Bright Ideas

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September 2008


A roundup of some innovative marketing programs from across the country.
In today's competitive business environment, it's more important than ever to discover new ideas. And where better to find them than in your colleagues' playbooks? Here we highlight resorts that used a unique approach in their marketing tactics last season.


The single thread that runs through each program is the creativity and success in bringing the resorts closer to their marketing goals. But what truly makes this group extraordinary is that many of the programs involved big ideas, not big budgets. Marketing can be expensive; this makes partnerships invaluable. That's obviously what more than half of the resort program's featured here believed. It's the most prevalent theme that runs through these programs.


Partnerships are popping up everywhere. From Timber Ridge, a small resort in Michigan that formed an alliance with Coke to get their "text to win" campaign posters on college campus vending machines. To Shanty Creek Resort, also in Michigan, that partnered with local middle and high schools to reward students on the honor roll. On the other side of the country, Bogus Basin, Idaho proved discounting in volume can work when you do it with Chevron Gas & Convenience Stories.


But, ultimately, the two greatest examples of ski industry partnerships are from the Ski Maine Association and Telluride Ski & Golf Resort. Ski Maine's 17-resort challenge (see Speak-Out, SAM July 2008) proved that resorts that work together get more customers and free media coverage. Telluride's "Freedom From the Ordinary" branding concept is an unprecedented community-wide program that brings together the entire marketing and customer service experience. For full program details visit saminfo.com.



BEST PROGRAMS TO BORROW

Let's be honest. You read stories like this to find ideas that have worked so you can copy them.


SKIWA SMS Program

Wachusett Mountain, Mass.

Program description: Wachusett implemented a text messaging mobile marketing program to quickly communicate special deals to core customers. Over the course of the season, the resort accumulated 2,000 cell phone numbers from customers by offering special contests and incentives for them to sign up. The area targeted customers when it had an immediate reason to promote visits (such as bad weather or a New England Patriots playoff game) or a special they wanted to communicate quickly.


What was innovative: They created unique and "in the moment" promotions that would catch the attention of guests. By using the best part of mobile technology-the instantness-they were able to get their message out faster than they could through any other marketing channel.


Best to borrow: Although many resorts are now using mobile marketing (SMS), Wachusett excelled because they understood how to use it effectively and get results. Uses included last-minute promotions, such as early- and late-season ticket deals, a bounceback text coupon when weather was marginal, and a Superbowl tie-in to boost attendance before the game.



Pair Pass

The Canyons, Utah

Program description: From Jan. 7 till Feb. 14, The Canyons placed a special offer in the marketplace that provided two adult full-day lift tickets, two burgers and two beers for $99.90. To receive this offer, guests were required to go on-line to www.pairpass.com, register and download a promotional voucher that was valid at the ticket window. This registration process allowed the resort to capture consumer information including mailing and web address.


What was innovative: This promotion created a huge buzz in the local ski/ride community and created a massive amount of local goodwill for the resort. It also helped erase the early-season visit deficit that was caused by a lack of snow/poor conditions. Overall, the resort saw a 16 percent increase in paid skier visits during the promotional period over the previous year. Considering that this occurred during the Sundance Film Festival, a traditionally slow time for lift ticket sales, the sales growth was impressive.


Best to borrow: DINK (Double Income No Kids) focus that ties in with other profit centers on the property. The resort found a concept that would excite the target market and get it to spend more money in more places on the mountain. This program was not only unique, but also simple and successful.


Skisoutheast.com Summit

Snowshoe Mountain, W.V.

Program description: Snowshoe staff invited a ski blog community to ski and stay at the resort. Bloggers such as "skierchic304" were able to meet fellow bloggers "teledave" and "the Gnar," for example. In three days the resort hosted more than 150 participants in this group ski deal.


What was innovative: Showing that Web 2.0 marketing channels can still be translated into traditional marketing methods. By inviting a core group of online influencers to meet, face-to-face, they brought the online community to their slopes. Simple but effective. The only cost they had were food costs of about $200 for a cocktail party. In return the area racked up 153 overnight skiing guests on the spur of the moment in March. Simply by planting the idea into the online forum.


Best to borrow: Keeping an active eye on the online communities-both national, such as myspace.com and youtube.com, and then also regional or industry-specific-the cool places where the target demographic is talking about your resort. If an opportunity presents itself to convert these people to customers, do it.


Lift Ticket Exchange Program

Sun Valley Resort, ID

Program description: The Lift Ticket Exchange Program gives customers the opportunity to redeem multi-day adult (three-day or more) lift tickets for other activities at Sun Valley Resort, including a Nordic package, snowshoe rental and lunch, group ski/board clinics, ice skating and lunch, dinner or Sunday brunch, massage, or a gift from the resort's gift shops.


