Archive for May, 2010

Google Maps mobile navigation screen capture

Mobile Apps, How Accurate do They Need to Be? Ask Google Maps

Google Maps mobile navigation screen capture A lawsuit has been recently filed against Google Maps for allegedly providing “unsafe directions” for a pedestrian here in Park City, Utah back in January of 2009. There are a lot of people labeling this a frivolous lawsuit, see the comments on a Mashable post about the suit, but it makes me wonder if this case demonstrates potential issues in posting real-time information online, in particular via a mobile app, perhaps even using an augmented reality, style map.

There is some history to this kind of issue…I found this CNET article from over two years ago describing a case in which a driver was in a rental car, followed the GPS direction from that car too closely and managed to get the vehicle stuck on some train tracks which was then hit by a train – thankfully the driver was smart enough to have gotten out of the vehicle! This isn’t a US issue either as this Computer World article from a few years ago demonstrates (I love the part about signs being posted that say ‘Ignore your SatNav’).

As mobile and geolocation services become more and more prevalent, are there lessons that businesses need to take from this as they design apps and tools for their customers? I hope it’s just that we need to design for the end user, to build apps that add value and are useful, but do we need to keep other things at the forefront as well?

Photo credit: Flickr user arrayexception per CC Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic
Keyboard skier

Encouraging Skier Numbers News from the 2009-2010 Season

Keyboard skierSounds like things are starting to bounce back a bit from the ‘bumpy’ 2008-2009 Winter season according to an article in today’s Park Record. While I’d like to take credit for the better season 2009-2010, for myself and everyone involved in ski resort marketing, I have a sneaking suspicion that the bounce is probably due more to economic reasons than all of the fantastic marketing programs that we’ve all been implementing.

Here’s the story:

“This last winter season was the second best in history for the sport of skiing but don’t expect much celebrating.

A National Ski Area Association (NSAA) survey released last month reveals that 59.7 million people skied down a run somewhere in America during the 2009-2010 season. That’s only 800,000 less than the best season on record two years ago…”

Click here to read the full article.

Unless the double dip recession kicks in, are there any optimists out there, besides me,  that think a new national record might get set during the 2010-2011 season?

Photo credit: Flickr user stevegarfield by rights of Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic
Vail Resorts and Mountain News Corporation

Quick Thoughts on Vail Resorts Acquisition of Mountain News Corporation

Vail Resorts and Mountain News CorporationI just finished my second mountain bike ride of the season – yep, I suck, should be way more than that – which is why I’m sprawled on the sofa with my laptop and I saw a link to a news release announcing the sale of Mountain News Corporation to Vail Resorts.  I’m sure that Chad Dyer will do a fantastic job in his new position as global managing director. In fact, I’m very happy to see that, “The operations of MNC, including editorial content, will be maintained separate and independent from Vail Resorts’ five mountain resorts and lodging and real estate businesses.” I just wonder if Vail is moving in difficult direction with this acquisition.

I understand and agree with Rob Katz’s “…commitment to the importance of emerging digital mediums for the entire snow sports industry and our desire for the industry to be a leader in that effort,…” I do question whether having a resort operator now owning, “…the top provider of snow reports to more than 1,200 web sites throughout the world, including approximately 400 news media websites” is the best way to help digital mediums along. I hope VR keeps their promise and allow MNC to continue to operate separately, I just wonder how they can justify the dollars spent on this acquisition to their shareholders if they don’t work some VR emphasis into MNC’s web properties.

Back to the Katz statement, while I understand why he wants to buy an industry leader in digital, which MNC certainly is; however, I wonder if perhaps there are times when it’s not the best to acquire a business, particularly when that network essentially ‘reports’ on your industry? Perhaps it’s easier than builder your own network since people are already getting their snow reports via OnTheSnow.com? Guess we’ll just have to wait and see, but in the meantime, what do you think about this sale and its implications?

Photo credit: Flickr user gjeewaytee (off) via CC 2.0 license, logos added by me.

