More than a few years ago, my then-boss Paul Duynhouwer and
I were struggling to come up with a slogan for our small ship cruise brand that
would attract the attention of travel agents and potential customers.
Start-up Clipper Cruise Line had just launched its first ship, the 100-passenger Newport Clipper (now cruising as the Safari Endeavor for Un-Cruise Adventures, but I’ll save the story of that evolution for another blog). We were determined to find the magic word or phrase that would establish the brand and set us apart from the competition.
There were few small ships in the cruise market in 1983, and many were what we smugly referred to as “floating campers.” In truth, the Newport Clipper was very attractively designed, tastefully furnished, and boasted chefs from the Culinary Institute of America (the other CIA). Other than the captain and first mate, crewmembers consisted of fresh-faced college kids decked out in snappy Lands End-type outfits.
We mistakenly let these product features, great as they were, lead us to believe that they were what would be meaningful to our prospective customers. To our way of thinking, the shallow-draft vessel’s ability to dock in yacht havens like Newport RI, Bahia Mar FL and the Bitter End Yacht Club in the BVI suggested that we should convey the sense of owning your own prestigious 230-foot yacht and cruising like a millionaire.
And so, the term Ultra-Yacht was born, and we were quite pleased with ourselves. It didn’t hurt that the owner of the company thought it was great, too. Ads and collaterals were prepared, the sales team was armed with talking points, and we were ready for the avalanche of business and telephones “ringing off the hook,” as Paul used to say.
The silence was deafening.
We carried on for a while, pushing and cajoling the travel agent community, trying to convince them that cruising aboard the ultra-yachts of Clipper was the best thing going. Our sales team was met with indifference and blank stares, at best.
We grudgingly came to realize that ultra-yacht didn’t mean a damn thing to the consumers that really would appreciate what small ship cruising was all about – visiting historic colonial villages that large cruise ships couldn’t access; cruising the storied waters of the Intracoastal Waterway, Chesapeake Bay and New England Islands; and being served by a cheerful bunch of Midwestern teenagers that reminded guests of their grandchildren.
About that time, we happened across a beautifully
illustrated book by newsman and yachting enthusiast Walter Cronkite and his
friend Ray Ellis, an
artist who lived and worked in Savannah, GA. The collaboration created South by Southeast, a wonderful
narrative that was filled with real characters, places and gorgeous watercolors
that proved not only entertaining, but also inspiring to this young copywriter.
Although he was a media voice to be reckoned with, Cronkite knew how to appreciate the southern reaches of the Intracoastal Waterway from the deck of his quite modest sailboat WYNTJE. It wasn’t about pretense and acting like someone you’re not. (He also learned that when someone from a passing yacht yelled “Hello, Walter!” they weren’t acknowledging his status as “the most trusted man in America,” but were alerting him to the fact that “Shallow Water!” was just ahead. We always assume it's about us.)
Fortunately, I grasped the lesson there and came to grips with writing some direct mail copy that captured “the real America,” as Joe Cobb, one of the characters in the book, described the lush barrier islands of South Carolina and Georgia. The rather long cover letter, four pages as I recall, was printed, stuffed in a No. 10 envelope along with a brochure and mailed to a targeted consumer direct mail list.
Bingo! The phones started to ring and our reservations department was soon booking passengers whose interests were kindled by the concept of small ship cruising. We wrote in a language that resonated with them, and the ship started to fill up nicely.
We learned that there was a distinction between yachting like the super-rich and experiencing a destination as a yachtsman would. For sure, Clipper carried its share of very affluent passengers, the type made famous in The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy. We probably didn’t do as well with those aspiring to be millionaires, or those who felt that being a millionaire, or even being perceived as one, was the penultimate goal.
As I’ve said in an earlier blog, creative content isn’t about “me” or “us” or the product features that we are just so darned proud of. Marketing – whether through traditional channels or via social media networking – needs to captivate customers and prospects on their turf, consider their tastes and aspirations, and always incorporate some combination of the Four Es – education, enrichment, entertainment and engagement.
The Ultra-Yacht is dead. Long live small ship cruising.