In a recent series of interviews conducted through SlopeFillers, all major ski resorts said they do some level of email marketing. All but one wished they could do more, because email delivers a much better return on investment than other marketing channels. Smaller and mid-sized ski areas, on the other hand, were a very different story: Out of six drive-market ski areas (no lodging) interviewed, only two were doing any form of email marketing, and just half thought they should prioritize email going forward.
If you’ve worked in marketing at a larger resort, you know first-hand the benefits of investing in email marketing. But why should smaller mountains give email more attention? What makes this marketing channel so unique at a time when there are so many other options to choose from?
Put simply, email is one of the most reliable ways to get an effective message in front of both specific individuals and massive groups of people—but that’s only the beginning.
THE POWER OF EMAIL
One of the most striking ironies in marketing is the belief that social media killed email. Facebook is a perfect example. Yes, Facebook has reinvented one way in which people communicate (for better or worse), but do you know how it built that empire? Do you know how it brought back users again and again to develop those habits that are so hard to break?
Trillions upon trillions of emails. Between notifications and updates and account details and password resets and more, Facebook has leveraged email more than just about any other organization on the planet.
Why? Email is very effective, primarily thanks to four unique attributes:
1. An owned audience. Your email list is yours. This ownership offers portability, which means, if you don’t like your current email marketing platform, you can take your email list and move to a new one. Try that with your Facebook page’s list of fans (hint: it’s not portable).
2. One-to-one. Email is truly one-to-one. Modern email marketing systems allow you to customize text, imagery, and buttons based on the data you have stored about each recipient, and even emails that look the same on the surface are unique behind the scenes. Every recipient’s email is unique. Every link and image has a unique URL created by your email marketing platform so it can give you a detailed, user-by-user view of email activity.
3. Tracking and attribution. That level of personalization can help your emails be more effective—and it also helps you measure that effectiveness. Instead of just knowing how many people clicked the “Buy Now” link, you know exactly who in your database clicked it and who didn’t. Moreover, this transparency and detail make it much easier to measure which of those link-clickers ended up buying something once they arrived on your website.
4. Preferences. It’s not just marketers who love email, though. Regular people do, too. Given the choice between a variety of marketing channels through which to receive offers, consumers consistently—and overwhelmingly—prefer email. Case in point: in a recent survey by Yes Lifecycle Marketing, 47 percent of consumers chose email as their preference. Social media was preferred by just 10 percent of those surveyed.
The result: unrivaled performance. Add all of these things together and the ROI of email is off the charts. A recent analysis from AgencyAnalytics put average email ROI at a whopping 3,800 percent. Social media came in second at just 28 percent. Why? Algorithms can restrict the visibility of social posts after a few hours. But, with no algorithm between you and your audience, emails wait patiently in inboxes and continue to be opened and clicked for weeks after they’re sent. While you’re sending an email today, you could still be seeing revenue come in from an email you sent two weeks ago.
Email also performs well on-demand: Nearly 30 percent of people who open your emails will do so in the first hour after it is sent.
Email marketing is more affordable than ever, and modern tools and platforms have also made it extremely easy to use. You can establish an email marketing channel in three simple steps.
Step 1: Choose an email service provider. An email service provider (ESP) is software that lets you collect and store email addresses and easily send messages to all the people whose addresses you’ve collected. MailChimp and Constant Contact are ESPs many smaller resorts use. Emma, iContact, and MailerLite are also popular for their ease of use and low price.
When shopping for an ESP, take a moment to evaluate two key features:
1. Email builder. A simple, drag-and-drop email builder with a collection of templates to start from will save you more hours than you can imagine. The HTML code used to build emails is unique and finicky, so being able to create good emails without touching the code is important for most areas looking to get started with email.
2. Ability to import and update. Evaluate how easily you can import email addresses into the ESP and, more importantly, keep that list up to date as you capture new transactions in your point-of-sale (POS) system. More than likely, this will be a simple CSV (comma-separated values) export from your POS that you upload to the ESP.
For mountains looking to go bigger and automate the process, most ski POS systems (including systems used by smaller resorts like White Peaks and OnlySky) have built or are currently working on integrations with marketing platforms like Inntopia Marketing Cloud and Ascent360. These integrations can automatically sync guest details from your POS to your email marketing platform.
Step 2: Email addresses. Speaking of getting email addresses, where will all those contact details come from? There are two primary sources:
• Transactions: people who book something at your ski resort and use their email address to do so.
• Website: people who enter their email address on a form on your website in exchange for news, deals, or a chance to win something (sweepstakes).
