October 12th, 2012 by Kelly Liyakasa

Vail Resorts Inc., in the words of its director of customer relationship marketing, is “re-imagining” its loyalty program. Specifically, the leading mountain resort operator with seven properties that span Colorado and Lake Tahoe, “understood the who and the what” about its customer, but didn’t necessarily know the “why they were coming to our resorts” beyond the obvious penchant for skiing.

Beaver Creek Adult Ski School Credit: Dan Davis

“We recently segmented our entire database at an attitudinal level to understand what’s driving people to come to our resorts and really using that as the basis for how we communicate, and that will become the basis for our loyalty program, as well,” said Darren Jacoby, during an interview at SAS Premier Business Leadership Series in Las Vegas this week. “We’re really trying to move away from a loyalty program that was based on products to [that of] experiences and trying to deliver value to our guests in a way that no one really else can.”

In addition to the five “personas” that Vail came up with: the Alpine A-Lister, the Village Sophisticate, the Shred-Heads, the Fresh-Tracks Family, and the Cruise-Alongs, the resort company will continue to bridge the gap between its marketing channels using customer data it analyzes through SAS software to drive a better, and more targeted customer experience from the moment of touchdown at the airport (Vail has a transportation offset) til that skier is on the slopes.

But the skiing (or in my case – maybe the post-hike spa-ing – I love adventure and fitness, but am admittedly not part of the winter sports set) is only one half of the equation at Vail properties. Because skiing is such a social sport, Vail developed the EpicMix program (which now includes a mobile application for check-ins and status updates) to really improve the customer experience and to give Vail more insight into skiing patterns.

Using RF technology-enabled ski passes and season tickets, the resorts can physically track when a customer hops on a lift or sails through an RF-equipped gantry. “We’ve created this social game where you can earn different pins for doing different things on the mountain,and you can take all that information and you can share it socially via Facebook or Twitter, so it really connected the social aspect of skiing with the digital world,” Jacoby said. “It’s fun, and people are so passionate about skiing that we are doing something for them that they want to know about.” Vail also employs 140 photographers on its slopes, and can automatically upload a complimentary low-res image to customer EpicMix accounts – with the ability to purchase a high-res version.

EpicMix Racing “My Dashboard”

While Vail does have its PEAKS Rewards customer loyalty program, it’s looking to move beyond the transaction and product-specificity to really “make it more integrated across more of our businesses, and reward you for transactions” for something as subtle as sharing great content or frequently interacting through EpicMix. Expect to see a brand-new rewards program, emerging not this ski season, but the next.

“We’re using SAS tools to understand how to create a more lasting relationship,” Jacoby noted. “We have amazing amounts of information, and [SAS] helps us drive actionable insights from that data to help us make decisions.”

Example: how often you’re coming to a resort. If you ski at “one, two, or seven resorts.” What your behavior is at different resorts. “We’re trying to use that information to tailor our messaging.” Couple in EpicMix, the social check-ins, and the mobile/RF technology, and Vail has a pretty good idea what customers are doing on a  mountain at any given time, or how many vertical feet they skied.

Check out Vail digitally at vailresorts.com.

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