(5/28 Edited for clarity and  6/1 spelling!)

Our New Tankless Hot Water Heater

To my regular readers, I apologize for going completely off-topic on this post, but I’m really excited that we’re putting in a fancy new Rinnai tankless hot water heater today and I’m going to try to use this post as a way to show what the installation process entails. For us, we’re replacing our 10 year old 40 gallon hot water heater with a spiffy 199,000 BTU Rinnai R-94 LSi, as our water in Park City has a ton of minerals in it, we’re also installing a fancy new water softener to filter things out and keep the new heater working properly – I’m told it should last well over 20 years!

We started on this project in large part because of the energy audit we had done by Questar our natural gas company last week. They sent a fellow out who spent probably an hour or so surveying our house and then sitting down with us to explain what he recommended we do for efficiency and also, to take advantage of rebates and tax credits. It’s pretty impressive what sort of savings you can achieve from various improvements, our hot water change should save us $111.24 a year, plus we should get a $300 rebate from both the gas company and the state of Utah in addition to a tax credit of 30% of the cost of the heater (up to $1,500 on this one) which puts our savings on the install to well over $1,000! I have to give Questar a lot of credit for being a great corporate citizen, both for the audit program and for providing such substantial financial incentives to put in energy efficient appliances.

The installation is a bit involved as the new heater requires a much larger gas line, different venting and some electrical work. I’m going to be shooting photos as the work goes on and posting them here. So here we go for some live blogging a hot water tank install (I’m calling this a first ever)!

11:30am MST

Here are some photos of the process so far, the old heater and softener, the new heater and new gas line

1:20pm MST

More photos, the new water softener is in, gas line is in and new vent is being run through the attic. The old water heater is fighting to stay in place, but is just about out right now too:

4:30pm MST

And more pix – the empty space where the old hot water heater was, the new one mounted up and the new venting on our roof – it’s pretty cool, the unit pulls in outside air through the same duct that exhausts it too!

5:30 MST

Yeah, we now have ‘softened’ hot water that never runs out! The heater is quieter than I thought it would be, I guess they ‘groan’ more when they are installed in crawl spaces and the vent requires several 90 degree bends. I’ll be giving my daughter a bath in a little bit so we’ll see how this works for that, but running faucets and a shower all at the same time worked great!

Travellers and connectivity

Staying Connected to the Web and Social Media on Vacation

Travellers and connectivityMy wife gives me a (probably well deserved) rough time about how I tend to bring my digital life with me when we’re on vacation. This has come in handy, like when I was able to pull up New York transit maps and directions up via Google Maps on our trip to NYC earlier this month, although I almost wish I’d known about this Android App. However, I know that there are definitely plenty of other times when my wife wishes I’d left my smartphone and/or laptop at home.

Now, I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who brings their tech with them, because according to this article, “Most Vacationers Stay Connected To Internet, Digital, Social Media” on MediaPost:

“No matter where vacationers migrate this summer, chances are slim that they will completely disconnect from digital media and communications.Indeed, 72.2% travelers in 2010 say they accessed the Internet, email or social media sites while on their last vacation, according to a new study from ad network Burst Media.

That represents a significant jump from 2009, when three out of five — 63.3% — travelers admitted to using the Internet while on vacation.

Men are more likely to go online while away — 76.2% — than women — 67.7%.

…”

Read the entire article on MediaPost News.

With this greater level of connectivity on vacation, what are most of these people using the web for on their vacations? Keeping in touch with friends and family is first (my guess is this is a lot of showing off the great trip Facebook photos), followed by finding information on the local destination, then came news and sports sites and finally was checking in at the office. I believe that this shows that there is a very real and quickly increasing demand for information that travelers can use once they’ve reached a destination, like the Google Maps and MTA app I mentioned earlier. What are some ways that ski resorts can develop web content/services  that cater to visitors once they’ve arrived at the resort? Are there any good examples out there? Personally, I’d love to see something along the lines of the MTA app – simple and useful!

