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Content Marketing
What if Skiing’s Most Engaging Content is Actually Killing Our Industry

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“What if.” On the heels of that sensational, yet completely realistic, headline, that’s all I’m asking for. That you take a second, play devil’s advocate if you have to, and consider a possibilitiy, slim as you may think it is, that something every resort does every day is actually undermining all the other marketing work they do.

Let me start with a quote.

“Most of us spend many hours each week watching celebrated athletes playing in enormous stadiums. Instead of making music, we listen to platinum records cut by millionaire musicians. Instead of making art, we go to admire paintings that brought in the highest bids at the latest auction. We do not run risks acting on our beliefs, but occupy hours each day watching actors who pretend to have adventures, engaged in mock-meaningful action.”
— Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
“Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience”

From 1950 – 1960, the number of homes with a TV rose from around 10% to nearly 80%. At the same time, a sharp decline began in things that required leaving the home. This included bowling, going to a friend’s for a card game, attending church, and the list goes on and on. The more readily available replacements to the real thing became, the more we chose them.

We started devoting bigger portions of our time to watching people do an activity instead of actually doing it ourselves. As marketer Gord Hotchkiss put it on his blog,

“Our definition of entertainment moved from the active to the passive.”

Entire industries are built around this human tendency. Pornography is one psychologists love to study but it goes well beyond that. Compare how many football games you’ve played with friends this fall versus how many you’ve watched. Why is that? According to an article by Le Anne Schreiber, when you watch a baseball play on TV,

“Your brain plucked the ball from the grass, rocketed it toward third and, effortlessly switching allegiances, your brain slid headfirst into the bag…Whatever your conscious fan loyalties, your brain couldn’t help playing both sides, all roles. What your eyes see, your brain plays…The evidence that the spectating brain is also a playing brain has been mounting ever since the early 1990s…”

When we watch a game, we’re not just watching, we’re there. We’re playing. Our brains go through the same motions it would if we were on the field, but without the need for sweat, effort, or practice.

More and more we’re becoming passively entertained instead of activtly engaged in the activity itself.

Audio’s Illustration
Actually playing an instrument aside, consider the example of music from the original quote. Years ago, a famous Romanian conductor, Sergiu Celibidache, refused to allow recordings of his performances.

He recognized that listening to a recording could arouse the same feelings as attending a performance, but only in a sense that he considered a cheap immitation of the true experience that involved the balance of carefully selected tone qualities, echoing around you in perfect harmony.

Celibidache died in 1995 and conducted most actively in the 1970’s. This means that at the peak of his career, “High Fidelity” (or HI-FI) was used to describe equipment that could produce the most high quality, realistic sounds sounds.

Think about how the fidelity of music has increased ever since. If he refused then, he may boycott music completely just after hearing the stereo system in your car. Records, cassette tapes, CDs, surround sound, and recording quality all play into a progression that makes recorded music a higher and higher fidelity representation of the original.

At times, nearly identical.

Flag 1, 2, 3…
Now, let’s bring some of these points together. First, from the TV example, the human tendency to choose the easier, passive experience over the active one. Second, the way we vicariously experience a sport, and the related emotions, as we watch it. Third, how the fidelity of recreated experiences is rapidly increasing.

In January 2012, skiers watched a combined 2.2 million resort videos on YouTube alone. At about 2.5 minutes a video, that’s over 5 million minutes of viewing. Combine that with hundreds of Vimeo uploads, self hosted clips, professional ski movies (and trailers), content from other brands (ie Solomon Freeski TV), etc. and that number could be 10x that…maybe more.

This isn’t the scratchy Super8 film of yesteryear either, this is coming from HD cameras mounted mere inches from the skier’s perspective, high frame rate recordings that allow us to see parts of the experience not visible to the naked eye, and perfectly timed music that creates new emotions that weren’t part of the original experience.

In other words, a Romanian conductor refused to share anything but the real experience because he worried people would choose the recording over reality and miss the true experience. Yet, we are serving this content up on a silver platter to any and every customer we can reach: all day, every day.

No Carrot, No Motivation
One of my favorite bike rides this last summer was a climb that took me to the top of Bellyache Ridge. The view overlooked the meandering Eagle River, Beaver Creek and Vail Resorts, and, if timed perfectly, one of the best sunrises I’ve ever seen.

The first time my eyes enjoyed this vista and my jaw involuntarily dropped, I made myself a strange rule: I would never take a picture of the view. Instead, enjoying this view would be my motivation…my carrot…to do this climb as often as I could.

What if all of this amazing content resorts are producing on a daily basis…

…all the incredible photos from the summit and winter sunrises
…all the video edits showing the best conditions you can offer
…all the real-time updates
…all the live event feeds on your social media streams
…all the HD, user-controlled webcams
…all the GoPro footage
…all the ski movies

…what if our industry’s very best content is actually preventing people from coming instead of motivating them? Giving them a way to experience your mountain the way they do a football game on Sunday without driving a single mile or lifting anything more than a finger.

What if our 24/7 accessible social media feeds, filled to the gills with these experience recreations, are becoming the NFL Sunday Ticket of the ski industry?

Fans of skiing but not doers of skiing.

I Hope I’m Wrong
I’m probably wrong. I hope I’m wrong, but the research and inclinations I’ve seen in my own life are raising some serious red flags.

Movie trailers are a science because they tease the viewer with details, but don’t show enough to spoil the plot (a disastrous move for any movie).

What if our very best content we’re pushing out to millions of people each year is going past the point of teasing motivation and spoiling the plot?

What if it’s providing skiers with such a high fidelity recreation of the skiing experience, that’s they’re skiing your runs, basking in the sun on your decks, stomping 540s in the park, shredding powder in your bowls, all without spending a cent or leaving their home. If rich media is a motivator, wouldn’t buying a 60″ flat screen TV be the best thing you could do to combat obesity?

If any scrap of this is true – the rate at which the quality of our videos and content is increasing, the similarity in effect on skiers brains, and the instant reach this content has – this, to me, is one of the most alarming things in the resort marketing world.

I’m positive not everyone will agree with me, so tell me why. Or why not? I’m curious to see your feedback.

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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