Zodiac last week launched a new tagline and supporting video called 'Keep Exploring' that taps into the history of the French inflatable manufacturer. The video is a montage of images of Zodiacs in different locations, from metropolitan waterfronts to arctic waters with icebergs. Rather than delivering a standard product message, the video showed the beauty of the ocean and Zodiac’s ability to navigate with many different types of RIBS and inflatables.
“We decided to define our brand position with just two key words,” Zodiac CEO Dominique Heber-Suffrin told IBI after the video’s launch at the Miami boat show. “We did a lot of intensive work beforehand to help understand our brand DNA in a way that wouldn’t disrupt our 120-year-old history. It became obvious that our customers are passionate about adventures—from small outings to their local islands to true Cousteau-style expeditions.”
The new campaign differs from most in the boating industry since it tells a story through images, without the typical hard sell of a single product. Mercury Marine last year used a similar tactic in its 'Go Boldly' marketing campaign that did not feature its engines but the many different boating lifestyles.
Heber-Suffrin said Zodiac has sold more than 1 million inflatables across its three brand lines, Zodiac, Bombard and Avon, and that history needed to be acknowledged. “We also came up with three values that have become our guidelines for future business decisions,” he says. “They are using technology to make the most reliable products, sharing our passion for exploration, and getting the best performance from our boats.”
Those values prompted Heber-Suffrin and his team to put a renewed emphasis on the Zodiac Pro Open range, first launched in 1996. “It was the best-selling product at the time and we are now evolving this line. It will be a top priority to renew it,” says Heber-Suffrin.
What Zodiac will not do, he adds, is create high-end custom RIBS, as some of its Italian competitors are now doing. “We’ve decided that these types of boats don’t fit in with our values,” he says.
The company has done well since Heber-Suffrin and his investment group pulled it from bankruptcy in 2015. Since then, Zodiac has invested heavily in its premium Avon brand, including forming a partnership with electric engine maker Torqeedo on a new high-end RIB called the eJet. “We are viewing this technology as Tesla has impacted the car world,” says Heber-Suffrin. “Right now, the technology is still being developed, but one day it will be in the mainstream of Zodiac. We want to make sure we are at the forefront now.” The Zodiac CEO said the response from its eJet launch at Cannes last year was “incredible,” and included interest from the three largest Italian yacht conglomerates. The first eJets will be delivered in the first quarter of 2019. “We invented the jet engine on a RIB in the early 1990s and now our goal is to make sure that technology becomes low maintenance,” he says.
Zodiac will also place greater emphasis in its lower-cost Bombard line by gaining wider global distribution.
Since acquiring Zodiac, Heber-Suffrin has seen ups and downs. The first year, he says, was strong. Zodiac regained the confidence of its global dealer network. “We captured back lost market share and grew by 30% that year with the former product line,” he says.
Last year was more challenging Zodiac grew, but not at the same pace. “Our new boats were well received,” says Heber-Suffrin. “But we launched them too late in the season for Europe and the US,” he says. “This year we won’t make that mistake. We expect it will be more stable with stronger growth worldwide.”
Zodiac last year opened a new office in Vietnam to serve the Asia Pacific market and its sales volume has doubled. “We want to triple our numbers there this year,” says Heber-Sufffrin. “We expect our growth rates in every region to be strong this year. We’ve recaptured the faith of our dealers and expect to sign more. The penetration ratio in America will happen fast with our new boats. We still have a ways to go, of course, but we are optimistic about the future and see strong potential ahead.”