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Guerilla marketing through human mouths

Seven-day Mountain Travel Symposium keys on changing trends



By Vivian Moreau

Word of mouth is more than just a phrase to author and speaker Greg Stielstra, it’s a successful marketing tool. Knowing how to manipulate what customers say about businesses and products was the crux of his 45-minute talk to over 300 travel industry professionals at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler this week.

Have a product worth talking about and cultivate those customers who love your product because they can start a buzz that will spread like wildfire, Stielstra said. Sticking to a build-a-fire-and-it-will-spread metaphor, the Tennessee-based consultant outlined the 150-year-old history of traditional marketing that saw its heyday in the early days of television when a one-minute spot could reach 85 per cent of American women. Stielstra pointed out that in an age when 300 perfumes were introduced to consumers last year alone shoppers have more choices than they have time for and so they choose to follow the lead of others with whom, and whose choices, they identify.

“Ever wonder why we never see mixed groups of skiers and snowboarders?” Stielstra asked. “Because we want to be different but we want to belong.”

With practical tips such as giving customers discounts and free samples in order to strengthen connections, keeping track of customers in a database and helping customers bond with each other to further spread a good buzz about your business’s product, Stielstra drove home his message on the power of guerrilla or pyro marketing.

Stielstra was the first speaker in a seven-day mountain travel symposium being held April 15-21 that includes a trade show, workshop sessions and group exchanges that have attracted 1,150 registrants from around the world, a record for the 32-year old event, according to founding organizer Ralf Garrison. The third time the event has been held in Whistler, Garrison said the ski resort is a particularly good draw.

“Each time we’ve come to Whistler the symposium has broken attendance records and the amount of international participation increases,” Garrison said. In addition to its reputation as a vibrant, attractive resort, Garrison said the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival is a draw. “We like to joke that Whistler was so kind to schedule the festival to give our attendees something to do,” he said.

In addition to Stielstra, the symposium’s Wednesday morning speaker lineup included former Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation President Pat O’Donnell, who spoke about his efforts to implement environmentally-friendly ski resort management strategies in the past 10 years. Other speakers will include Guy Kawasaki, one of Apple Computers’ original innovators, who will speak Thursday, April 19 about how established companies can energize themselves by remembering start-up tactics.

For those working in an industry challenged by the Internet, audience members who listened to Stielstra’s talk agreed with his message on the importance of adapting to change.

“A lot of businesses do not focus on their current customers,” said Joy Spring, a Colorado marketing analyst. “People will come to your business but businesses don’t bother to collect information and communicate back to them (customers) and I find that totally amazing.”

Steve Toggie from Mountain Lodge in Telluride agreed.

“(Stielstra talked about) lots of things that we all know subconsciously, know intrinsically, and it all came together nicely,” he said.