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Maybe the Secret to Good Resort Marketing is Pissing (a Few) People Off

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The best word for most resort marketing may simply be “vanilla”. The best two words may be “luke warm”.

Incarnate those communications and you’ll end up with a yes man.

No matter how many clever sentences I try to come up with to illustrate this point, it’s no secret that much in the marketing world, resorts included, tries to please everyone.

One Important Line
Origin has one of the best business blogs around. They tackle a bunch of unique, yet relevant topics and pick the brains of unique personalities with insight-filled interviews.

One of their recent posts, aptly titled “Screw ‘The Customer is Always Right’” addressed this very thing. One line stood out and made me wonder if, perhaps, it was the most important marketing statement someone has declared in a very long time.

“As a brand, [Jay Peak Resort has] been very comfortable in NOT pleasing everyone. This can be felt in some of the advertising language, many of the chosen visuals to represent the brand and certainly in their social channels.”

Think about that.

On the vanilla-o-meter, maybe resorts need to wander away from the safe shelter of 100 and start to give their marketing a bit more of an edge.

Maybe we need to put the ski porn down for a second and tell a different story that *gasp* everyone may not like.

I’ve often shared my love of Jay Peak’s marketing style, and I really think this is one of the reasons why that I simply didn’t realize until now. Perhaps Sugarloaf was onto something when they sarcastically thanked someone who hated their new site.

One Last Voice
Marketing can be described as many things. Among those is storytelling. Marketing, at the core, always seems to have the structure of a narrative.

So when you look at a list of storytelling rules written by the best (Pixar) through a marketing lens, this principle suddenly rings truer than usual.

Safe marketing feels good to us marketers, but maybe, just maybe, it’s poison to our audience. They don’t remember it, they don’t feel anything, they don’t tell anyone, they message never makes it past their retinas, it’s just…well…there. Right along side all the other marketers’ work.

Maybe it’s time for a change.

  • Joe Myers

    Huge respect to what Origin and Jay Peak have done. Jay’s tone is confident and refreshingly sincere. But I’d be hard pressed to find examples of their content being offensive. I see Steve Wright’s comments occasionally about guests’ complaints regarding their advertising. They’re not complaining about THIS ad, are they? Or is there another one out there that’s much more brash and/or awesome?

    • Good point, Joe. I don’t think Jay is intentionally trying to be offensive, but we live in a world where everyone seems to be looking for something to get upset about (Chris Brogan summed up this idea well here: Some are looking for these opportunities more than others.

      I think the goal is often to be so neutral that even the trolls don’t have anything to say, but the feeling I get from Origin is that they aren’t going to change the right message simply because a few people will get ticked off.

      In terms of the comments that Steve gets, I’m not sure but I think they are referring to the video above.

      • Joe Myers

        Wow. I kept thinking there was some other video that was really subversive. This thing is just straight up delightful.

  • Chris Danforth

    First let me say, Steve Wright is a golden god of resort marketing. Having been through a few resort branding exercises myself, it is pretty clear that many resorts make little attempt to disrupt the ski resort category in their marketing. On the other hand, I think Jay Peak has been one of the best at this for a number of years now. It’s hard to create an irresistible strategic brand personality that differentiates your brand from the competition when you use the same powder shot as everyone else.

    • I think you hit the nail on the head, Chris. Jay has real personality. So few brands seem to have this. Well said.

      In other news, I think I might have to make a t-shirt that says “resort marketing’s golden god” and send it to Steve.

      • Joe Myers

        Right on Chris. They are crushing it.

    • Chandler Burgess

      Steve Wright is the man.

  • AK

    Only a handful of folks in this business are safe enough in their roles (without a broad shareholder or ownership group which thus requires vanilla methods) to swing for fences that disrupt. Even fewer of them do it successfully. Jay shines in this rare light.

    • Very good point. Though I think “disrupt” is bit beyond the scope I had in mind. I don’t think Jay necessarily disrupts much of anything, they are just okay with not having a 100% happiness rate in response to their marketing if the know the message is right.

      • AK

        Disrupting the norm was my meaning. If that is disruptable. I’ve confused myself.

        • Gotcha. When I think of the word disruption I think of how entrepreneurs use “disrupt” when they hope to completely turn an industry on its head.

    • Chris Danforth


  • This isn’t applicable only in the ski resort world. It’s a larger truth of marketing that we talk about a lot with our clients:

    If you’re not excluding anyone, you’re not really including anyone.

    The perfect message for your perfect target audience is going to necessarily be less-than perfect for everyone else. So if your messaging is scoring consistently “good” across all of your research and focus group testing, there’s something wrong with it. Good messaging for most brands scores low with the wrong audience and high with the right one. Great messaging, by extension, should piss the wrong people off.

  • Patrick Brown

    Let me take on Jay in a rare dissenting opinion regarding their marketing efforts. I think the jury is still out. Yes, some of their ads targeting the ‘core’ market ring true (“Raised Jay” campaign). But anyone who has worked in the industry knows these folks aren’t the bread and butter of the business. They don’t spend like vacationers. All the other resorts are happy to let Jay win the race to the bottom.

    Second the shear volume of Jay’s marketing efforts smells of desperation. Has it panned out for them? Are skier visits up? Are they moving their real estate? Are they bringing new skiers/riders to the mountain? Or is the plan to live off of cheap foreign capital forever?

    The above ad (not video) is completely disingenuous. “Thankfully” people aren’t at their resort. Who are they kidding? Jay Peak doesn’t want people to ski there? Or maybe guests don’t won’t other people there? Or their advertising is so ineffective that not no one goes there. Or maybe everyone is not welcome at Jay. I am confounded!

    If Yogi Berra skied …”The lift lines are so long, no one skis there anymore.”

