ometimes an amber pour of fresh maple syrup is a reminder of a ski run. Sometimes the perfectly poured head on a lager beer brings memories of a quaint Vermont lodge. And sometimes, fig mustard recalls a perfectly manicured groomer on a sunny day.
Brand extensions can take almost any form. Mountain resorts have become savvy when it comes to this, no longer settling for slapping their logo on a third-party t-shirt and hoping some dude will wear it at the beach next summer. Instead, resorts are looking inward at who they are and what they represent, and then finding products and experiences to match their identity. They extend their brand beyond the normal boundaries, and into every season of the year.
From Experience to Extension
Sunday River, Maine, has tapped into a sweet extension of its brand with made-on-site maple syrup. “It represents our resort in a perfect way,” says Sunday River VP of sales and marketing Nick Lambert. But it didn’t all happen at once.
The resort initially adopted the syrup project as a brand “experience.” A sugar shack was built near the learning hill, maple trees were tapped, and syrup was made right in front of the guests’ eyes. Tasting samples and “sugar on snow” slushies were handed out as a complement to the guest experience. “That’s what we initially thought this was,” Lambert says. “But once we were doing it, we realized pretty quickly that we should be bottling and selling this.”
That next step wasn’t just about turning a profit. In addition to the sugar shack, Sunday River syrup was also being served at Camp, a popular on-resort restaurant. With multiple touch points, Lambert says the resort realized guests became connected to the sweet goodness as a part of their overall experience. Being able to take it home, and even order it online when they were far from their vacation spot, served as both an emotional and physical reminder of Sunday River.
That’s why Sunday River took great pains making sure the product represented the resort, going way beyond slapping a logo on a generic item. “We found very nice glass bottles with a quality pop top,” Lambert says. “And we had a designer come up with a logo that was unique to the syrup but reflected Sunday River.”
Deer Valley, Utah, prides itself on its amenities—but the food is what puts it over the top. One “must have” dish is its legendary turkey chili, which is served in many spots all over the resort. About 15 years ago, the resort realized that this presented an amazing brand extension opportunity.
“Our chefs are always quite generous about sharing recipes for many of our great dishes in the media,” says resort spokesperson Emily Summers. “The one recipe we don’t give out is the turkey chili. So instead, we sell the ‘secret spice packet.’”
Summers says the brand extension has been a huge success. Front-line workers at Deer Valley report one of the most common questions they are asked is not “where is the restroom,” but rather, “how do you make that chili?” Providing guests a way to enjoy this extension of its brand at home and share it with others puts a good taste in the mouth of not only those who have visited, but those who may.
The resort has since added other products, too. Guests (and others) can now purchase the Deer Valley-made fig mustard served at the Fireside Dining Restaurant. They can also purchase four different cookie mixes that recreate some of the resort’s most popular desserts. New this year, the resort has added Deer Valley-made cheeses for order and purchase, as well as a hot sauce. All packaging for these products dons the Deer Valley-green color palette.
Summers says each product must fit the level of quality folks expect when they are at Deer Valley, a mindset that guides decisions for which products they choose to sell. “We have control over what we offer,” she says. To that end, one criterion for sale items is that they must be easily packaged, sold, and served at home with “that Deer Valley difference.”
The key seems to be finding just the right product(s) to which you can hitch your brand. For the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vt., the Austrian-influenced lagers brewed on site might seem like an obvious match—and it’s working well. But that, says resort spokesman Sam von Trapp, is the result of thoughtful execution.
It was born from a key component of the Lodge’s brand: Fun. “My dad wanted to do something fun, and he also noticed that most of the places around here were brewing ales,” says von Trapp. “He wanted to do more traditional [read: on point with their Austrian heritage, tied in with their brand] lagers.” And so they started a brewing operation. Almost immediately, the family members realized they had a perfect brand extension flowing out of their taps.
Now, the lodge has a shiny, big and amazing brewery and Bierhall on site, which reinforces its brand. But the brand extension is even more impressive: von Trapp Lagers are currently distributed in seven states, and the company is working toward more.
Every aspect of the beer reflects the resort. From the logo’s typeface to the style of beer, to it being a high quality product, the beer reflects The Trapp Family Lodge brand.
Still, the connection can be confusing to some. That’s because the family manages two powerful brands: the “Sound of Music” brand, and the Lodge brand. “There is a difference between the two,” von Trapp says.
But the von Trapps are finding, as the beer becomes more available and more popular, that the marriage of the Lodge’s brand to the beer is solid. Right now, the roles are hotel promoter; beer promotee. But at some point in the future, von Trapp says, that will shift.