Photo: Guilty! This is me being way too connected at work (kind of looks like vacation though).

The Passion Principle

One of the things I love about being in marketing at a ski resort is that we have an incredible resource to tap: the passion of our customers. This isn’t true of many industries, but in sports it’s often something that a brand can really get some great mileage out of if done right. Here’s an extremely well executed example of a brand taping deep into that passion:

This makes me drool drool for the once every four year spectacle that is the World Cup – even though I’m a red-blooded American who lives for Football, Baseball, Hockey and Basketball. How can ski resorts capture some of this passion? After all the Winter Olympics were just a few short months ago…

Best and Worst - it's not Just Ski Resorts

Thoughts on SAM’s Best/Worst Advertising 2010

Sam Rufo, one of the authors of Ski Area Management magazine’s article on the Best/Worst Advertising of 2010, was kind enough to volunteer to ‘guest host’ this past week’s #mrktchat Twitterchat. For anyone who isn’t familiar with what a TwitterChat is, please take a quick read of Sam’s excellent description on her blog post, “TwitterChat 101“.  We had a good discussion about the ratings, but to some extent I think we just glossed the edges a bit, in that we never really delved very deeply into what the article.

Best and Worst - it's not Just Ski ResortsI don’t want to get into the debate of what a best/worst list is all about, after all everyone seems to do them (note, the image is just for an example, I’m not a reader of Star’s 55 Best and Worst Beach Bodies!). The article had a lot of positive and negative things to say about a variety of resort marketing efforts and called out a number of trends:

After combing through this season’s ski area ads in print, broadcast and online sources, SAM found standout campaigns in all channels, as well as some ho-hummers. We looked at branding, messaging and consumer response, and some of the most powerful advertising still derives from print and broadcast media. Creativity knows no boundaries.

Resorts that had a clear understanding of their customer demographics and the audience for each medium were able to engage, inspire and attract followers. But beyond showcasing deep powder, scenic vistas and après-ski activities, more areas are exploring their inner selves—their “social brand”—and these efforts often produced the most memorable and compelling messages.

Resorts express their personalities in a variety of ways: profiling the people who work there, showcasing the lifestyle of the locals, and using major events, from town festivals to snowboard competitions. Social media add a new strategy: letting your customers define the place in their own words and images. This creates a human connection with undeniable authenticity.

This all sounds great, but it doesn’t fully address the biggest thing advertising is about – accomplishing strategic goals and objectives. If a resort is just trying to drive database growth, then I’d say Mountain High did well with 20k plus acquisitions; even then, are these really consumers that will spent or will spend money at that resort or just a bunch of freeloaders that signed up for a contest? It’s awful hard to say one way or another as an outsider looking in.

As an interactive marketer, I’m also a bit disappointed in the examples presented as great interactive campaigns. Maybe it’s because there just isn’t enough room to go into Northstar and Sierra at Tahoe’s behavioral campaign, whoops think I meant to say re-marketing campaign, nah I like the description behavioral targeting. 😉 I thought the summaries of the Copper and Jay Peak campaigns were adequate, but to include a screen cap and a print creative for these two progressive interactive campaigns seems almost criminal – at least give us a link, I’m sure the resorts would be more than happy to post or provide creative for this piece. And I won’t even touch on the Social Media section of the piece because by only listing the ‘worst’ I can’t find anything to discuss.

I wish there was more discussion of how these advertising campaigns fit into each resort’s overall strategic objective. How these campaigns focus on each resort’s target demos and to what level of success, because as the article’s authors state in the 2nd paragraph quoted above, the most successful marketing will attempt to appeal directly to consumers – in essence creating buyer personas and using them to create advertising that is most effective as it is the most targeted.

