Marketing During a Pandemic? Aspen Skiing Co. is redesigning its strategy to cope with uncertain times
There is nothing like a pandemic to force a major overhaul of marketing strategy.
The Aspen Skiing Co. marketing campaign this winter will look significantly different in both content and execution.
There won’t be a national branding like the “Give a Flake” effort of recent seasons. In addition, former marketing director Christian Knapp will not oversee the campaign. His position was one of 50 Skico eliminated through layoffs and attrition.
“It’s definitely going to be a different type of marketing campaign,” said Jeff Hanle, Skico’s vice president of communications, on Tuesday. “You have to remain flexible and ready to pivot.”
Gone is the campaign in which skiers, snowboarders and other outdoor enthusiasts are asked to “Give a flakeAnd take part in specific measures to curb global warming.
“We continued like this. That was the plan,” said Hanle.
An advertising agency worked with representatives from Skico on a new campaign, but it was put on hold. For example, there will be no advertising in ski publications in January because conditions could change so drastically by then, noted Hanle. The ads would need to be completed now to run in January.
Instead, Skico stays nimble with messages that are mostly shared across digital platforms. According to Hanle, they are generally focused on educating them about protocols to protect customers from the spread of the coronavirus, to trumpet fresh snowfall, and to renew the mind at a difficult time by going outdoors.
A large part of the marketing effort will be educating about the new hands-free procedures that will apply to everything from ordering food in restaurants to buying lift tickets.
Aspen-Snowmass has always relied on the heavy replay business from skiers and snowboarders who have visited them for years or sometimes decades. It seems the resort will benefit from this this winter.
“When we talk to our accommodation partners, we think we’ll see a big return from our regular customers,” said Hanle.
Skico is working on marketing that assures regular customers that the ski resorts can be opened as soon as the snow flies.
Skico will also target markets that are close enough to go on your ski vacation. While some people fly in comfort, the ski industry’s expectations are that many customers will want to travel in their personal vehicles.
“If winter is like summer, we will see more traffic and longer stays,” said Hanle.
Business across the Roaring Fork Valley exceeded expectations this summer. Many people fled urban areas where the spread of the coronavirus was greater and access to nature was less.
However, the travel and recreation business has been hit by the coronavirus. Disney announced Tuesday that it is laying off 28,000 workers in the US because of prolonged business problems at its resorts caused by reduced capacity.
At a time when Skico is introducing new ski passes Is marketing even necessary to distribute customers during the week? Skico representatives believe that targeted advertising and marketing will still have a place in the COVID-19 era. For one, Skico needs to find a way to reduce the expected loss of international business, which has accounted for up to 20% of skier visits in recent seasons. Few skiers and snowboarders from key overseas markets such as Australia, Brazil and Europe are expected this season. So Skico will look like domestically.
Hanle said good old-fashioned promotions would still be on offer when business went slow. In the past, Skico has offered enticements such as free lift tickets for children with certain adult purchases. And ski resorts naturally want to let potential customers know when the snow conditions are best.
“Snow creates excitement and makes the phones ring,” said Hanle.
Skico’s marketing budget will be lower this year, although details were not available. Hanle said the company is tightening its belts across the board as it anticipates a difficult season with capacity limited due to social distancing. There’s no chance the company will hit the record number of skier-snowboarder visits of 2018-19, he said.
“We’ll be lucky when we get to where we were last year,” said Hanle.
The past year has been markedly in decline as the season ended abruptly on March 14th when Colorado Governor Jared Polis ordered all ski resorts to close the next day.
This is the first time in a decade that Knapp is no longer leading Skico’s marketing efforts. He stays in the Roaring Fork Valley and continues to work in the ski industry. He co-hosts a podcast for The Snowboard Project with Mark Sullivan. They have a new series called Lift Ticket: Resort Riding in COVID Times.
In the first episode, Knapp and Sullivan interview ski industry executives about operational challenges during a global pandemic.
Skico has not appointed a new marketing director. Hanle said Knapp has built a strong team that will adapt to the times. He estimated 30 people to work in marketing, public relations, branding and sales. He declined to say if there were any other layoffs in the department.