Windham Mountain, in New York’s Catskill Mountains, is one of the closest major ski resorts to the New York Metro population center. In recent decades, the resort's biggest challenge was that skiers and riders in their market thought of Vermont ski resorts first, Hunter Mountain (a close Catskill competitor) second, and Windham Mountain third. The resort lacked a clear brand position, its visual identity and campaign strategies meandering about without creating a unique or relevant point of differentiation for the mountain.
While skier days (and overall revenue) showed Windham Mountain to be a strong player in the industry, management wanted to take the brand to a higher level. The new owners wanted an identity that would make them a destination ski resort rivaling Beaver Creek or Deer Valley. In doing so, they expected an increase in season pass sales, increased traffic to the Windham Mountain website and higher lodging occupancy.
As part of a major $5 million capital improvement strategy, Windham Mountain hired Wanderlust to reposition the brand in a top-to-bottom overhaul of its identity, mass media creative, on-mountain signage, website and collateral.
With the help of the Wanderlust team, Windham Mountain undertook a comprehensive analysis of new and existing market research data; consisting of skier surveys from around the region, one-on-one interviews with stakeholders, core customers and non-customers and secondary research from industry sources.
Chart the Course
Our findings helped us refine our target audience, skiing families with heads of household aged 35-54, most living in the New York metro and surrounding areas. Their incomes are high, their homes expensive and their zip codes exclusive. These consumers desire a family-oriented environment, tend to stay overnight and expect the creature comforts of an upscale lifestyle. They want ski terrain for all abilities, amenities for younger members of their group, the best snowmaking and grooming and a brand that understands why they ski (to be active with family and friends). An experience that Windham Mountain can deliver, on all accounts.
The insights gleaned from our research helped Wanderlust identify opportunities to focus the brands position and make it more relevant, differentiated and desirable to this audience.
We recommended repositioning the resort from its current perception (a nice, close, smaller mountain) to the more meaningful and emotional brand promise, “a sophisticated, playful, alpine experience.”
Our insights helped us develop creative messages that departed from typical industry clichés. We desgined and tested a new corporate identity, the playful “W-skier” logo, that became an instantly recognizable visual icon. The creative platform introduced an updated color palette, a fresh photographic style and a light-hearted campaign theme that invited skiers and riders to “come out and play”.
The repositioned Windham Mountain brand was rolled out in 2006/2007 through an integrated on and offline media campaign directed at our target audience. Campaign elements included on-mountain signage, trade and consumer print, outdoor and transit advertising, direct mail, banner ads and collateral.
After an unusually warm early winter, which offered zero natural snowfall to inspire skiers, the inaugural season of Windham Mountain’s new brand was a resounding success. In a year that saw several Northeast ski resorts suffer decreases of more than 25% over prior years, Windham Mountain finished the 2006/2007 season with revenue close to their previous year and an increase in season pass sales. Web traffic at the Windham site surpassed even our expectations, with user sessions up 139%, page views up 227% and duration of visits up across the board.
The resorts management recognized the branding’s success by investing another $4 million in facilities improvements for the 2008/2009 season.