Portable Jet Ski Inventor Rides Social Media Wave to Reach Millennials
By Tannette Johnson-Elie
Many marketers and start-ups covet millennials but find them hard to reach through conventional marketing. To lure this tech-savvy, under-30 generation you have to go where the action is: Online. Take a clue from a seasoned Wisconsin entrepreneur, John West.
West is the inventor of a portable jet ski that breaks down into four modular pieces that fit easily in the back of a car. He is riding the social media wave to entice urban millennials to buy his affordable, high-performance watercraft that would satisfy any young person’s need for speed.
It’s called Bomboard Urban Jet Ski and at $3,495, it’s aimed at young water sports enthusiasts who reside in urban areas, but due to limited funds, can’t afford the $10,000 pricetag for a traditional jet ski.
“We said ‘what if we could shrink a jet ski and make it smaller than anything previous’? We also know that young people don’t have large budgets,” said West, Bomboard’s founder and CEO. “What if we could lower the price point? A lot of tinkering and prototypes went into this product.”
West started his Whitewater, Wisconsin-based company seven years ago after becoming restless during retirement. Prior to launching Bomboard, West spent 35 years as an engineer and entrepreneur who built several successful technology firms, one of which he sold to Boeing International.
West teamed up with Anders Stubkjaer, former chief financial officer for S&S Cycle, a motorcycle engine manufacturer in Viola, Wis. Now, he and Stubkjaer, Bomboard’s chief operating officer, are using social media to reach their target market – young adults between 18 and 25, for whom digital shopping is an ingrained behavior.
“If we had to do traditional advertising, we don’t have the budget for that,” said Stubkjaer, who doubles as Bomboard’s chief financial officer. “Social media enables us to bring awareness to the fact that this is the first jet ski in the whole world that you can assemble and take wherever you go.”
It would seem unlikely that two old-school business executives would embrace social media as part of their marketing toolkit, but research shows they are smart to do so.
A 2013 survey of Americans’ attitudes toward ecommerce by the ad agency DDB Worldwide found that millennials (people 18 to 34 years old) were more likely than baby boomers to engage in nearly every online shopping activity, with 40% of men and 33% of women in the younger end of that age group reporting that ideally they would buy everything online.
“To engage millennials, offer them consistent opportunities to participate in the shaping of your business with your campaigns online – and in certain circumstances, reward them for their participation,” said Brian Honigman a marketing consultant and technology expert who also is a contributing writer to the Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, Huffington Post, Forbes and Mashable.
So far, West and Stubkjaer’s social media efforts are yielding promising results. Their promotional YouTube video of young water enthusiasts performing cool tricks on the Bomboard drew 45,000 views in the first two months after it went live in February. In addition, Bomboard’s Twitter page has attracted followers from as far as the Middle East, Germany, China and England. The Bomboard now has $800,000 in orders lined up, thanks primarily to social media.
“People have really responded to us. They’re saying, “We find this product exciting and it’s affordable,” said Beatrice Davis, director of social media for Sassy B Worldwide Productions Inc., the Chicago firm hired to promote Bomboard.
West’s hope is that once the Bomboard is produced, consumers will post YouTube videos of themselves performing fancy feats on the jet ski that will go viral, becoming a form of free advertisement.
“People love recognition for anything that they do,” he said. “Can they become the Shaun White (professional snowboarder, skateboarder and two-time Olympic gold medalist) of the water by doing some fancy trick on the Bomboard?”
West hopes to launch the Bomboard by the first quarter of next year. He will need to raise an estimated $1.5 million dollars to launch his product and an additional $3 million to $5 million dollars for working capital.
In the meantime, social media will remain an important part of the equation for West in reaching the urban youth market.
“We’re offering something that’s attractive to young consumers,” West said. “If it weren’t for social media, we’d be totally unknown.”
That said, here’s why you too should care about millennials: They will make up the vast majority of the buying economy in the coming years, and those that fail to adapt to their buying habits and where they are active online will likely fade from relevance, Honigman said.
“It’s all about creating an organic conversation about your business online without being promotional or disrupting the experience a user is having on a particular channel whether that’s Facebook, a mobile app or elsewhere,” Honigman said.