“Can you market your product without losing your soul?” asked Liz Dolan, co-owner of Dolan St. Clair sports marketing agency, during a workshop on December 12 at the TransWorld Snowboarding Industry Conference. Answering the question, “How to market snowboarding for the future,” Dolan was among a four-person panel that consisted of marketing experts with perspectives on snowboarding both from inside and outside the industry.
Holden Hume, founder of Verb Advertising and Design, opened the seminar with his explanation of why it is increasingly important for the snowboarding industry to remain true to its roots. “We don't want to become the next technical bike or ski industry,” he says. “Instead, we should embrace who we are, a group of people who got into snowboarding because its fun, not because we want to make a buck. By being honest and true to your customers, they'll be true to you.” (See Soap Box, page 46, for a complete version of this presentation.)
Dolan comes from a long history in sports marketing. She founded Dolan St. Clair with her brother Brendan after working ten years as Nike's corporate vice president of global marketing. She managed product marketing, sports marketing, advertising, market research, and international marketing departments.
Expanding on Hume's views, she explains the value of finding an emotional relationship and connection with your customers and marketing it. Without it, she continues, you'll be forever competing in the land of the cheap, fast, and big. “There's always going to be someone cheaper, faster, and bigger than you,” she says.
“The worst relationship you can have with a consumer is a purely transactional one,” Dolan says. “Luckily for you, the playing field is not even. We in the sports business have a built-in, sustainable advantage. Our product is inherently emotional, rooted in a satisfying experience.”
She outlined some points that companies should keep in mind when working to promote their company as well as grow the sport: having a formal grassroots organization, little barrier to entry, peer-group reinforcement, highly organized governing body, growing sponsor base, and gender equity.
But does getting caught up in the overall marketing of a sport mean companies have to sell out? “If you provide your consumers with a meaningful experience, not just a transaction, and you support the health of your sport, then marketing is the expression of your soul,” Dolan said.
Not only are snowboard companies concerned with their own marketing campaigns, but so are companies from outside the industry. According to Fran Richards, associate publisher for TransWorld Media, bigger corporations are using snowboarding to connect their product, such as soda pop, automobiles, electronics, etc., to the snowboarding consumer, but some do better than others. He says that by strategically aligning your company with a larger corporation you'll not only be promoting your product, but the sport in general, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Snowboarding has an appealing energy, which draws corporations to it, and as long as you keep a close eye on how the marketing is being portrayed, Richards explains, it can be a benefit.
Josh ***, marketing manager for Mammoth Records, spoke from experience. His company has been working with companies as well as athletes in order to reach the snowboarding demographic. By staying true to snowboarding, his company knew it was making the important connection that it wanted and was pleased with its results.