What is Your Brand’s Emotional Epicenter?

Last year the Lake Tahoe-based full-service ski resort known as Northstar California witnessed one of the weakest snow seasons in 100 years, but still somehow managed to nearly pull in double the amount of international visitors. How did they do it?

While there were arguably many factors that led to this end result including the recent addition of a Ritz Carlton on site, combined with the fact that Olympian Shaun White named Northstar his home mountain in 2011, this increase in visitors was no doubt due to such efforts put into play by Northstar’s dynamic marketing team.

According to branding expert and Northstar California marketing director David Ratchford, who spoke at this week’s Reno-Tahoe American Marketing Association luncheon on the topic of “What Drives Behavior and the Desire to Buy?”, strong brands successfully differentiate themselves from their competitors by developing a unique brand positioning.

A 12-year marketing professional, David has worked with some fantastic brands throughout his career including Farmers Insurance, Zions Bank Corp., Park City, The LDS Church and many others. Most recently he worked in Major League Soccer building the brand of soccer in America. An active consultant and teacher, he specializes in branding, advertising, employee development, organizational design and public relations.

The Rebranding of Northstar California

So how does Northstar California uncover what it is that sets them apart from the 17 other ski resorts within an hour’s drive of Reno/Tahoe, and then capitalize on that from a marketing standpoint? In 2010 the resort underwent a tremendous re-branding effort from “Northstar-at-Tahoe” to “Northstar California.” With key process oversight from Ratchford, working closely with the San Francisco-based agency BBDO, below is an inside look of their most recent ad campaign:

Uncovering a Brand’s Emotional Epicenter

According to a brand model Ratchford shared that was developed by Utah advertising agency Richter 7, in order to create successful brands that resonate with customers and drive them to action, a brand must identify the key emotional issue driving the behavior of a particular target audience (a.k.a. the “emotional epicenter”) relative to the brands in its competitive category.

To achieve this, a brand’s messaging, experience, and persona must tie together to create its emotional epicenter. Ratchford gave the example of the Nike logo whereby the logo has evolved over time from something more complex and descriptive into now just a “swoosh” symbol, which in and of itself conjures up all the references to the brand’s message, experiences with the brand, and its overall persona. More information on this brand model is available here.

From the standpoint of the above-referenced model, here are some of the ways that Northstar California has worked to uncover the brand’s emotional epicenter:

  • Messaging: Northstar California differentiates their ski resort by focusing on being “a laid back California style luxury resort that caters to families.” This brand positioning statement is not only informed by research, but helps to structure their messaging. For example, their advertising design features the use of much white space, the prominent display of their logo, and a focus on simplicity.
  • Experience: Whether it be sharing incredible video footage via their social channels to communicate the Northstar experience, providing S’mores to guests in The Village after a tiresome day of skiing, or featuring their latest mascot “Marshmallow” the dog as a basis for storytelling, the resort focuses on positive guest experiences as an important tool for marketing.
  • Persona: One of the ways Northstar California measures and captures the sentiment of its guests is by utilizing the Net Promoter Score and System, which asks one simple question: “How likely is it that you would recommend Northstar California to a friend or colleague?” By measuring such sentiment on a daily basis, Northstar California is able to proactively monitor its brand and maintain a focus on the one thing that matters the most: its guests.

In closing, Ratchford made a point to remind us as marketers that there is no limit to what we can achieve. He dared us to be different, seek out new opportunities, generate ideas, and most of all, disrupt the status quo!

Now its your turn! Have you ever been to Northstar California? If so, what impressions did you take away from your experience at the resort? Are you familiar with their advertising, videos, or online presence? If so, please share your stories.

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