Rallying the Vermont Attractions Association around a three-year strategic plan.

November 25, 2019

A sound brand strategy is vital to making smart business decisions on how to spend your time and money.  The Vermont Attractions Association (VAA) was at a crossroads in its business, trying to marry the conflicting factors it faced:  sluggish membership, pressure from many members to create a new consumer website, urging from all sides to “go digital,” and more.  We were asked to come in and provide impartial, expert evaluation of the situation, and recommend a sound brand strategy and three-year strategic plan to the board… one that would best serve the needs of its diverse 70+ members, which included such high-profile brands as Ben & Jerry’s, Vermont Country Store, Cabot, King Arthur Flour, and Simon Pearce.

Our in-depth research and analysis led to the conclusion of a shocking and totally unexpected recommendation:  the VAA should stop trying to think of itself as a consumer marketing organization, and truly OWN its role as an industry trade association.  Whoa.  In this day and age?  So why did all the members believe us – with a standing ovation at the presentation, no less – when we told them they didn’t need a consumer website, social media channels, and PPC campaigns…and that they should print MORE paper maps instead of fewer?  Because the findings didn’t lie, and we did our homework:

  • Full member survey, with an unprecedented 76% response rate, about the value VAA provides to members
  • In-depth interviews with state and regional tourism leaders, board/executive committee members, association leadership, and key stakeholders
  • Secret shopping of multiple VAA members and Vermont Visitor Centers
  • Historical analysis of VAA financials, membership composition, successes and failures, marketing initiatives of the past five years, and more
  • Digital audit of VAA website
  • Thorough analysis of all VAA member communication materials and touchpoints

Our extensive research assessed the VAA’s position in the overall economic and tourism ecosystem of the state, and it also deeply evaluated its benefits to members.   Among the findings were the vital role the association plays in supporting state and regional tourism organizations with key selling/promotional tools to enrich their marketing programs (and maximize their budgets). Also uncovered was the critical role VAA plays as an educational and networking facilitator for its members… leading the charge on unified awareness and sharing costs on statewide initiatives.

The three-year plan that was presented to – and universally embraced by – the members not only gave the VAA a strategic north star and path to achievement, but it also infused pride throughout the membership.  And that, for ANY association, is priceless.

Since the recommendations were adopted, and the VAA has been THRILLED with the path:  membership is solid, dissention is down, and all the tactics we laid out are enthusiastically being tackled on schedule.

Shaping a Brand Service Culture for Killington Ski Resort…and Making It Stick

June 9, 2017

Implementing superior guest service at a seasonal resort whose staff expands and contracts each year by the thousands isn’t easy.  But following a series of ownership and management changes at Killington, the executives saw an opportunity to unify the staff’s approach to guest service and recommit the resort’s focus on engaging guest relationships. This was a bold goal, considering that any service training approach had to motivate both a core group of hundreds of annual staff (many with tenures of 10+ years), as well as thousands of seasonal workers who drop in for a few frenzied, snowy months.

Killington turned to Redpoint with one simple request for assistance: “what should we do?”  Well…perhaps not so simple, as answering that question required us to execute a deep immersion into their operation.  It was our job to assess the situation, identify vulnerabilities and opportunities, develop clear goals, and then implement solutions to achieving them.

We dove into the immersion head first with secret shopping visits, three full days of substantive interviews with more than 30 executives and front line staff spanning every department, and extensive study of the resort’s orientation and ongoing training process.  All of this exploration yielded several unexpected, undeniable facets of Killington’s guest service approach – both in the way guests were treated and the way staff was trained to make it happen.  The neatly-condensed findings presented in our assessment report surprised the heck out of executives (we can’t tell you why…that would be blabbing), and completely changed their lens for guest service training.  We were quickly given the green light to implement our recommended program.

Step one was to create Killington’s Guest Service Standards and Expectations program, which distilled the essence of the resort’s loosely defined service culture into definable, measurable, and realistic guidelines.  Five core tenets were adopted, and each was articulated on a one-page, visually appealing sheet using down-to-earth language with relevant examples.  These were strategically split into Mandatory Standards and Extraordinary Standards to account for human nature, holding the average achievers to a base level standard, while showing the potential guest service rock stars where to strive. Also, they were crafted to be used as both orientation handouts AND 15-minute training sessions throughout the season, with a “train the trainer” guide for discussion points, teaching moments, and activities that reinforce the key message.

Step two was to create buy-in across the Resort Management Team and inspire them to embrace the evolved guest service culture and, in turn, train their staff to do so as well.  We planned and hosted a series of tailored departmental meetings culminating in a Killington Leadership Day, which was a blend of educational sessions and cheerleading rally for the 100+ managers at the resort.  The result?  The new culture was embraced successfully in that very first season, and has become a driving force behind the resort’s cultural DNA.

Unlocking the Secret Desires of Meeting Planners for the Woodstock Inn & Resort

June 9, 2017

The Woodstock Inn & Resort wanted to know what meeting planners were thinking about them.  And not just the good stuff… the entire truth… every last detail.  So they asked Redpoint to dig up some substantive feedback.

