace for superyacht term chartering, investing in custom-built technology as well as a high-touch customer service team to achieve its ambitions.

Since then, it’s built out an international footprint and diversified into two core products: Term charters and daily charters. In all, more than 4000 vessels are available, ranging from $2000 a day to $2 million a week. In addition, Ahoy Club has recently expanded its yachting services to include transformative refits and yacht sales.

Ahoy Club CEO, Ellie Malouf, told CMO that while the industry is very glamourous, it had largely been untouched by technology. What’s more, the service on top wasn’t as premium as the product chartered, she said, with a highly manual process of searching, booking and paying taking weeks or months.

In response, Ahoy Club devised two platforms: Its website, which acts as a search and information tool, providing customers with content to research, save searches and plan trips at a high level. Once a chartered yacht inquiry is made, a second custom-built software platform enables Ahoy’s in-house team to send proposals in minutes, accept contacts, take payments and build custom itineraries. Ahoy manages all listings in-house and has an internal data team focused on the client side.

“Our strategy centres around how technology and service can relieve the pain points prevalent in the industry,” Malouf said.

“Our core focus today is on the customer/charter side. We keep iterating the site so it’s easy to use, to search by location and different price points. Last year, we also launched a daily charter custom system to make it easy to click a button and check availability, pay a deposit online and be done in minutes. Whereas for a term charter, conversion takes a few weeks as people look at the selection, recommendations and build itineraries.”

Now, the emphasis is on generating demand for both. From a B2B perspective, Ahoy’s strategy centres around travel agents, and the company has joined luxury consortiums such as Virtuoso and Traveller Made.

“On the B2C side, digital marketing is key, and we use a mix of SEO, email marketing, search and paid marketing to bring in the right customers,” Malouf said.

Ellie MaloufCredit: Ahoy Club
Ellie Malouf

To help, Ahoy has appointed Next & Co as its digital marketing agency, responsible for full service digital media and B2B marketing

“Next & Co have a great track record and real smarts we didn’t have in-house. It’s a great extension of our team so far on the paid and SEO side of things,” Malouf said. “We have tried bringing things in-house, but with the goals we want to achieve and where we want to scale, an agency is our fast track there.”

As the world emerges from Covid, Malouf said the opportunity to aggressively scale the Ahoy business is significant.

“Growing lead generation will be the central tenet of these aspirations. We have invested in people, processes and systems to achieve this, including new business development staff in North America, the UK and Europe, improvements to our sales and marketing tools, and the appointment of performance-driven digital agencies,” she said.

KPIs for measuring success include number of leads, site ranking goals month on month, and improving user experience to build in more recommendations based on what users like.

“Next & Co will help us there when we talk about iterating our website,” Malouf added.

Marketing a luxury brand

While Ahoy’s marketing spend orients more towards paid media currently, Malouf’s longer-term goal is to get as much organic traffic as possible. She admits it’s a harder ask for a younger brand.

Knowing the customer sweet spot is critical in this equation. Term charter orients around ultra-high net worth individuals wanting to charter a yacht with friends and family who often spend upwards of $50,000 per week.

“Ninety-five per cent of the super yachts are in the Mediterranean and Caribbean, so we focus on these itineraries the most. We also love promoting Australian charter destinations as much as possible, and the Whitsundays is very popular through Winter,” Malouf explained.  

By contrast, day charterers are often corporates looking to hire boats for parties and entertainment. Through Covid, Ahoy put a lot of focus on this business locally, and has built out an events team to support it.

But while day and term charters require distinct marketing approaches and teams, content is a consistent theme threaded through both.

“We are trying to sell the experience, and you want to show off that as much. We create movies for each charter customer after each trip; every season we send videographers to capture destination content and around restaurants, as we’re passionate about trying and testing destinations,” Malouf said. “With the world of reels and TikTok, we are focusing on creating different fun transitions.

“Social channels work well for day charters, and we created an ‘Ahoy Day’ Instagram series 18 months ago which has been great for us. It’s mostly an Australian following, so we have used slang, showcased boats, messaged around pricing and specials. That’s more about booking now as people are more prone to book a day charter online. Term charter is more aspirational, so it’s about getting to know the brand and leading to an inquiry.”

Alongside content, experiential events globally on yachts are key to both nurturing as well as acquiring customers. It’s showcasing experience that’s vital to becoming a successful luxury brand for Malouf. To help, Ahoy trains its team around educating customers, and all staff spend time on its family yachts in order understand the experience firsthand.

“You have to try and give people the feeling when they step on a yacht. It’s not a need, it’s a want and it’s our job to make them want it,” Malouf said. “The best marketing is through our content, which is why we invest a lot there. Hosting events, however, has been second to none for us to give clients that firsthand experience, especially if they’re first-time charterers.

Partnerships and bringing like-minded brands together helps Ahoy gain a further level of trust, “especially when they’re a luxury brand”, Malouf added.  

Covid trends

While the fundamentals of Ahoy’s business haven’t changed amid the pandemic, Malouf cited increasing numbers of people looking to charter, especially those who haven’t before or may have previously rented a villa or cruise liner.

“That’s because a charter is such a private experience, you can avoid crowds and airports, wake up in a new destination every day. It’s brought in new customers that may not have looked to this if Covid hadn’t occurred,” she said. This makes education and content even more critical.

Another trend Ahoy is responding to is increasing numbers of people looking to book last-minute. It prioritises the need for a fast digital platform, Malouf said.

“Being digitally led has always been part of our brand story,” she said. “But equal to that is our customer service. Those are the two key messages for the business, with our competitive pricing model as an added bonus.

“When we first started, we probably went harder on the pricing, which is an important factor as everyone wants a deal, no matter how wealthy you are. But it does come second; that’s something we have learnt. We have changed key messaging so service comes first, and it’s always been at the forefront when we’re dealing with customers.”  

For other marketers overseeing luxury brands, Malouf stressed experience is more critical than ever.

“You want people to imagine the lifestyle you’re striving to showcase. Offering bespoke experience is important, whether it’s through an event, product views or added benefits. That extra value has helped our business a lot,” she said. Other ways Ahoy does this is through things like merchandise and greetings on arrival.

“And we have a lot of data to help with this,” Malouf said. “When customers are chartering, they fill out a lot of information on what they want to eat, drink and do. We capture all of that and we can remarket to them strategically based on activities they like, such as sporting events versus relaxing, and show related content.”  

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