SUMMARY: Although you may be enjoying this winter's unusually balmy weather, consider the unhappy fate of ski resort marketers. In response, Killington Resort has been running an all-out integrated media attack, including rich media
CHALLENGE "It's no secret the weather has been very challenging this year," admits Tom Horrocks, Killington Resorts Communications Manager.
Plus, even in the most perfect snow-seasons, marketing the resort is awfully tough because its target demographic are Boston, CT, and New York-area consumers in their late 20s and 30s, often unmarried and with no children. On one hand it's a dream market -- these young professionals have income to spare for personal indulgences and love to "live life to its fullest."
On the other hand, this demographic is a marketer's nightmare. They live in highly fragmented media markets and consume traditional media, namely TV and magazines, at a far lesser rate than the general population. Plus, the online media targeting them is incredibly cluttered during the season (we've included some links below so you can check out these sites for yourself.)
Last but not least, although Killington is top in its market, the resort can't rest on any laurels because this "live life to the fullest" demographic are an ephemeral bunch.
Once these young professionals at last make enough money to spend on ski vacations, it's only a matter of time before they start squandering it on things like mortgages, weddings and babies instead of singles fun. So, Killington's constantly fighting a customer churn battle to resorts targeting the next lifestage -- family fun.
What's a singles fun ski marketer to do in a season that's promising to be packed with hideously balmy weather?
CAMPAIGN Horrocks decided to launch an all-out marketing attack. In past years his budget had primarily focused on print, radio and outdoor. While he kept up the best-performing campaigns from these, he expanded aggressively into three new media buys designed to catch the live-life-to-the-fullest crowd smack dab right where they were living it -- on their iPods, fave ski sites, and in hot local clubs.
-> I. Podcasts
Horrocks's team knew that the Killington audience was made up of "social connectors" who were also hugely into music and new technology. He decided to use podcasts to build a connection with that audience in a way that would resonate with them. He researched digital options before deciding to purchase the software and digital microphones that he could use right in the office to create the podcasts. Then, his team developed three podcast programs:
a. Snowcast -- a daily weather and lift report that ran three minutes
b. Driftcast -- weekly events, interviews, tips, and stories that ran 12 minutes
c. SoundRide -- weekly production of three hours of independent music compiled by famed DJ Ted Leibowitz
Horrocks knew he needed a personality for the Snowcast and Driftcast that would develop a unique connection to his audience. He had been in the process of hiring a "snow reporter," so he changed the job description to that of "snow reporter/media writer" and hired "Anna of the Mountain," a young woman enthusiastic about skiing and all it involves, who also had some background in PR and marketing.
"The female voice adds credibility," says Horrocks. "It's more pleasing to listen to and a little more convincing in the ski business." That's because skiers tend to think that ski resorts put too much marketing hype around their conditions reporting, and a female voice takes away from that belief.
Anna writes the copy for the Driftcast herself and she records it so that her voice is truly "the voice of Killington," says Horrocks. "She epitomizes the Killington resort, young, passionate, crazy about skiing."
The podcast was served on Killington.com, and was also distributed through all major podcast channels (iTunes, Podcast Alley, Yahoo). Plus, the podcast was automatically updated with new events, so that listeners in February wouldn't hear about events from December.
-> II. Rich media "avatar" banners
During the season, the online skiiing media is incredibly cluttered with ads. Mainly because of this, in the past Horrock's ads standard clickthrough rate had been about .2%. (Compare that to the travel industry's overall average of .47% and sports industry's 1.4%.)
In this tougher-than-usual winter he couldn't afford for his ads to be missed. So Horrocks decided to invest a bit more upfront in rich media creative, featuring the Anna of the Mountain voice and character.
The team chose an expandable banner format "hosted by" a talking-head avatar in the form of an image of a young woman's face with short, dark brown hair, one lock of which dangled in her face.
To get the most interaction, the dialogue bubble read, "Roll over and I'll tell you what's up" and the main banner read, "Roll over for deals, conditions, events, and tunes."
When the visitor rolled over the banner, the avatar (voice recorded by Anna herself) began talking. New scripts could be recorded into a back-end system that immediately updated the banner with lip-synching technology. Anna recorded new scripts as often as daily, to reflect new events, snow conditions, deals, and more. A typical script:
"Killington resorts will showcase the best freestyle athletes in the country March 23 through the 26th at the Sprint U.S. freestyle championship at Bear Mountain. Click below to learn how you can become a volunteer at this event or earn yourself a VIP pass."
