A luxury brand’s drive to generate demand through digital marketing and experience

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Investments in people, process and systems, as well as a new digital marketing agency, are part of Ahoy Club’s aggressive plans to scale the luxury brand and business, the marketing chief says.

Ahoy Club is a four year old Australian owned company founded by the Malouf family to revolutionize luxury yacht charter. Having created the world’s first digital marketplace for appointment superyacht charters, the family has invested in bespoke technology and a world-class customer service team to achieve their ambitions.

Since then it has established an international presence and diversified into two core products: Term Charters and Daily Charters. There are more than 4000 ships available in total, ranging from $2000 per day to $2 million per week. In addition, Ahoy Club has recently expanded its yachting services to include transformative refits and yacht sales.

Ahoy Club CEO, Ellie Malouf, said CMO that while the industry is very glamorous, it has been largely untouched by technology. On top of that, the service wasn’t as high quality as the chartered product on top of that, she said, with a highly manual process of searching, booking, and paying that took weeks or months.

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

“Our strategy is focused on how technology and service can alleviate pain points that are prevalent in the industry,” said Malouf.

“Our main focus today is on the customer/charter side. We are constantly redesigning the site to make it easy to use and searchable by location and different price points. Last year we also introduced a custom day charter system to make it easy to click a button and check availability, pay a deposit online and be done in minutes. Whereas with a time charter the changeover takes a few weeks as people look at the choices and recommendations and create itineraries.”

Now the focus is on generating demand for both. From a B2B perspective, Ahoy’s strategy focuses on travel agencies and the company has joined luxury consortia such as Virtuoso and Traveler Made.

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

Ellie MalufPhoto Credit: Ahoy Club
Ellie Maluf

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 intelligence that we didn’t have in-house. It’s been a great addition to our team on the paid and SEO side so far,” said Malouf. “We’ve been trying to roll things out internally, but with the goals we want to achieve and where we want to scale, an agency is our fast track.”

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

“Increasing lead generation will be the central tenet of this endeavor. We’ve 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 to measure success include number of leads, website ranking goals month-to-month, and improving user experience to incorporate more recommendations based on user preferences.

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

Marketing a luxury brand

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

In this equation, knowing the customer’s sweet spot is crucial. Term charter caters to very high net worth individuals looking to charter a yacht with friends and family, often spending in excess of $50,000 per week.

“95 per cent of superyachts are based in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, so we focus most on those itineraries. We also love to promote Australian charter destinations as much as possible and the Whitsundays are very popular in winter,” explained Malouf.

In contrast, day charterers are often companies looking to rent boats for parties and entertainment. Due to Covid, Ahoy has put a lot of focus on this local business and built an events team to support it.

But while day and semester charters require different marketing approaches and teams, content is a consistent theme that runs through both.

“We’re trying to sell the experience and you want to show that as well. We create films for each charter client after each voyage; Each season we send out videographers to capture destination content and restaurant surroundings because we are passionate about trying and testing destinations,” said Malouf. “With the world of Reels and TikTok, we are focused on creating different fun transitions.

“Social channels work well for day charters and we created an ‘Ahoi Day’ Instagram series 18 months ago which has been great for us. It’s mainly an Australian following so we used slang, displayed boats and shared prices and special offers. It’s more about booking now as people are more inclined to book a day charter online. Term charter is more demanding, so it’s all about getting to know the brand and leading to an inquiry.”

In addition to content, experience events on yachts worldwide are the key to customer care and acquisition. It is the presentation of experience that is crucial for Malouf to become a successful luxury brand. To help, Ahoy trains his team in educating clients and all staff spend time on his family yachts to understand the experience firsthand.

“You have to try to make people feel like they are getting 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 comes from our content, which is why we invest a lot there. However, hosting events has been second to none for us in providing our clients with this first hand experience, especially if they are chartering for the first time.

Partnering and bringing like-minded brands together helps Ahoy gain another level of trust, “especially when it’s a luxury brand,” Malouf added.

covid trends

While the fundamentals of Ahoy’s business have not changed during the pandemic, Malouf cited a growing number of people looking to charter, particularly those who have not previously rented a villa or cruise ship, or may have previously.

“That’s because a charter is such a private experience that you can avoid crowds and airports and wake up to a new destination every day. It’s brought in new customers who might not have cared had Covid not emerged,” she said. This makes education and content even more important.

Another trend Ahoy is responding to is the increasing number of people wanting to book last minute. It prioritizes the need for a fast digital platform, Malouf said.

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

“When we started out we probably were more strict about pricing, which is an important factor as everyone wants a deal no matter how wealthy you are. But it comes second; that’s what we learned. We changed the key messages so that service comes first and was always at the forefront when dealing with customers.”

For other marketers servicing luxury brands, experience matters more than ever, Malouf pointed out.

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

“And we have a lot of data to help us with that,” Malouf said. “When customers charter, they fill out a lot of information about what they want to eat, drink and do. We capture all of that and can strategically remarket them and show related content based on activities they enjoy, like sporting events or relaxation.”

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