I do find much of the thought that went into this article to be very spot on, and in most cases the authors did a great job of drilling down to specifics in terms of what was ‘best’ or ‘worst’ about a particular campaign. Keep it up Sam, Ken, David and Katie! BTW, what about the Vikings go Skiing ad from Capital One, I really enjoy this one even now – definitely a solid add to the ‘Best of 2010’ in my book!

Photo Credit: CC2 licensed image by Flickr user Slava

How Custom Can Things Get Online?

I was reading through the NY Times online on Sunday and found a very interesting article called, “Putting Customers in Charge of Design“. It describes the possibilities that a consumer has with ordering a completely customizable dress shirt from a company called Blank Label. It also describes this companies’ focus on customer service, even going to the point of popping up an online chat option after a visitor has been on their site for a certain amount of time. Many other companies such as Zappos, Amazon and even Trek – check out their killer custom bike configuration tool called Project One – have taken great strides in really personalizing the online shopping experience.

My question is why haven’t ski resorts taken steps in this direction? It appears that most resorts offer some variety of planning tools along with information, but I don’t see that any have taken the steps that this very customer centric web presence demands. These steps would start with putting customer service at the forefront, whether online or offline. How many resorts offer live-chat options on their sites? How many resorts allow a consumer to really configure their own resort experience (I see vacation packages as more operationally defined than consumer defined)? And lastly, are there any ski resorts that are already doing this?

FedEx Printing Saves the Day

My family and I spent some time in New York City  last week. The purpose of the trip was for my Uncle’s funeral, which was this past Friday, but we spent a total of five days which allowed for some great exploring Brooklyn and the rest of New York City. I may write about some of the other experiences from a tourism perspective, but what still sticks in my mind is an experience that I had with the local FedEx print store in Brooklyn.

Funerals are seldom without some difficulties, but this one really didn’t have any, which was due to some great organization by by cousin and her mom. I didn’t really have much to do with the funeral aside from getting tasked by my dad on Thursday afternoon to help get a poster of my Uncle printed and mounted.

I recall that we were visiting the Central Park Zoo when this task was given to me and we didn’t get a chance to even look into printing options until later on Thursday. I was up before 8am on Friday and took a quick stroll over to the FedEx print shop that was just a few blocks from our hotel in Brooklyn. I spoke with Damon, the person handling the printing duties, and once I explained the task at hand, he immediately got to work on the print job and even promised to have the poster ready by 10 – just under two hours. After a quick breakfast, I changed into my suit, headed back to the FedEx store and while there was now a fairly significant line, I was very pleasantly surprised when Damon stopped what he had been working on and handed the perfectly produced poster to me as soon as he saw me walk up. I made sure to give him my sincere thanks, which he accepted with a slight smile as he went back to the task at hand.

I’ll most likely never have the chance or reason to return to this FedEx store, but I will certainly always remember the great service that I received there last Friday. I’ve also written a review that summarizes my experiences on their Google Maps business profile. They’ve got my thanks for making what could have been a difficult task a pleasant and ‘almost’ easy one!

Move Back the Ski Season?

During the weekly Marketing Chat Twitter chat last week, there was a good discussion about how it feels like winter (at least in the West), has moved back a week. I’m not a meteorologist, but it sure feels that way to me, particularly on a day like today, May 2, when it snowed here in Park City! The question seems to be evident, “Should ski resorts move their scheduled season a week or two later?”

Would an extra week or two of skiing in April really benefit most ski resorts? I say no. First, the first week or two of the season is almost critically important in terms of employee training, public relations and getting everything in order for the business critical Christmas/New Years break, which occurs (for better or worse) just a few weeks into the winter season. Second, the benefit of extending longer after most people’s thoughts have turned to spring and summer won’t attract many crowds and certainly doesn’t have the benefit of driving additional skier visitation the next season the way an early opening does.

Is this foreshadowing bigger issues to come for ski resorts in terms of climate change? I sure hope not, but for now, I hope that resorts don’t knee jerk too quickly on adjusting their seasons. What do you think, does it make sense for ski resorts to start adjusting their season dates?

Photo credit:

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