The smart buyer: Smart, attractive ads hook boat buyers

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When selling a boat, the objective, of course, is to find a buyer as quickly as possible and get the best price for a boat of its type, condition and age. And the way the boat is presented in classified advertising can make all the difference.

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Corey Francis handles classified ad sales at Soundings. He helps owners craft appealing ads that draw buyers to their boats. For a typical issue, Francis sells about 100 ads — 30- to 40-word descriptions crafted to entice buyers. “I get a lot of calls asking for advice for placing a good ad,” he says. “Sometimes they even ask what price they should list it at, but I tell them they’ll have to determine that without my guidance.”

The job does come with challenges, he says. “I’ll sometimes get a guy who places an ad, then awhile later I’ll get a call from a woman asking if a man placed an ad for such-and-such boat,” Francis says. “Or a woman places the ad and a guy calls about it. Before I know it I’m turning into a marriage counselor where one is demanding I pull the ad down while the other insists I keep it running.”

Francis sees a lot of classified ads — good and bad — and he has learned what makes an ad effective. The following tips are not meant to promote advertising in Soundings. Rather, they are simply some of the observations Francis has made taking classifieds.

• A picture is worth a thousand words:

Make it a good one. “You wouldn’t believe the poor quality of some of the photos that come across my desk,” he says. “They’re blurry or low-resolution or don’t even show the boat well. Boats look a lot better on the water than in a garage, covered with a tarp or on stands or a trailer.”

• The photo catches the buyer’s eye first:

Consider hiring a photographer to capture the boat — especially high-end boats — in the best possible light.

• Forty words seems to be ideal:

hat’s just enough to give a good descriptive sense of the boat, but leave enough to the imagination to entice buyers to want to learn more.

• Start the ad with keywords:

Words like custom, antique and head-turner are effective grabbers and make for an interesting ad.

• Hook them with the first two lines:

Create a sense of urgency with terms such as “first come, first served,” Francis says. “What I hear from buyers is when they scan ads, if nothing grabs them immediately they move on to the next ad.”

• Know the market value of your boat:

“People are sentimental about their boats, but don’t price it for the value it is to you,” Francis says. If you’re sentimental about its value, you’ll probably end up disappointed.

• Buyers like wiggle room:

“I have found that listings with a negotiable price are more effective,” says Francis. If your asking price really is firm, go ahead and include that in your ad, but it seems to be more effective to give the buyer at least the potential for wiggle room. That can be as simple as swapping out the word “firm” with “negotiable.”

• Use multiple contacts:

Some buyers prefer to call, while others prefer email, so give them both options.

• Proofread your ad before submitting it:

“I correct spelling errors, but I can’t always tell what the seller is trying to say,” Francis says. Have someone read the ad, or at least read it out loud a few times to make sure it’s just the way you want it.

• Give your boat a website:

It’s not for everyone, but it’s a great idea to create a website for your boat, which can be done for little or no money. “A site allows you to show and tell so much more about your boat than just a classified ad. Those who have a site tend to find quick success.”

There are also things to avoid in your classified ad:

• Phrases such as “health forces sale”:

Even if it’s true, buyers sometimes see these as clichés and dismiss them as a sales pitch. Or they might see that as an opportunity to offer considerably less than the asking price.

• Naming your boat in the ad:

“A lot of people are superstitious about changing a boat’s name, and some old salt may not want to sail the Pink Penelope,” Francis says. “Other than that, buyers don’t care what you named your boat.”

• Political incorrectness:

There are plenty of colorful terms and phrases that are acceptable around your boat buddies but might be offensive to potential buyers.

The best advice Francis has to offer is also the simplest. “Most of all, be honest about your boat,” he says. “Any potential buyer will appreciate your honesty rather than having their time wasted.”

August 2013 issue