In order to attract new customers, it is important to first know exactly why your current customers purchased your brand in the first place. And while many manufacturers think they know the answer to this question, the reality is that many do not or only have a vague understanding.  This is because most do not have direct contact with end-customers as this is the domain of their dealers.  In this article, I talk about how to find new customers by getting to know your existing ones.  This is based on my three decades of experience studying boaters and durable/recreational product customers on behalf of leading manufacturers.

How to Find New Customers – Key Questions

Once you have a firm grasp of the characteristics and motivations of your current customers, you have unlocked the secret to finding new customers just like them.  The following are the five fundamental questions that I believe every manufacturer should know about its customers to help with your target marketing efforts.

1. Who are my customers?

Most companies have a good idea of the demographic characteristics of their customers.  Information on things like age, gender, race, income, marital status, presence of kids, etc. is pretty standard.  But it is also helpful to know how often they use the product category, what other recreational activities they engage in, what media (shows, magazines and websites) they “consume”, and what information sources they used when shopping your category.  This last item is particularly helpful by guiding you as to where to focus your media/digital marketing dollars to locate like-minded potential customers.

2. Where do my customers come from?

Here I am not talking about geography (although that is helpful too) but rather what is their prior experience with the category. This includes questions such as how many boats, if any, they have ever owned, what type and brand was their prior boat, and did they purchase their prior boat new or used.

This information provides insights into the customer’s “frame of reference” to help in your marketing communications. For example, if a lot of customers owned a used boat previously, you might want to address the benefits of buying new instead of used. Or, if you discover that many had owned an Aluminum fishing boat beforehand, consider doing a blog article on the advantages and disadvantages of owning a Fiberglass bass boat to help attract those who are contemplating the switch.

3. How do they use your product?

It is important to identify both the primary and secondary uses of the product.

While many boats and other recreational products are “purpose-built”, you might be surprised to learn that they are often used in a variety of ways. For example, it is not uncommon for offshore fishing boats to also be used for in-shore fishing and pleasure cruising. Therefore, it is important to identify both the primary and secondary uses of the product.

With this information, you can segment your customers by activity to better understand their specific motivations for purchasing your brand. For example, those who use their boats on occasion for pleasure cruising likely considered a different mix of competitor brands and had very different reasons for choosing yours in comparison to that of die-hard anglers (who use their boats exclusively for offshore fishing). By breaking out responses by activity, you can refine your marketing messages for each user group. It is also helpful to examine satisfaction by activity group but that is a subject for another article.

4. Which other brand(s) did they consider?

By asking customers which other brands they seriously considered when shopping your product category, you can clearly identify your competitive arena. This makes the task of identifying your strengths and weaknesses much more manageable. Rather than comparing to dozens of brands, you can narrow your focus to just your main rivals. Then, you can make a list of your key advantages relative to these brands to communicate to potential customers.

Additionally, you can use this information to do “competitor targeting” (e.g., Google, Facebook or YouTube Ads) to find new customers by getting your message in front of those who are searching for information on a rival brand.

5. Why did they select you instead of a competitor brand?

Perhaps the most important question is why your customers ultimately chose your brand. This is to identify the most important features/benefits that tipped the scale in your favor.

I like to explore this issue a couple different ways. The first is with an open-ended question: “Why did you choose a [brand] instead of some other brand?” Then, follow with two closed-ended questions: “Please check all of the reasons why you decided to purchase a [brand] instead of some other brand” and “What is the ONE main reason why you selected your boat brand INSTEAD of some other?” (based on the subset of items checked in the former question).

It is important to ask both the open-ended and closed-ended questions. While the former is more difficult to analyze, it provides insights into what matters most to your customers in their own language. Plus, it safeguards against missing key reasons for brand selection in your closed-ended questions.

There are two key uses for this “why” type information. The first is to help you to prioritize the features/benefits to emphasize with your brand communications and promotional materials. The second is to identify topics to cover on your brand blog or social media posts. For example, if you discover that the “layout” is a key reason for brand selection, then consider doing an article to educate target customers on what to look for in an ideal boat layout for offshore fishing.

Getting the Answers

The above questions should be obtained via a separate survey with your customers. Preferably, this should go to those who have purchased from you within the past 6 months or so (to minimize forgetting). Avoid the temptation to roll all of these questions into your ongoing customer satisfaction survey. In the “old days”, it was tempting to throw “everything and the kitchen sink” into questionnaires because of the expense of reaching customers. But, with email, this is no longer necessary. And, these extraneous questions might annoy your customers and detract from the main purpose of understanding the specific strengths and weaknesses of your product.

One easy way to obtain this information is to use our “Why Customers Choose Your Product” survey that is part of our Ready-Made Solutions. Designed specifically for boat manufacturers, the tool is free to use “as is” or can be customized for a minor additional fee.  Click on the box at the bottom of this page to learn more and to see our example survey.  You might also want to check out some of our other free survey tools.


These five fundamental questions are certainly not the only things you need to know about your customers.  For example, it is also critical to know how well your products are meeting customer expectations (satisfaction survey).  But, if your goal is to figure out how to find new customers, the answers to these basic questions will help you to refine your marketing efforts to enable you to attract new customers who resemble your current ones.