Alta is for skiers

March 6, 2006

Alta_bluedot_logo Jumping on the hot new trend is not always the right marketing move. Take snowboarding, the hottest thing in winter sports.

At most mountains snowboarding has taken over the slopes. It was the most exciting, most talked about and biggest medal-producing sport at the Olympics for the US this year. American snowboarders won 3 gold medals, 3 silver medals and 1 bronze. It should have been 4 gold medals but one snowboarder who was running away with a race celebrated a little too early and fell.

It light of this overwhelming excitement about snowboarding, what did the Alta resort in Utah do? Did they reposition the mountain to attract snowboarders as well as skiers as almost every other ski resort has?

No, Alta stuck to skiing, said no to snowboarders and according to Alta’s website: “Alta is a skier’s mountain where snowboarding is not allowed. Alta Ski Area is committed to preserving and protecting the skiing experience.”

Why is this such a brilliant marketing move? Because it does three things:

1. The strategy identifies the enemy.

2. The strategy preserves a focus.

3. The strategy creates controversy.

Identify your enemy: Having an enemy is the most overlooked advantage in marketing today. The best way to position a brand is to determine the enemy first; then position yourself as the opposite. That way you can develop a powerful, creative and memorable marketing message.

Preserve your focus: Maintaining your focus is the best way to keep a brand strong. By chasing the latest trend, you unfocus the brand and lose the meaning, credibility and authenticity of the brand.

Create controversy: PR is the key to building a brand, and nothing gets more attention from the media than controversy. Controversy is also the key to word of mouth. Supporters of Alta are excited, passionate and the no-snowboard rule gives them a reason to talk about Alta and skiing. Controversy is not about creating stunts, it is about creating news for your brand by going against an enemy or being first in a new category.

I’m not writing about Alta solely because I am an avid skier and love the mountain, having visited Alta annually for the past 19 years (minus the 2 years I was pregnant and way too big to ski,)

But while there last week I got to thinking about how and why the resort was doing so well. And why going against the grain makes for such a powerful marketing strategy. Everywhere you looked you saw stickers, t-shirts, and signs promoting Alta as the place for skiing with funny, creative sayings and images. What do most mountains have to say in their marketing? We are a great mountain with lots of things for everybody. A boring and meaningless message.

Alta is much smaller than the more famous ski resorts like Vail. But smaller resorts often try even harder to appeal to everyone instead of doing just the opposite. Vail is the largest single mountain resort in the US; they have the credentials to say we are number one and have something for everyone. But can everybody else say?

Warning: Don’t just say your product or service is great for everyone and better than the leader. Follow the principles that have kept Alta at the top of the mountain. Identify your enemy, keep your focus and create controversy.