We planned a high-touch, tailored VIP focus group and FAM trip for an elite group of meeting planners at the resort.  In addition to experiencing several key amenities and offerings of the resort first hand, the group was shepherded from arrival to departure by a Redpoint host, who earned their trust and created a vibe conducive to candor.  During a guided feedback session – to which the resort executives were deliberately (with kindness) uninvited – we uncovered useful truths in several core areas:

  • Positioning and perception
  • Guest service and training
  • Marketing strategies and tactics
  • Customization
  • What meeting planners MOST need

What resulted from this hosted experience was a massive amount of disparate candid data and impressions.  But within a week, we had interpreted all the findings and translated it into a report with viable recommendations for short- and long-term plans that tied directly to the resort’s brand and business goals.

What we loved most about reviewing this report with the resort executives?  The number of times they were surprised by a piece of intelligence gathered…but then said “Ohhhhhhhh” when they realized how it was impacting their business.

How did this report help them?  They were just about to embark on a $10 million renovation plan, and the findings from this focus group helped strategically direct spending in ways that will significantly impact their bottom line… like this one.

Rebranding the Tourism Region of Miramichi, New Brunswick for High Profile Positioning

June 9, 2017

Getting all the stakeholders of a destination to agree on ANYTHING is no small feat.  But the Miramichi River Tourism Association – with collaboration from tourism officials in the city of Miramichi and the province of New Brunswick – engaged Redpoint to increase visitor arrivals to the region, and our initial assessment uncovered a vital issue:  the region was in a fragmented state of brand confusion.  At the time, the region was using the positioning/tagline “Discover What We Know,” which is bland and vague. Since the lack of clear, strong branding would undermine any effort to increase visitor arrivals, we knew that step one had to be defining a regional tourism brand positioning…and then getting everyone in the region to agree on it.

For a regional brand positioning to be successful and sustainable, it must be drawn organically from what already exists…the vibe, the culture, the landscape, the heritage, and the people.  This is essential for two reasons:  1) the brand has to reflect reality, not some glossy aspirational image, or consumers will recognize and reject the disconnect, and 2) the stakeholders in the region won’t embrace the brand with pride if it feels disingenuous to them.

So we set out to define a brand positioning for the Miramichi region that instantly tells the region’s story to the world, and could serve as a rallying point to unite the region’s diverse tourism operators, government officials, and tourism leaders.  To achieve this, we embarked on a mission to…

Listen:  we interviewed regional business owners and tourism officials, provincial and national tourism officials, consumers in key markets, leading travel journalists and more… to find out “what makes Miramichi special and why do/should people visit?”

Study:  we did comprehensive audits of the digital and “in real life” circumstances of Miramichi by analyzing more than 60 websites and social channels, as well as on-the-ground elements…how do people find it, what keywords are they searching, what signage guides them, and more.

Compare:  we did a competitive analysis of other tourism destinations and their marketing campaigns, to be used in curating a list of attributes that Miramichi could “own.”

Our findings led to a clear direction for brand positioning:  Atlantic Canada’s Great Outdoors.  For a laundry list of strategic reasons, this suits their need perfectly.  How do we know?  Because in all the preliminary soft-sounding meetings with stakeholders…and then when it was announced by press conference and in regional town hall rallies, no one…not a single person in the region…pushed back or argued against it.  THAT is the sign of a successful brand positioning.

(photo credit: Storeytown Cottages)

Lining Up the Digital Chessboard for an Overhaul of PEI’s Finest Golf’s Online Marketing

June 9, 2017

What began as a singular question – “How do we make our Facebook pages better? – evolved into a solution that addressed the REAL need:  “How can we better engage with people online and get more golfers onto the courses?”

A stellar collection of some of Prince Edward Island’s top golf courses, PEI’s Finest Golf wanted to enhance their digital presence (in particular, social media).  But in order to accurately project the staffing and operational infrastructure needed to make it happen, the executives required a comprehensive assessment of their current digital engagement.

The PEI’s Finest team gave Redpoint the keys to the digital car, and we poked around thoroughly under the hood of their website, social media channels, email system and more.  The health of each individual channel was evaluated with an exhaustive audit, and a report interpreted the findings in plain English… relevant examples, easy-to-understand analytics, and turnkey opportunities that would pluck low-hanging fruit.

That’s what they asked for…and that’s what we gave them.  But wait!  There’s more!

To us, this report felt unfinished, like getting them to the green and then not sinking the putt.  So we took the report to the next level with several key recommendations for short- and long-term marketing changes, including:

  • The Gimmes: seven things they can do RIGHT NOW to instantly impact results, based on the current staffing and budget resources
  • The Lag Putts: a handful of strategic tactics to be unfolded slowly over a year’s time, which are necessary in order to position them for a major marketing overhaul in the future
  • The Green Jacket: a vision for their ideal marketing ecosystem, including both online and offline programs that drive engagement, awareness, and sales

We also included a suggested editorial calendar for social media and email campaigns to help ignite their first-year effort, and then we orchestrated a training session for the lead executive to ensure a smooth onboard process of the new concepts.