What was innovative: A++ for customer relations. Not only do they get people excited about buying multi-day tickets, but they never have to worry about people asking for a refund because they couldn't ski all the days they purchased. By also allowing people to exchange the value of the ticket for specified activities, they have made it simple and easy for guest to have a great experience, even if it's not going to be on the slopes each day.


Best to borrow: Provide a flexible, practical program customers will love. Although this simple idea may not be that simple to implement, the paybacks are huge. Not only will customers return, but the resort is able to promote multi-day tickets and highlight other profit centers on the mountain in a way that catches and keeps people's attention and dollars.


Your Tahoe Place for Kids

Diamond Peak, Nev.

Program description: The area's main target for 2007-08 was kids and families with kids, specifically kids under 12 years of age. To bring this positioning to life, the area created messages that spoke to kids and showed through the kids' point of view why they love to come to Diamond Peak. Without increasing the marketing budget, Diamond Peak was able to position itself as a family-friendly mountain, one able to deliver more personal service, kid-friendly terrain park, and family-friendly specials and programs and fun events throughout the season. The concept worked. The 2007-08 season was Diamond Peak's best ever in terms of revenue (and 22 percent ahead of average skier visits).


What was innovative: Right message. Right market. Right integration of traditional and new interactive channels. Diamond Peak found a way to highlight and deliver what customers want in a down economy. Guests found the area and marketing believable and the message true, since the resort was able to tie in the details that showed how it honestly and truly wanted kids to have a good time. It's the small things that impress customers and keep them coming back.


Best to borrow: Instead of having multiple messages targeted to different demographics, focus on one thing and do it better than your competitors. Create a total brand experience around your best customer. By focusing on kids (whose parents would bring them) the resort was able to create a fun and authentic experience that included the printed materials, staff, and partnerships. Our favorite part of the program was the mascot, "Diamond Pete" the penguin. Diamond Pete was not only prevalent on the slopes but also in toys that kids could collect by participating in lessons at the Child Ski Center, and in the "Adopt a Penguin" program tied to the World Wildlife Fund. This program proves that no matter what you say in a newspaper or TV ad, it's what people see for themselves that causes the buzz and keeps them coming back for more.


Family Sunset Ski

Arizona Snowbowl, AZ

Program description: What started as a single party idea for the resort's 70th anniversary celebration turned into one of its most popular events. As the days grew longer in March, Snowbowl left two lifts open until 6 p.m. on Fridays, and dropped the lift tickets from $48 to $7 (from 2 p.m. on). The goal was to say "thank you" to the community that supported the resort and encourage families and lapsed skiers to visit at affordable prices.


What was innovative: Doing something unlikely and unexpected, yet entirely possible and fun. Creating a special experience, in short. Since the slopes are not lighted, extending the hours till 6 was an unusual move. However, by doing the unexpected, Snowbowl was able to give families exactly what they wanted-a fun, friendly, and affordable experience. In turn the resort received very positive community feedback and an influx of extra dollars in an off-peak time period.


Best to borrow: Look again at your hours and policies. Find a way to bend the rules even a small bit, to give people a different experience early and/or late in the day. The results may surprise you.


Buck Off

Mountain High, Calif.

Program description: The Buck Off Season Pass promotion was created to generate pre-season excitement and kick off the resort's season pass sales. This daylong festival was free and open to all, and consisted of live music, DJs, rail painting exhibitions, and a 10,000-square-foot snow-covered jib park open to both pro riders and the general public. It also included a vendor village with pre-season sales on hard goods and outerwear and pro-rider meet-and-greets. Not to mention the Buck-A-Beer specials, Buck-Off tattoos, and food specials such as venison burgers and deer jerky.


What was innovative: To create the arena for the event, Mountain High spent close to a week moving dirt, covering the entire area with hay, and then trucked in 120 tons of ice. The catch for guests? To ride the rails they needed a helmet and to purchase a season pass. To get people excited for the event, the area also created a video game called "Peg the Boarders." In the game, you become a deer or "buck" and get to throw snowballs at the snowboarders in exchange for a chance to win a season pass or other prizes. With over 10,000 passholders, Mountain High shows that there are ways to nurture loyal passholders beyond selling cheap passes.


Best to borrow: This event not only created a sense of urgency and enticed guests to purchase season passes at the event, it also removed any conversation about the previous lackluster snow season. It was fun, memorable, very creative and perfectly matched for the market.




