Founded in 1916, Lone Mountain Ranch is one of the oldest guest ranches in Montana. Generations have come to vacation at the ranch and enjoy its scenery through activities like nordic skiing, fly fishing, hiking, and sleigh ride dinners.
Interestingly, the ranch also played a crucial role in the resort town of Big Sky’s growth starting in the 1970s.
While the ranch enjoyed a rich heritage, several factors over the past few years had shifted the public perception of the brand.
With the addition of a new marketing team, the mission was to update the brand’s identity and web presence. Past guests consistently showed a strong connection the place and its employees. The trick was to reignite this passion.
On the web front, the previous site (below) had usability problems and architecture issues. It needed a fresh look that focused on ease of use and encouraged visitors to connect and inquire about vacation options.
From a search perspective, the existing URL’s were not optimized for indexing and basic SEO best practices had not been employed. The site was getting beat in the search results consistently.
For this project, we decided to invoke a bit of a ‘design thinking’ approach that is taught at the Stanford d.school and in part developed by the IDEO design firm.
In short, we wanted to get the user experience of what it’s like to visit the ranch for the first time. So, we set about taking in one of the famous evening sleigh ride dinners in the winter of 2011. Snapping pics from Bozeman to the ranch and throughout our stay, we poured over more than 200 pictures to help us get a sense of what the ranch’s essence is all about.
We came up with a phrase of ‘rustic elegance’ to help guide us. The ranch is authentic with an authentic staff who care deeply about providing a great guest experience. Yet, it provides superb cuisine and comfortable accommodations without an heir of snobbery.
The original registered branding iron was discovered during our stay and was used along with the iconic Lone Mountain peak set within the identity (new logo on the right, vs. the old logo on the left). A minimal font was selected.
The site was laid out with an emphasis on easy navigation and calls to action for getting in touch with Elaine - the ranch’s sales liasion. (Research from Stanford Web Crediblity study shows images of staff is key for people trusting a site.)
Also, the ranch has two distinct seasons of summer and winter. The site’s visitors can easily toggle back and forth between the two and see the variety of activities. The according identity and color palette changes as a result.
Finally, a thorough keyword research exercise was undertaken to determine what opportunities existed for structuring the new URL’s and HTML title tags. /
Prior to public launch, various user tests were conducted and videotaped with the target market to test brand messaging and image selection. The results were used to tweak call to actions.
With an updated brand standards manual, the ranch has been able to roll out the new identity across its print and outdoor advertising campaigns.
The new site is showing a 25% increase in traffic with 3 out of 4 users digging in and clicking through the site’s content (compared to the norm of 1 in 3).
Various broad keyword phrases are also performing extremely well and converting visitors from the search results based on the research done to date.
Most important, feedback from fans on Facebook and guests staying at the ranch has been extremely positive.
If you’re through Big Sky and looking for a great place to stay, definitely consider a layover at Lone Mountain Ranch.