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The Thing We Keep Forgetting About Resorts & the Big Data Movement

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Last fall I was interviewed for a piece about big data and skiing. Among many minor points (that were published), the most important thing I shared fell on less-than-excited ears and was never published. My response was as follows to a question about big data myths.

“The biggest big data myth is that there is some guarantee involved. That, if you have enough information, you’ll always find some actionable piece of insight when you’re done. That’s simply not true. Just like the gold rush, there is no promise of wealth from this type of mining.”

For a few months I mentally stood by this quote while the buzz of big data swarmed around me. Then, last week, the CMO of Subway (in a very interesting article), said this:

“There is plenty of data, but big data doesn’t mean you get big insights. Companies have to sift through the data and come up with hypotheses and test them. The most needed skill set is people who can synthesize lots of data into actionable next steps and programs.”

With his support, let me reiterate this point.

The Stash
Many of you read the weekly Stash that I put out over on Ryan Solutions. Every week I try to accomplish the thing I just outlined by taking lots of data, sifting through it, and finding something valuable to learn from it.

In many ways, I’m trying to give the people who read it a starting point for their own, more specific, ideas.

But rare indeed is the occasion that I publish the same hypothesis I started chasing in the first place. Even with data from dozens of resorts, the dead-ends are frequent. Just having lots of data, or even a interesting hypothesis, does not mean I’ll end up with a useful insight.

Liftopia Partner Intelligence
That’s one of the most impressive things about Liftopia’s Partner Intelligence tool. They’ve turned piles of ticket data into not just charts, but charts that actually mean something.

I think the simplicity of their interface is deceiving because arriving at such an end is no easy task.

When I set about to redesign the resort dashboards here on the SlopeFillers site, I was aspiring to such a goal. In the overview video I often said “glanceable”. I didn’t want to just put data in your hands that you could “stare” at to find answers, I wanted to put answers in your hands you could “glance” at.

It’s hard to do. Really hard.

But That’s Not All
But even then, that’s only half of the myth. The other half was explained by our Subway CMO friend:

“There is more science than ever, but marketing is still art greatly informed by science. We’ve had wonderful success with the $5 Footlong. It was originally envisioned as a four-week promotion, and it turned into a multibillion-dollar brand. That wouldn’t have happened without the artfulness of creativity.”

No matter how insightful the gems you find, they can never tell you what to do next. At times I’ve been accused of being too data-focused, but data always has and always will be the most effective fuel for my creativity. Season pass renewal rates didn’t tell squaw to run their gift-card promotion, and last week’s Stash won’t tell you how to write your next YouTube title.

Marketing is not just principles, it’s not just data, it’s not just instinct, it’s not just creativity…it’s all of them. I’m psyched that so many resorts finally have access to their data, just remember that access does not equal insight.

About Gregg & SlopeFillers
I've had more first-time visitors lately, so adding a quick "about" section. I started SlopeFillers in 2010 with the simple goal of sharing great resort marketing strategies. Today I run marketing for resort ecommerce and CRM provider Inntopia, my home mountain is the lovely Nordic Valley, and my favorite marketing campaign remains the Ski Utah TV show that sold me on skiing as a kid in the 90s.

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