How Can You Claim Northstar Resort?
Northstar-At-Tahoe Resort
Program description: Four print ads with different Pro Riders showed an image of the athlete in a warehouse, with a movie screen backdrop. The ad copy introduced the rider, then asked the question: "How can you claim Northstar Resort?" followed by a vanity URL that drove the reader online to hear and watch the athlete answer the question. The web landing page looked like the print ad, with the screen backdrop shown in the ad actually linking to a video player. Upon loading the video, the Pro Rider explains (in a subtle interrogation-like setting) why he claims Northstar as his home resort. The footage then wraps up with each athlete riding Northstar-at-Tahoe's terrain parks to edgy music.

What was innovative: Rather than Northstar employees or ads extolling the virtues of the terrain parks in a typical ad, this campaign showed Northstar's youth audience their idols, their superheroes, telling the truth about why they claim Northstar as their home resort. This created tremendous word-of-mouth marketing-"buzz." While buzz is challenging to measure, the Terrain Park youth marketing team and on-site operations crew heard repeated comments about the "call out" factor of the "How Can You Claim Northstar?" Campaign, and that it was very cool and totally unique.

Best to borrow: They leveraged their relationship and built buzz around major film premiers and online video. The campaign quickly became dubbed as "Northstar's Call-Out Ads" among park riders. Their audience believed they were "calling themselves out" for claiming that big name pro riders choose Northstar-at-Tahoe as their home resort.

Ski Maine Peak to Peak Challenge
Ski Maine Association
Program description: Skiers and riders were challenged to visit Maine mountains during the 2007-08 winter season. It was kicked off by a media event featuring the "One Ski Maine Team" that skied and rode one run at all 17 member mountains on a 1,000 mile trip in 3 1/2 days. This not only provided excellent media coverage but brought attention to the state's varied terrain, trails and character of each mountain. Although participation by the public was limited in the three-day challenge, the public was invited to take advantage of a season -ong one. The second aspect of the program rewarded skiers based on the number of areas they visited. The more mountains logged, the bigger the possible prize. Participants tracked their visits with the Ski Maine Peak to Peak Challenge card. Prizes skiers could win included a chance to win a Ski Maine VIP pass that allows the winner to ski any Maine mountain at any time; a Ski Maine Double Pack for the 2008-09 season (2 tickets to each member area); or a Ski Maine Solo Pack (1 ticket per area) for 2008-09.

What was innovative: Taking an old idea and turning it into something new and rewarding. Rewarding for both the ski areas, which received additional marketing and ticket sales and for guests, who were able to experience all that Maine has to offer. In addition, resorts had a clear outline of the follow-up steps to maximize the PR potential.

Best to borrow: Joint marketing. For just a few thousand dollars, the ski areas were able to generate excitement and get tremendous media coverage in major Maine newspapers, TV stations and on the web.

Unmatched in North America
Telluride Ski& Golf
Program description: Through a community-wide program involving local governments, businesses, organizations, and boards, Telluride created a singular high-level marketing and guest service experience, not only for the resort, but for the entire region. Marketing pieces were designed to focus on one theme with a strong call to action that highlighted the community as one destination, rather than a series of micro-experiences throughout a vacation.

What was innovative: The resort recognized that although guests may evaluate different venues and businesses they visit during their stay at the mountain destination, they judge their overall experience as a whole. So, the key was to create a consistent brand message and level of service throughout the destination, and a seamless experience for the guests. They did this through regular "town meetings" of area leaders and action teams that focused on communication, training, employee recognition, and vision.
At the resort, the Guest Service Center provided information, lost and found, and free daily mountain tours that highlighted area history, environment, and terrain. In town, a Tourism Board program is in development to recognize businesses with quality approval window seals and offer priority referrals from the visitor centers.

Best to borrow: Collective marketing works! Not only are guest service ratings at an all-time high, but since implementing this "total concept" program, sales records have been set at the resort with a 25 percent gain.

Interactive Vacation Planner
Park City Mountain
Program description: Located at http://www.parkcitymountain .com, Park City built one of the first 24/7/365 interactive personal ski assistants. Ever visit a new ski area and not know where to go to ski or the best place to eat? Park City found a way to make those fears a thing of the past. Its new interactive planner allows guests to go online and be their own tour guide, both at the resort and in the town of Park City. They can experience all of the mountain and have the closest thing to a personal concierge as possible. The resort even provides downloadable files that guests can print out or email to friends.

What was innovative: Park City created something that was so useful guests wouldn't want to go anywhere else. By including local information, the area was able to provide all the information that guests would need-restaurants, shops and more.