Buying email lists from third parties is not recommended. Legal implications aside, these lists perform very poorly and may contain emails known as spam traps. These are used by major inboxes to identify bad actors, i.e., spammers. So if you send an email to a spam trap, Gmail, for example, could flag anything you send in the future as spam, which can make it harder for your next message—even if it’s to properly-collected emails—to reach the inbox instead of the spam folder.
Step 3: Send emails. Once you have an ESP selected and email addresses loaded into the system, you’re ready to start sending emails.
WHAT EMAILS YOU SHOULD SEND
It can be easy to overthink your email strategy when you see the slick campaigns from large consumer brands, but email is often most effective when it’s most simple. Let’s look at four email campaigns you can use to get started.
Welcome email. First, add an email sign-up form to your website and create a welcome email for people who sign up. These people aren’t quite ready to book something, but are interested enough to exchange their email address for more information or deals. This is a perfect group to contact immediately to keep the conversation going.
Devil’s Head, Wis., does a great job of this with a simple email that doesn’t even contain images. This campaign welcomes new subscribers, reinforces what’s great about the resort, highlights reasons why guests love to visit, and encourages folks to search by clicking a link at the end.
A welcome email doesn’t have to be fancy, but it’s a missed opportunity by most smaller resorts. You can set up this type of message in your ESP using the automations feature (sometimes called recurring messages, autoresponders, or programs). These are email campaigns you create once that are then sent to people automatically based on when their email address was added to the system (i.e., 1 hour ago, 3 days ago, etc.).
News. Next, look for things that give your audience extra reasons to visit. These bits of news also keep your business’ name on their mind for the next time they’re looking for a family activity or weekend adventure. Some examples include:
• when you open for the season;
• new or updated runs, lifts, or amenities;
• milestones as a business;
• high-profile or celebrity visitors;
• a forecast calling for snow or bluebird skies; and
• upcoming events.
In respect to frequency of email sends, try to find a cadence that you can sustain with both your own bandwidth and your pipeline of email-worthy news. Ideally, don’t go more than a month without sending something that keeps the conversation going between you and the people on your email lists. Trollhaugen, Wis., does a great job of this by simply highlighting items on its events calendar that will take place before its next newsletter goes out.
Some marketers like to send detailed newsletters each month or sometimes each week. If that’s your jam, go for it. But a simpler email focused on a single, exciting piece of news, right when it happens, can be just as effective and takes much less time to create.
Deals. The third type of campaign is also one of the most common. News-focused emails can absolutely draw folks to your website where they eventually book a lift ticket or lesson, but emails with deals, promotions, or discounts will often generate the most revenue.
While you may want to occasionally create new discounts to help fill periods of low visitation, look for other ways to give your audience deals that don’t involve extra markdowns. For example, you’re likely already discounting tickets when skiers buy online or, if your resort offers lodging, creating seasonal promotions on rooms or packages. In this case, all you have to do is use email to efficiently remind guests these things exist.
Eagle Point, Utah, did this with a pre-season reminder that the earlier guests book their tickets, the more they’ll save (image below). Chestnut Mountain, Ill., took its fall lodging promo and used an email campaign to get it in front of as many potential guests as possible.
Pass sales. One of the most effective uses of email marketing for ski areas is season pass sales. The psychology of deadlines can drive an incredible volume of transactions, but only if people know about these deadlines in the first place. Because emails are so effective at quickly reaching individual guests, an email sent the day before or even the day of your pass deadline can create a wave of purchases and limit frustration from skiers who didn’t realize prices were going up.
China Peak, Calif., did a fantastic job of this by sending a pass deadline email on the Friday before its Labor Day pass deadline, followed by another the morning of that deadline (see image at right).
KEEP IN MIND…
Some unsubscribing is OK. Keep in mind that virtually every email you send will result in at least a few people unsubscribing. Unless this rate spikes, don’t be afraid of this number. Typically, the more opens and clicks you get, the more unsubscribes you’ll get as well. And while it may hurt to see your database shrink a little bit, it’s better than sending messages over and over to all the people who don’t want to see your emails.
Practice restraint. A single email can generate a lot of revenue, but that doesn’t mean you should send a lot more emails. The same survey by Yes Lifecycle Marketing that noted more consumers prefer email marketing also pointed out that nearly half of consumers ignore emails due to inbox overload. A spike in people opting out of your emails can be a signal that you’re sending more than your audience would like.
The vast majority of major resorts will choose email over any other medium simply because it’s so effective at converting fairly simple messages into lots of transactions. The strategy we outlined here is simple, but more than enough to get your ski area started. Give email marketing a little love and it will give your mountain—and bottom line—a lot of love in return.