Earlier this year, I traveled to Keystone Resort in Colorado to participate in a two-day women's snowboarding (and skiing) clinic known as "Betty Fest." I attended mainly for the purpose of challenging myself and facing my fear of turns that involve steering my body directly down a slope on a well-waxed fiberglass plank.

While I did return home feeling like a true “shred betty” (in the sport's vernacular), I also had a bonus business inspiration: How might the high learning curve truths of the snow-sport industry translate into some useful nuggets for marketers in general?

Now, I know that women and snowboarding, overall, may not be a classic marketer's case study. But, bear with me. There are a few lessons we can learn here.

The Confidence Factor

My first day of snowboarding reminded me of my first day in kindergarten. You know--that place where we all turned from tentative tykes into confident children.

In order to educate us about so many new concepts, our teachers had to create an environment that was conducive to learning, allayed the fears of our young brains and inspired us to try big-kid things (like sharing).

Along those same lines, whatever the new-to-your-industry female consumers might fear or see as a difficult thing to learn or use, there must also be a way to present the topic within a comfortable and collaborative learning environment.

For example, some of the college-age women in the snowboarding clinic I attended mentioned that they had previously tried to learn the sport with the help of their boyfriends. But, with the first big fall (or series of falls, as it were), they had wanted to cry and felt so vulnerable that they just bagged it and left the slopes for good.

Yet, they became much more confident through the support and encouragement of our group of all-ages, like-minded women. Nothing like a few "you go girl" cheers to get you off your bum and back at it.

The Snow-Sport “Marketing to Women” Truths

I interviewed Yvonne Kidd, editor and publisher of the very inspiring site, skilikeawoman.com, and Sue Greene, ski instructor and women's program head at Keystone Resort, to learn from their years of experience in the snow-sport industry. Their thoughts, along with my interpretation of how they might be applied to other industries, are as follows:

  • When women become moms, their fear factor increases because they can't afford to get hurt, and, in general, they fall off the snow-sport radar when they hit their “family formation” years. (How do the “mom” emotions change and affect women's perception of your product or service? How do you attract them again, once their kids get a little older?)
  • Females clearly need different teaching techniques than men. Keystone's research found that “gaining confidence and reducing fear” and “improving style” were important reasons for women to take lessons. (How women want to learn about your products or services may differ greatly from the way men would go about it, too).
  • There are a lot more single-parent households these days and snow-sports are too expensive for them. (How can your product or service keep from being dropped off the "to-buy" list when a household financial situation changes?)
  • Women trust role models and instructors with whom they can identify and relate. Women will be more likely to trust a female ski instructor who has learned to master the mogul fields than a young male coach, for example. (Women need to be able to identify themselves within your marketing efforts and customer experience, or they'll think less of your brand for its lack of understanding.)
  • Encourage women in your industry to serve as teachers, role models, presenters, key customer service representatives, and the like. (Just as female snow-sport customers appreciate female instructors, so will your women's market notice whether your management, advisory board, sales and customer service staff reflect female involvement, and, it may well affect their purchasing behavior.)

High Learning Curve Issues

There is often much more pre-purchase information to consider for products or services offered from within “high learning curve” industries like snowboarding, financial services, or home improvement (or perhaps your industry). It's just not as simple as buying toothpaste.

The following tips will help you focus your marketing messages and product information to both tentative and confident buyers, with an easy entry point for all:

  • Provide a range of education. Offer a range of educational materials that help progress customers through the basic information stage and into more advanced topics.
  • Teach related skills. Offer resources (online worksheets, seminars, brochures, and one-on-one instruction) that teach the “skills” to make a person savvy in your industry. Be the source for the “insider” secrets and information that make a person a more sophisticated consumer. For example, a nursery could offer topical classes for both “New Gardeners” and “Master Gardeners.” 
  • Map key information points. Consider what key information customers tend to need prior to making a purchase decision. Explore how your educational materials, sales presentations and other resources could support this natural learning progression. 
  • Expand online options. Web sites, email campaigns and other online tools should be developed to accommodate and equip both industry-tentative and industry-confident women. For example, a website can provide low-tech (phone) and high-tech (real time chat) options for their online customer service to serve women at both ends of the technology spectrum. For email, that might mean something as simple as making sure you deliver text email messages as well as HTML.

Slope "Shredder's" Word of Mouth

While ski resorts with great women's programs exist (Keystone has had one for 10 years now), the word just isn't getting out as quickly as the industry had hoped. Perhaps management hasn't fully committed to the women's market potential or allocated the marketing budget, which can often be the case.

But, the bottom line may come from somewhere outside the typical corporate marketing budget anyway, in a more grassroots form. Why not consider engendering and equipping word-of-mouth from the passionate female fans you've already developed?

Of course, Keystone isn't paying me to tell all my friends how much fun I had. But, who knows how far my word-of-mouth will reverberate, or which of you readers is on the phone right now planning next winter's trip there?

Women who have just experienced the bounties of your service or program are intensely passionate, so get their testimonials and secure permission to use them. Do the same with photos of smiling participants (riding in perfect form or covered in snow, but smiling, after a mountain head-plant), and more women will be able to identify with the situation. Utilize some homepage space to promote the program or display those great images.

Or, hand out t-shirts (like my hot pink Betty Fest treasure) or other promotional items, when appropriate, to make the women who've overcome the high learning curve feel like they've joined an exclusive club of empowered women.

The word of mouth will roll on without you. By effectively converting tentative women prospects into confident consumers, you'll raise the bar for your industry, women will hear about it, and your company will be the first place they go to learn something new.

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image of Andrea Learned
Andrea Learned is a noted author, blogger, and expert on gender-based consumer behavior. Her current focus is on sustainability from both the consumer and the organizational perspectives. Andrea contributes to the Huffington Post and provides sustainability-focused commentary for Vermont Public Radio.