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The Art Of The Poach

All across the West, this has been a challenging year for skiers.  All of us have been watching each subsequent weather forecast with bated breath.  Perhaps this next week it will snow.  Maybe tonight?  It seems each hope has been dashed by the same results – dry and warm conditions.

I have worked in marketing in the ski industry.  The popular saying “There is no marketing campaign that beats snow” is so true.  It is simple – if it snows, people ski and snowboard.  If it doesn’t, they don’t.  But in these slow years, you still have to try, right?  You have to scratch and claw to get people on the plane and on the mountain.

The interesting thing about this year is the growing tactic of the poach in ski industry marketing.  You saw it first this month with Big Sky Resort in Montana offering free skiing to Epic Pass holders in Colorado.  The Epic Pass is the hallmark pass of industry titan Vail Resorts, allowing access to all of Vail Resorts’ network of Colorado mountains.

Why the gift to skiers a thousand miles away?  Well, the strategy has several potential wins for Big Sky Resort.  First, it allows access to Vail’s massive database.  Second, the marketing dollars are negligible.  The press picked up the story (one of the few in a slow winter season) and ran with it.  Customer acquisition costs are much smaller compared to advertising across Colorado.  Let Vail bring in the customers and then you can reach out to them via the press.  Finally, because the “free skiing” is tied to a lodging package in a historically slow month (January), these might be higher yield skiers than even their own season pass holders.  And, even if skiers in Colorado don’t jump on the next plane, it could provide long tail benefits.

Other resorts have extended free skiing to Epic Pass holders, including Grand Targhee in neighboring Wyoming.  Red Mountain in Canada even went further by offering free skiing to ALL skiers from the United States.  Game on!

This strategy is likely to be around for a while.  As ski corporations get bigger and bigger and competition gets fiercer, why not ride the coattails of a Vail Resorts?  Why not, as part of your yearly marketing strategy, institute Epic Days each January or other slow periods.  Give away the skiing and get it back on lodging.  And the poach goes on.

How to direct target (poach) someone else’s customer:

  1. Make the offer easy to understand: The offer has to be succinct and simple because you might not get a lot of chances to get the message across.
  2. Understand their need: In the case of Big Sky Resort, Epic Pass Holders get FREE skiing.  By extending this to their Montana resort, Big Sky Resort has understood the customer’s need.  It is much harder to offer tangential offers to a group like this.
  3. Make it newsworthy: You might choose to advertise to spread the message, but using cost-effective public relations and social media outlets will help keep marketing costs in check.

The only downsides of this is perceived value.  If so much attention gets paid to skiing for free at Big Sky Resort, will Colorado skiers want to come and pay full price?  Maybe some.  Moreover,  because the Epic Pass already caters to the value skier, these tactics may not drive much to the bottom line.

Whatever the outcome, this season’s snowfall (or lack thereof) has led to some interesting tactics in the marketing world.  Tactics that might just be part of the norm from here on out.

photo courtesy of Steve Wilhelm

  • Mike H.

    Insightful post, Richardo. Pushin’ it out, Miguel

  • http://www.awastedyouth.com/ Rich Hohne

    Thanks a lot, Miguel.  Good to see you by these parts!

  • Anonymous

    Maybe they hope they’ll buy real estate? Totally get what you are saying. And while it might be wise for the short-term, it might not earn loyal visitors. And I had to nod my head vigorously at your point about perceived value. 

    Sadly, isn’t the profit in skiing in real estate? and in the bar? 

  • http://www.awastedyouth.com/ Rich Hohne

    The profit used to be in real estate and that is certainly still the hope of most resorts.  But for those with little or no real estate inventory, the key is to drive skier yield – more dollars per visit.  The ancillary revenue streams are so critical, but you wonder how long strategies like this could last where one of the the largest component of yield (tickets) become expendable.  

    And, yes, the bar is usually a big revenue stream in the ski world!

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