Five Questions with a Ski Resort CMO
Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort is squarely in the hospitality industry, but its new CMO, Erik Forsell, has spent his career in action sports -- and he says that gave him an edge in landing the job.
"They wanted to bring in somebody not from hotel and tourism, but someone who understood the connection to sport and what it does emotionally," he explained. So after two years, Mr. Forsell left his gig as VP-marketing at Asics and headed over to the Southern California resort.
Milking an emotional connection with guests is key for Mr. Forsell, who's shaking up Mammoth's marketing initiatives with a campaign that relies on visitors sharing personal stories through social media. He's further emphasizing socialization with a redesigned app that includes a Find A Friend feature to locate potential ski buddies on the slopes. And while Mammoth has 1.3 million annual visitors, making it the third-most-visited ski resort in the U.S., Mr. Forsell is trying to raise that number by inking partnerships with Alaskan Airlines and United to increase flights coming into Mammoth.
Here, Mr. Forsell talks about what Asics taught him about marketing, why Mammoth has more visitors in summer than winter and the challenges of promoting a weather-dependent sport.
Ad Age: Your background is in action sports marketing. What are some challenges and unexpected trials you've faced since coming to Mammoth in April?
Mr. Forsell: There are a few. I'm learning that anyone in my position at any one of my competitors is so impacted by the weather that you can run an amazing campaign, have amazing messaging, but if it doesn't snow, that's a hard thing to overcome. The joke is, if it snows and people come, marketing didn't really have to do much. If it doesn't snow, it's marketing's fault. It's definitely a sport that you have to remind people of why they should go skiing again. It's also an expensive venture to go skiing for a few days to a week. So, the economy combined with snow makes it so that there are fewer things in your control.
Ad Age: What did you learn at Asics that you brought with you to this position?
Mr. Forsell: Asics had so many different segments -- tennis, soccer, golf, running and wrestling. And I learned there that there's one thing that binds everybody together. In that case, it was love for sport. When I came to Mammoth, it was the same kind of thing -- it segmented its groups into families, young singles and couples, grownups and the unbound, which is the action sports enthusiast. They tried to make their voice go too different in too many categories.
Ad Age: How are you shaping the marketing at Mammoth?
Mr. Forsell: The campaign that we're going to do this year is called "10,000 stories from 11,000 feet," and we'll have people tell their stories about why they come up. It's very socially based. We're spending a lot of money in digital and redoing our social platforms. Although it might not be that unique of an idea to help people market for you on social media, which is kind of a base concept, the stories of people and why they came up are so genuine and honest. There are some really amazing stories from people who remember the first time they saw their kid make a snowball or ski between their legs or the first time someone did an amazing trick on their snowboard or the last time they got together with their family. They remember the four-foot storm of '69, which shut the town down, and they had the mountain to themselves.
Ad Age: How do you keep up the interest in a ski resort during the summer?
Mr. Forsell: We actually have more visitors here in the summer than we do in the winter. Partially because we're at the gates of Yosemite, so there's a lot of summer traffic, and that's one thing too -- there are a lot guests who come in the winter who haven't been here in the summer and vice versa. So one of the goals is to do a better job of speaking to the people who like to camp, hike, bike and fish, and do a better job of telling them about winter activities and vice versa.
Ad Age: Who are your competitors and what are you doing to set yourself apart from them?
Mr. Forsell: Because we pull so much from Southern California, our competition is the beach; all the family-friendly resorts in Southern California, be it Legoland or Disneyland; and on top of that, all the resorts in Northern California, Utah and Colorado. And those range from small, family resorts to big, mega resorts. There are a lot of choices. There are a lot of flight options to other resorts too, and that's why we've increased the flights coming into Mammoth. We're partnering with United and Alaskan Airlines very closely to open up more flights and make the awareness about more flights known.