    • Love the comment, Patrick.

      I hope in your “dissenting opinion”, you also see that you’ve supported the discussion we’re having about their marketing. The fact that people can disagree and even be turned off by it is the exact principle I’m hoping to debate. Is marketing that elicits some response (even if for some it’s negative) better than no response at all? While I can’t make a blanket statement, I’d say yes for most situation.

      Though, I must say that from your “cheap foreign capital” line and your proximity to their resort, am I way off in saying your opinion is likely fueled by something a bit deeper than a single ad or marketing style?

      • Patrick Brown

        I’d be remiss to say no to your last question. I’d like to see Jay succeed in all of their efforts. I’m not concerned about where/how they are getting the capital and I think the development is good for the Northeast Kingdom, the ski industry and the state, but ONLY if they can deliver new skiers, visitors, and dollars. Hence, the vital importance of the marketing messaging because the capital will eventually dry up.

        So in that respect, my argument is that the resort’s messaging needs to be much more inclusionary rather than exclusionary, especially when you are creating such a diverse business with so many attractions.

        So to your question. In Jay’s case I don’t think eliciting an us and them mentality through their messaging is serving their best interests. My strategy would be to be more aspirational than incendiary. So I would say no…marketing that elicits a negative response (among some) is not qualitatively better than marketing that elicits no response (among some) of its intended audience.

        • Gotcha, i see your perspective now, but I don’t know if I necessarily agree. Thanks for the feedback!

    • Burke Taylor

      Hey Patrick. Let me take the opinion that it’s clear that your current employer obviously does not have a drug-testing policy because it’s clear that you might be crack addled. Everyone gets an opinion, and thank you for stating from the outset that that is all you are offering. The rub is that you frame your opinion as if you are some marketing sage. If you are, please share your accomplishments in the industry so that we can place your opinion in the proper light and give it its appropriate import. Following are some attributes that could make your opinion worth more than the perspiration from a Chihuahua’s testicles: 1) You have designed and executed an award-winning marketing campaign. 2) You have spent a sufficient amount of time in the resort-marketing world to be able to identify bread and/or butter. 3)You have been the head of an award-winning marketing team.

      To the above number Two point, I hope your answer is at least 10 years to be able to justify using the phrase, “But anyone who has worked in the industry…” Please God don’t be an intern, an “Account Manager” or someone who has assumed the mantle of marketing expert after spending two or three seasons as a snow reporter and/or marketing and/or communications coordinator.

      I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t meet the criteria I listed above, and that I don’t know everyone in the Marketing world. But after 27 years of working with resort marketing teams on both coasts as well as the Rockies, I know a fair share of the resort marketing folks who have been around awhile and I have never heard of you. As I’m pushing 30 years in and around the business, I will be as pretentious as those years permit.

      Two core principles of marketing are to be preemptive and so individualistic that there is no way your story can be confused with that of any of your competitors. On both points Jay Peak’s marketing annihilates the competition. Put 10 resort brochures/magazines/posters out on a table stripped of any supporting copy, and I guarantee you Jay Peak’s is the only one that will stand out from the crowd. It will grab peoples’ attention for different reasons. (For Christ sakes they had a series of posters some years ago featuring a woman trudging through mud and some guy with snotcicles in his beard. Plus, a commercial featuring a baby being put in a freezer.) Some of those reasons will be good, some bad. But the only way the human brain encodes information is through emotion and that is the brilliance of Jay Peak’s marketing. It evokes emotion and engages the narratives that people have running through their minds. As everyone’s personal narrative is different, Jay Peak’s messaging will appeal to some, and revolt others. Either way, it will be remembered. And by the looks of some industry data, it’s appealing to more people than it’s revolting.

      To your reference of “the shear [sic]volume of Jay’s marketing efforts smells of desperation …” can you clarify how you expect the sport to grow without a concerted, well-coordinated, and well-funded marketing campaign? You claim correctly that growth is paramount to the sport’s success, but then get budget-envy over Jay Peak’s efforts. I am confounded! Please don’t tell us that you would use a more “organic” and “grassroots” effort to showcase the “authentic” nature of the sport. (I actually just puked in my mouth seeing me type those three words.) Please say something original here.

      The NSAA describes skiing and riding as a “low instance” sport meaning that few people within the general population identify themselves as skiers; approximately 12-15 million people nationwide. Their Model for Growth is contingent upon conversion and driving trial, the short speak being that bringing new people to the sport is required for it to survive. The sport is flourishing at Jay Peak.

      NSAA and other industry reports indicate that Jay’s skier visits have more than doubled since 2008, and that growth can’t solely be attributed to the natural share-shifting nature of the business. There is no doubt they have stolen business from not only other Vermont resorts like Stowe and Sugarbush, as well as some other perennial New England favorites. But to have that sort of growth is indicative of an organization bringing new skiers and riders into the fold.

      Perhaps you, as someone who is “in the business”, can share how you would notch such achievements. Please, confound us with your insight.

      Burke Taylor

      • Easy, Burke. No need to belittle someone because of their opinion.

  • Safe is risky. Risky is safe.
    Jay takes risks and therefore they have success in marketing (more times that not)
    Many others (me included at times) play it safe, and then fall flat.

  • PeggyAnn Duckless

    I really liked the little video. It just hit home and my childhood was just like that except I didn’t get to ski at J. ^_^
    Keep up the great work! <3

  • stevewright

    Marketing makes people mean. Foster Chandler (everyone but ak and K folks can google him) used to say ‘The only people that give compliments in this business are the ones comfortable enough with themselves to do so.’ Thanks for the nice words about our marketing and bt, don’t get so worked about youngish Patrick-he’s not a bad guy and he’s probably smarter than all of us-just ask him.

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