Best to borrow: Building trip itineraries that families would find attractive and easy to follow. Find a way to engage guests and make the planning process fun (and easy).

You Be the Judge SMS Program
Snow Trails Resort
Program description: Any fan attending with a text -nabled mobile device could Txt "TRAILS" to #95495 to cast a vote for their favorite contestant in the Mt. Dew Big Air competition that occurred at Snow Trails. Not only would texters join the five official judges, but they had the chance to win apparel and help their favorite contestant win even more gear aside from first, second, and third places awarded by the official judges.

What was innovative: With just a few days for preparation, they were able to set up a mobile contest and add a level of excitement and interactivity for spectators. The crowd could judge the competitors and get instant feedback about the tally and they were rewarded for texting-in their vote by receiving back a text good for 10 percent off a purchase of $10 or more at the Snow Trails Ski Shop. At the end of the evening, Snow Trails randomly selected a "loyal fan" to receive a gear prize, and awarded gear to the "fan favorite," based on overall text votes, for the ski and snowboard divisions.

Best to borrow: Special event marketing that is interactive and gives a quick and easy incentive to encourage people to participate. Plus, the resort can use all the phone numbers it received for future marketing.

txt the SLOPES
Timber Ridge
Program description: Timber Ridge, 15 to 20 minuets from three colleges with a population of close to 30,000 students, worked with Coke to place posters on the most prominent coke vending machines on campus. In an attempt to gather cell numbers and reach these students, a "text to win" campaign gave one lift ticket or a pair of tubing tickets to the winners. At the end of the campaign, the area gave one very excited young winner a season pass. After signing up the students for these initial promotions, Timber Ridge then was able to send the students text messages regarding the area's air and rail events, Winterfest celebration and season pass sale. However, the greatest immediate result was increased participation the "college ski nights" program, which expanded from two nights per week to every evening!

What was innovative: Coming up with a low-cost campaign that fit the demographic in a manner they like to be marketed to. The area provided great value and made it cool for college students to hang at Timber Ridge.

Best to borrow: If you are going to do text message marketing, do something exciting that encourages people to want to get on your list and stay there.

Winter Family Makeover
Greek Peak
Program description: A TV show reality contest focused on selling the ski experience and the fun memories that come from it. The goal was to show skiing as a way for a family to grow closer together by learning something new and having family time together. The resort partnered with local ABC and NBC affiliates to help promote the contest and air the results during a week in February.

What was innovative: Great tie-in to the reality show boom. This new spin on the learn-to-ski concept got Greek Peak two weeks of TV air time in spots and reality show segments, all for the cost of lift tickets, lessons, and some clothing.

Best to borrow: Approaching the media with a timely and newsworthy story that they can have fun with.

Friday Feed
Powderhorn Resort
Program description: Every Friday morning, audio and video files were recorded by the marketing director covering various resort activities. The Friday Feed podcast provides "inside information" on resort plans, events, and deals with a relaxed, informal approach. Each podcast was 10 minutes or less. Listeners were encouraged to participate by e-mailing heir questions, comments, or funny stories. These were shared in future installments. The goal was to create and develop a connection with the customer and providd avenues for feedback.

What was innovative: Getting this concept to work with basically just a video camera, some software, and a prayer. Instead of highly developed and flashy video, Powderhorn developed a relationship with the customer by providing guests with a direct link to Powderhorn employees. By opening the lines of communication the area was able to develop loyalists, sell products, and increase skier visits. This was done at a fraction of the cost of traditional marketing programs since the podcasts were in-house, using the area's own equipment.

Best to borrow: The informal, friendly, and honest style, combined with the regularity. Customers loved it. This program gathered momentum as the season progressed and word spread through the area's blog, myspace.com, and other viral channels.

Daily Video Snacks
Waterville Valley Resort
Program description: Daily videos were used as a core marketing tactic throughout the season. Waterville produced video reports from the general manager and park reports from the terrain park manager twice a week. The goal was to present videos as the next best thing to being there. Daily videos also showed the variety and fun on the slopes. These would include shots of groomed trails, parks, tree skiing, and moguls. To highlight resort promotions, there were shot ads as the videos loaded. Waterville promoted special events and lodging packages.

What was innovative: Tackling and succeeding in the web 2.0 world. According to spokeswoman Deb Moore, "We received a lot of great feedback about the video snacks. Guests looked for our videographer on the mountain in the mornings so they could be in the video snack that day."

Best to borrow: Finding a way to get your customers excited about your resort.