“At first, the hotel promotes the beer, and then, in time, the beer promotes the hotel,” he says. “I can see a time in the future when people learn about the hotel from experiencing the beer, and it will be a great connection.”
Von Trapp points out that the decision to use the beer to extend the brand came with great thought and planning. “You know, every year people come to us with an idea for a product to put our name behind,” he says. “And my father has always been reluctant to do it [because of the quality of the product or the inability to control the details]. That’s when he thought: ‘Hey, let’s do this ourselves.’ And it’s working quite well.”
He points out that the reason for its success is because the family pays attention to every little detail. “Quality control is so important,” he says. “It’s great to have a name that is recognized, but in the end, it’s the quality of the liquid that matters.”
Take the Time
That attention to detail is one that Steve Wright, president and general manager of Jay Peak, Vt., has long been wary about as he has guided the resort’s brand and brand extensions. He warns that there are no shortcuts (read: don’t just let a t-shirt company slap your name on a product that doesn’t come close to representing your brand). Rather, a resort needs to take great pains to think through the nuances of any brand extension.
“I think each brand needs to make its own call on how deeply they want to integrate brand into their operating strategies,” says Wright. “I mean, the brand is there anyway, always, it’s a question of how much effort you want to put into it coming to life through multiple channels. For us, it takes effort to think past traditional TV spots, print ads, and electronic campaigns to imagine where else on campus and in-market our guests might interact with us.”
But the resort puts in the effort. “We spend a lot of time, some would suggest too much, on things like the paper quality of message pads in our lodging units, imagery and photography in our public areas, and background music in our tram and base lodges. But we think it’s worth the extra attention.”
Jay Peak has also taken an interesting—some might say risky—move on extending its brand: the area has extended it to an attitude. Call it the Jay way: always pithy, usually quite clever, and sometimes …. controversial, the voice that comes from Jay is a conscious choice of a brand extension that is working well.
“Without question there’s risk in using a colloquial tone in your interactions with guests” (and potential guests, too), Wright says. “Sometimes we assume that everyone understands our perspective when, in reality, they don’t. Not everyone’s relationship with your business has the same depth. With a mix of long-time homeowners, recent season pass holders, first timers, etc., that’s pretty obvious, so when you decide to have a conversational tone with your audience, you will, by nature of the your audience, alienate some people.
“As a business, you have to reason whether or not alienating a few is worth building a stronger relationship with some. Also, there’s something that can be appealing about not understanding everything immediately—it makes you want to dig deeper into what’s happening, and sometimes pulls you in. That’s how we view it, at least.”
Then there are the operations that spot a tangible opportunity and grab it.
That’s what happened to Timberline Lodge when it won a coveted retail spot in the Portland Airport, where it opened an “off site” store. With more than 5,000 people a day walking past and potentially wandering in, the folks at Timberline knew they had to nail their brand—from the look and feel of the space to the products they sold.
The resort, thanks to a partnership with Skylab Architecture and Bremik Construction, created a space that takes visitors from the sterile feel of an airport hallway to the warm, cozy feel of the Timberline Lodge in an instant.
“We wanted to make sure it was reflective of the Lodge,” says Jenna Stewart, Timberline’s director of retail operations. Authentic touches include post and beam structure, a fireplace, and floors that represent those in the Lodge, which dates back to the 1930s.
The store just opened in November, but Stewart says the area can already see its value as an extension of Timberline’s brand.
“It’s been eye-opening to see how many people come through the airport and don’t know what [Timberline Lodge] is,” she says. “Even locals. That was a bit humbling, for sure.”
But the store tells the story of the Lodge, and sells products folks can bring home (or on their vacation) that will tell them more, like local wine and other products carefully chosen to be offered there. It helps that the store is located past security, so travelers can make purchases on their way home as well. “Even if they are leaving Portland, this might give them a new reason to come back,” she says.
Stewart thinks it might be a full year before managers can track how well this satellite location drives traffic to the mountain, but one thing is for sure: the carefully crafted store plunges visitors into a true Lodge feel. “Even I have to remind myself I am in an airport when I’m in there,” she says.
Stewart believes that’s because the resort followed an idea that’s common to many successful brand extensions. “We didn’t just try to take our name and plug it in there,” she says. “We are being sure to stay true to who we are.”
Be it syrup, beer, or an airport shop, that seems to be the key. Brand extensions can, with the right touch, be the mountain.