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The COVID-19 situation has introduced myriad uncertainties to everyday life. However, one thing is for certain: it will pass, and life will go on. When it does pass, we need to be ready.
We all have to think about business continuity and about next season, which will happen. Yes, it is appropriate to continue marketing your business, with some careful thought to the right tone and message. The marketplace still has to function, maintenance still has to occur, and preparations for summer/fall business must continue, alongside a backup plan to expand and contract depending on how the pandemic unfolds.
The mountain resort industry should be ready to provide the public with the best place to be following a period of isolation—the outdoors. Hiking, biking, and fresh air will be very much desired by our customers. They may have some lingering hesitations, though, so be upfront with how you will address those.
Your marketing and messaging must be clear and appropriate. We asked a couple experts to weigh in on business continuity from a marketing perspective.
Gregg Blanchard, Slopefillers
The last seven days have seen us go from business as usual to a state none of us could have dreamed of. We are all reeling from the shock of it. But as that shock begins to wear off, there appears to be a collective understanding emerging among customers that marketing is not something to get offended at, but an opportunity to support the businesses we care about through a tough time. Some Shopify stores, for example, are having record weeks—eclipsing even Cyber Monday. There's a movement in which people are buying gift cards to restaurants that have closed.
You absolutely have to be thoughtful about the message, but I think resort marketers do have opportunities to start marketing sooner than later. Maybe the gift card movement is a place to start. Sugarloaf/Boyne's Zoom Rooms, where you can buy a room at a set rate that can be redeemed later, are one such example. Give customers something that's not date-specific and doesn't lose value, to remove the uncertainty around the COVID-19 timeline. Retail might be a way to engage loyal customers as well, if you have a bunch of hoodies or shirts laying around.
Be honest and upfront about your situation, and be gracious. Lay off the pushy stuff, and allow your audience to support you in a way that also gives them value. This isn't business as usual, but you're still a business. Get creative, be human, and I think you'll find a few good marketing opportunities.
Most importantly, remember that every resort, ownership group, GM, and state is different. There is no right answer, and nobody is in a mindset to do their best work. In other words, be kind. It will all look different in hindsight.
Right now your marketing team should be taking a 30,000-foot view of everything they have out in the market, and evaluating if it should live or die. Chances are you've got online ads promoting spring events/products, season pass sales, AdWords campaigns, lodging packages, and more. Don't forget about your marketing automations, best to hit pause on those until the dust settles.
There's no need for you to be sending something like a booking anniversary, pre-arrival, or happy birthday email to your guests when your lifts aren't spinning and call centers are vacant. And for the love of god, don't update your snow report if the flakes start falling again—even if you're considering the possibility of reopening in the distant future. If that time comes, address it then.
Don't worry about losing your customers. We're all going to be yearning for our mountain playgrounds after being cooped up in the house. The business will come back. And when it does, that's when you can start to hit your audience back over the head with the marketing hammer.
These are uncharted waters for all of us, so don't worry about making mistakes. I know the constant fear of pissing off the internet and becoming the next social lightning rod is terrifying, but as long as the decisions you make are rooted in compassion and empathy, you'll weather the storm.