After the short speech, the banner expanded to show more information about the topic, in this case about the Sprint Freestyle Championship. The banner included four tabs that visitors could explore: Deal of the Week, Conditions, Event Guide, and Killington Cast.
Visitors who clicked "Book Now" were taken to a landing page also featuring the Anna avatar as a virtual host. The page was called "The Buzz: what's happening at Killington." and included conditions, a guide to events, information on the Driftcast podcast, a link to buy tickets and book lodging, and more.
Anna's script on this Buzz page ran a minute-and-a-half and was also updated on a regular basis. Part of one script included, for example:
"Greetings. Anna here with your weekly buzz for Killington Resort. Killington resort has fantastic conditions currently. Our guest testimonials have been filled with positive feedback... Our groomers have been laying corduroy on an average of 100 trails every night. Temperatures have been right-on for snowmaking as well and our snowmakers continue their expansion. There are peak conditions every single day. Click the icon below to listen to the Killington daily Snowcast and the Killington weekly Driftcast. The Snowcast will provide you with up-to-minute snow report, and the Driftcast will fill you in with latest events and happenings and up and down Killington Road. Anna here signing off with your weekly buzz for Killington Resorts."
These avatar ads were run on niche skiing and vacation sites (targeted by geography by the Northeast), as well as on geographically targeted newssites and networks (list below.) Naturally only sites that were able to accept rich media were chosen.
Whenever anyone was served an ad, they were tagged so the person could be tracked for up to 90 days to see if they eventually converted. Those who visited the Killington website after seeing an ad, but who didn't purchase anything during that visit, were retargeted and served another ad.
While some of the sites are still running the banners, the campaign ran mainly from December 2005 through February 2006.
-> III. Bar coasters
Horrocks's team decided to focus on social connectors in the party mindset in New York City, because media in that area is so fragmented. So, Horrocks had 300,000 2-sided, 2 spot-color bar coasters distributed in 100 upscale Manhattan bars/clubs. Side one of the coaster urged people to "Join Killington Mobile Rewards and we'll send unique offers and discounts directly to your cell phone all season long. Simply text message keyword 'kski' [or 'kride] to…"
The other side was created to look like the screen of a cellphone. It again included the number to reply to, the text message to enter (kski or kride), and a quirky message such as: Your legs will owe your fingers big time, or Order celebratory beer from bartender. The campaign was reinforced at telephone kiosks in Manhattan.
RESULTS "We've been incredibly happy with the results," says Horrocks. "It has helped us to epitomize the entire brand and create excitement. It far and away exceeded my expectations"
To date, the podcasts have been downloaded over 28,000 times across all venues. Unfortunately results beyond downloads have been hard to track, but Sherpa will keep you updated if anything else can be discovered.
Luckily, the team were able to track the living daylights out of the expandable avatar banner campaign. Overall 8.58% of viewers interacted with the banner (compared to an industry average of 7.9% for the travel category, 11.4% for sports, and 6.6% for retail).
Average interaction time was 2.66 seconds, which is low for industry averages (between 8.4 and 14.8 seconds for travel, sports and retail). However, clickthrough was inordinately high at 4.54%. The industry average for travel is 0.47% and for sports it is 1.4%. Horrocks's team figured this meant people interacted with the ad briefly because it was so obviously relevant to them so they cut to the chase and clicked right away.
Worth noting: the interaction rate varied wildly depending on site or network it ran on: Some niche sites such as FreeSkier.com saw an interaction rate of 23% but conversions were much lower, while network sites might have seen interaction rates as low as 1% but clickthroughs were higher. Yahoo, targeted by geography and behavior, returned a 7% interaction rate.
Viewthroughs (visits from people who were served an ad but didn't clickthrough directly to the site but rather went to the site later) were well worth tracking. Although to date, the Buzz page has had just under 3,000 pageviews, the banners have generated 46,000 viewthrough Killington homepage visitors.
Total sales from the banner campaigns was about 100, returning an ROI of 3:1. Over 70% of that revenue was generated through the retargeting of ads to prospects that have previously visited a tagged Killington webpage. The average order was significantly higher than a couple of lift tickets -- people were purchasing packages that included lodging. In fact, the average order size was "really high, comparable to telesales."
The bar coaster campaign, however, was pretty much a dud. Only 350 people responded to the 300,000 distributed bar coasters to join Killington's Mobile Rewards program. We suspect the program would do better as a loyalty campaign to current customers supping at Killington-area clubs every winter.
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