Jan 10 2012
|more articles from|
The GMR Interview
After a more than decade at the helm of FP7, Wael Bittar jumped ship to specialise in the luxury yachting sector. Kathi Everden reports.
A background in advertising, PR and marketing enthused the personable Syrian to adopt a holistic 360 degree approach to the sector, something which has helped in his latest role as general manager, marketing, for Dubai-based ART Marine.
Joining ART Marine in October 2008, Bittar was charged with developing a marketing strategy that would dovetail with all its diverse roles as a '360 degree marine hospitality company'.
In the latter area alone, ART Marine has spread its fins around the Gulf with marina sites in Ghantoot and Emirates Palace in the UAE and Zighy Bay in the Musandam, and the company recently signed a MOU for consultancy, management and operation at a new marina lifestyle development at Durrat Marina in Bahrain.
It is the leading regional distributor of leisure yachts and exclusive distributor of Azimut-Benetti group brands, the largest builder of mega yachts around the globe - but has also expanded its portfolio to include Four Winns sports boats, Riviera, Numarine and Grady- White leisure fishing boats, After-sales, maintenance and now a new marine product division, announced at the Dubai International Boat Show last March to launch a show room in Al Jadafs, aim to satisfy all the needs of a boat owner on and off the water.
But, for ART Marine and Bittar, the world is bigger than just a shiny new toy and a marina berth, and it is here that its credo, Discover Yachting, had its roots. "For the yacht owner, we offer a onestop shop from sales to berthing, but we want to encourage them to do more with their yachts," he said.
"The profile of owners in this region in particular is a demanding one, we have to be on top of our game to provide quality service, but the whole industry is not just about prestige ownership any more.
"As well as encouraging existing owners to do more and experience their yachts to the full, we are also aiming to get other people to look at ownership, even if they have previously thought it was beyond their budgets."
Branching out from a very defined market audience to appeal to a broader sector of people, Bittar stressed that the spirit of Discover Yachting was not just about luxury but could range from a two-hour sunset cruise to a commercial corporate brainstorming charter.
"This called for a more strategic approach to marketing rather than just product promotion, and with more brands and more marinas (in our portfolio), we decided to adopt synergetic marketing with the launch of the Discover Yachting experiential campaign two years' ago," said Bittar.
"As a generic slogan, it helps our competitors too, of course, as is has grown the entire market for us and everyone else, but we were the first to come up with this and we own it."
The first to admit that the world of yachting is all about a combination of passion and products deemed as luxury, Bittar emphasises that ART Marine is not reinventing the wheel in terms of its approach to marketing.
"We have to convey an emotional message and you cannot market this just through traditional advertising and PR," he said. "We are 360 degrees in that we use print advertising, online, social media too, but our strength is in events - this is effective because of the very fact that it is an experiential product we are selling."
Boat shows are the big draw, offering existing and potential customers the opportunity to see and touch the product, and ART Marine has been the biggest exhibitor at the Dubai International Boat Show for the past three years - paying dividends with multimillion dollar sales last year.
The company also exhibits in Abu Dhabi and Bahrain, as well as fielding an international presence in Monaco, Cannes and Genoa, but of equal importance is the organisation of its own events, from product launches to fishing competitions.
"When we have something new to premier, we invite customers and prospects to an event to showcase the yacht, while we are also pushing clients to discover more of the region through our Rendezvous days and competitions," explained Bittar.
"With a Rendezvous, we will get yacht owners together and sail in convey from point A to B, say Ghantoot to Emirates Palace where we might have a lunch or reception, which also promotes our marina operations too - while creating a sense of camaraderie and giving boat owners an impetus to try out a new destination."
This year, ART Marine also launched a fishing competition for competitors in both boats and kayaks, with the first leg taking place off the new marina at Zighy Bay, Oman, and second leg hosted at Ghantoot .
"These were one day events, with great prizes such as free marina berthing for up to four months, and it served to introduce our marinas and the activities available - response was huge, and it involved minimal marketing through our existing customer base," he said.
While tapping in to curiosity about these destination marinas, Bittar acknowledged the initiative owned much to the necessity of stretching the marketing dollar and involving more creativity in the process.
"Naturally, budget has been affected by the downturn, and marketing has to be seen to be more effective with ROI so we need to invest in the right place ...
although, here, the rise of social media has been a boon with its low cost outlay."
Given his agency background, Bittar has been able to develop strategy internally and also oversees media buying while using MJWG for creative: "We are working in a niche sector, and one where we can use our own resources as much as possible since we know the market, where we are coming from and where we wish to go."
The desire to take the creative out in to the market has also widened ART Marine's brand presence to take in alternative exhibitions and sponsorship.
"For the latter, we look at brand alignment, in areas such as jewellery, upmarket property or cars, to boost the image of luxury - for instance, we were one of the sponsors of the F1 Chequered Flag ball for two years, and also have worked with prestigious car marques on Yas Circuit Track Days, taking a fleet of yachts in to the marina there and hosting a cocktail party or sunset cruise," he said.
"A funky 4X4 can be used to promote our smaller boats, while we have also been boosting awareness by exhibiting at the Dubai Motor Show this year, positioned in the luxury car arena so visitors can make the emotional connection between luxury brands."
More prosaically, Bittar stressed reliance on established marketing through advertising and editorial, targeting the marine market publications in particular, where the company is the region's biggest advertiser.
"Almost every month we are number one in PR editorial coverage according to Media Watch figures, and this is not just for the sake of getting our name in print - we always have a story to tell regarding new brands, sales, new destination marinas, events, boat shows, chartering and activities.
"While the fundamentals don't change - advertising our yacht brands and attending boat shows - we are always looking for something different, and can shift vehicles depending on how the market is looking," he said, pointing to ART Marine's tactical sales advertising in the daily press this year for the first time.
What Bittar would like to see is an events company specialising in marine happenings, a niche seemingly set for exploitation: "Events on water are generally more complicated (to organise) than those on land and can be expensive, but they are saleable.
"They can provide a refreshing change, get results and keep people together - in fact, at ART Marine, we have seen a trend for corporate charters where a company's management board gets together for budget planning." With potential to additionally expand charters through its marina network, the 360 degree approach is set for even more distant horizons.
Nationality: Syrian Education: Science degree Damascus University
Marital status: Single
Hobbies: Travel, music, running, cooking and writing
Career history: After early experience with UK and German companies as a buyer and tender manager, followed by marketing for an electrical switches distributor, moved to advertising and PR in some of Saudi Arabia's biggest companies - finally becoming deputy country manager for MCN . Became GM, marketing, for ART Marine in 2008.
Career high: Receiving an award for marketing initiative
Career low: Nothing memorable
Fantasy job: Empowerment of young talent through marketing social programmes, fund creation and writing and tutoring marketing and advertising.
Most admired brand: ART Marine ... then Google
© Gulf Marketing Review 2012
© Copyright Zawya. All Rights Reserved.
- UPDATE 1-Korean women scrap meeting Japanese mayor over brothel remarks
- REFILE-Elderly Korean women cancel meet with Osaka mayor over war brothel remarks
- Korean "grannies" cancel meet with Osaka mayor over war brothel remarks
- Solar plane completes second leg of cross-country flight in Texas
- College student snares record long Burmese python near Miami
- There's More