Honor Roll Options (HRO)
Shanty Creek Resorts
Program description: A reward program designed to acknowledge and reward students' academic excellence. Offered to middle and high school students in a six-county area surrounding the resort, the program rewarded students for making their schools' honor roll. Once on the Honor Roll, students could receive a ten-punch HRO card. The cards were valid for multiple snowsports options, were NOT exclusive to the card holder, and had no blackout dates.

What was innovative: Traditional advertising in this market is not usually very successful. But the HRO program made it easy for students to act and visit the resort. Teachers and administrators loved the program and became its best promoters. Though it targeted kids, the program also made an impact on their parents, siblings, and extended families. This proved successful through a higher-than-anticipated redemption, accolades from the community, and additional purchases by family and friends that spent time at the resort. Interesting fact: although punches could be redeemed by anyone the receiver designated, the majority of the cardholder's used the punches themselves because they felt they "earned it."

Best to borrow: Creating a grass roots program that schools and families love. Making it simple and as easy to use for the customer.

Fall Line (Online Comic strip)
Windham Mountain
Program description: According to marketing and sales director Kirt Zimmer, "I am always looking for sticky content for our web site, the kind of thing that encourages repeat traffic and builds brand loyalty. I've wanted to do an online cartoon for a long time, but I never found the right resources to do it the way I wanted. Early this season, we discovered an employee from Chile who is an outstanding artist. I asked him to draft one episode and in a matter of two days he delivered something outstanding. We committed to doing it for the winter and it became a popular destination on our web site (http://winter.windhammountain.com/news/comic/)". Stories for "The Fall Line" were developed in-house to illustrate Windham's brand without being too heavy-handed about the marketing messages. Some of the stories were funny, while others were poignant. Windham is a family-friendly area, so a comic strip was the perfect delivery method to communicate messages to both kids and parents about the values of the resort.

What was innovative: With the resurgence of comic books and anime, starting an online comic strip was timely, low-cost, and gave Windham a unique and fun way to interact with guests that did not involve complaints or sales promotions. It was a great way to build loyalty.

Best to borrow: Create something that catches people's attention, is entertaining, and stands out from the competition.

iRide Card
Boreal Mountain
Program description: In Boreal's iRide Card program, guests request the card online or at any ticket window, providing demographic info including age, zip, and e-mail. They swipe the card when they purchase a lift ticket; in return, every two days they ride at Boreal, they get a third day free. This program had almost 60,000 cards in circulation. While the program was successful in building repeat business, it really expanded once the area added CRM. Boreal pulled weekly reports to see who had used their iRide cards, then e-mailed them a customer survey on their experiences, thanked them for coming, sent them special offers, and acknowledged their commitment to Boreal. Hundreds of customers thanked the area for gathering their input. The survey redemption through this program has averaged an overwhelming 50 to 68 percent.

What was innovative: Everyone uses technology, but not everyone uses it this cleverly. The resort's innovative message and personalized communications (made accessible through the new technology) really excited guests to stay customers.

Best to borrow: Follow through. If you are going to have a program, find ways to thrill the customer.

Chevron Cheap and Easy Nights
Bogus Basin
Program description: The theme of this program focused on getting people to come up after work or school for their "Cheap and Easy Nights"! Guests could make any purchase (even a pack of gum) at participating local Chevron gas and convenience stations in the region and receive a voucher good for up to four people for any combination of discounts at night at Bogus Basin. In return, Bogus saw a revenue increase in all departments, including food and beverage.

What was innovative: Bogus created a discount program to "drive people" where they wanted them to go. By partnering with Chevron, Bogus gained access to more marketing resources and ultimately increased its night skiing numbers. The area saw a 76 percent increase in night ticket revenue compared to the previous year: In 2007-08, the program led to the sale of 23,765 night tickets. Chevron was also pleased with the increased foot traffic into its c-stores.

Best to borrow: Discounting for volume can work, especially in non-peak times. By keeping the promotion simple, creating a great offer with a lot of flexibility, and giving it the promotion it needed, Bogus wase able to fill a normally slow time. This was only one of a handful of lift ticket discounts, but the only night skiing discount available for lessons or rentals, or targeted toward locals.

Coming up with new and exciting ways to promote and increase sales is the cornerstone of every marketing department. The most successful departments find ways to keep a continual pipeline of new ideas flowing.

With that in mind, be sure to go online to view all the programs, the people that made them happen and how they kept their marketing fresh.



Samantha Rufo is president of nxtConcepts, an interactive marketing and media company. Contact her at (740) 815-6925, sam@nxtconcepts.com.
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