Here are the Top 10 Commandments of Summer Camp Marketing.
(If I've overlooked any please add your own in the comments section.)
1. Thou Shalt Test EVERYTHING
Testing and measuring ALL your marketing activities can be the difference between failure and success. You should test and measure everything to find out which of your marketing tactics are working and which might be underperforming. The results of your testing may surprise you. You might have the impression a given marketing tool is working great, but in reality it’s bleeding your promotional budget dry and you didn’t even know it. Perhaps your favorite print ad is pulling so well you wouldn’t think of changing it. But what if you’re wrong? What if your marketing test revealed the ad could do even better with just a simple tweak? The key takeaway here is if you’re not testing, you’re just guessing. And once you have the data you’re looking for, you should eliminate the marketing tactics that aren’t paying off and double up on those that are. This is the absolute best way to max-out your marketing budget.
2. Thou Shalt Create SHARABLE CONTENT
The goal here is to create content that intrigues your customers or prospects to take some kind of action depending on your goals. Maybe you want prospects to call you. Or maybe you want them to comment on your blog, request more info, sign up for camp…you get the idea. In any case, keep in mind that content marketing isn’t just limited to stuff you write, such as website text. Your content can, and should, also include multimedia such as videos, pictures, and anything else your customers, prospects and subscribers find so “wow-worthy” they can’t resist sharing it with their friends. (To that end, be sure to include social sharing buttons on all the content you create.)
3. Thou Shalt OPTIMIZE FOR MOBILE
The best time to start your camp’s mobile marketing program was yesterday. The second best time is today. Practically every camp-age kid and their parents have their smartphones and other mobile devices within arms reach at all times. And when they need information, where do you think they’ll turn? To their phones, that’s where! Get this: 2014 is the first year mobile internet usage is projected to overtake desktop internet usage. Not only that, these days a child’s first online experience will more likely come on their cell phone, not a computer. That’s mind-blowing when you think about it, largely because it means you can expect more people to search for camps on their smartphones and tablets than computers. And when they do, what will they find? Hopefully they’ll find your camp’s mobile-optimized website and other content and share it with their friends. And what about your camp’s text-message marketing program? You have one, right? Because if you don’t, you can bet your competitor does. In fact at this very moment, that very competitor might be sending text blasts to YOUR customers inviting them to try their camp instead of yours and offering a $50 mobile coupon to boot. Now is the time to get on board with your summer camp’s mobile marketing strategy -- I just can’t stress this enough.
4. Thou Shalt FORM JOINT VENTURES AND MARKETING ALLIANCES
I’ve been talking about joint venture marketing for years. It’s one of the top ways for summer camps to market because it gives you instant access to huge numbers of new camper prospects you wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise. You can set up joint ventures any number of ways, and you can read my blog for many examples on how to get started. For now, here’s a joint venture idea you might try with a pizza place. Contact your local pizza delivery establishment to propose an alliance. Offer to promote them on your website, in your camper enrollment confirmation packets, in your email marketing messages to your customers, wherever.. In exchange, the pizza place could attach your flyer on top of all their delivery boxes. No half-way intelligent pizza store owner would say no to like this. It’s an arrangement that will benefit both you and the pizza store, which is exactly what joint marketing’s all about.
5. Thou Shalt GET SOCIAL
You already know about social media. It’s a practically a generic buzzword these days. The reason you hear so much about it so much is because it works. Thankfully camps are social organizations inherently, which means you already have an advantage over most businesses with respect to your social media strategy. But don’t rest on your laurels. At the very least, your camp should be Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter connecting with people and sharing content.
6. Thou Shalt KNOW THY TARGET MARKET
You can’t be all things to all people. Aimlessly shooting hundreds of marketing arrows out there and hoping one hits your target market is a waste of time and money. You need to define who and what your ideal customer is, then target your marketing accordingly. Through simple surveys, you can find out where your ideal customers shop, the books they read, the websites they like, the TV shows they watch, they pets they have, their favorite sports teams, and so on. After you get this information, you can create and send the right marketing messages to the right people at the right time. (By the way, if you’re marketing to moms, that’s a great start since they’re responsible for 85% of household purchasing decisions. But don’t forget you have at least three other target markets too…kids, dads and grandparents should not be forgotten!)
7. Thou Shalt GIVE THY MARKETING TIME TO WORK
It’s easier to launch your marketing program than sustain it. But you must sustain it. Just like that beautiful rose garden in your backyard, your marketing must be tended to and cultivated over time. You’re not gonna get tons of new roses a few days after planting the seeds, and you probably won’t get tons of new campers a few days after starting a new marketing campaign, either. You’ll generally need at least five or six months before you know whether your marketing plan is working. “Patience” and “confidence” are key concepts here. Be patient enough to give your marketing time to work, and confident enough to know it WILL work eventually. Don’t pull the plug too soon!
8. Thou Shalt MARKET THY CAMP EVERYDAY
Camp folks wear many hats. It’s easy to overlook your marketing responsibilities when there’s so much else to do. But no matter how busy you get, there’s no reason why you can’t write a simple blog post, share a video on Facebook, or post a picture on Instagram every day of the year. This kind of marketing consistency only takes a few minutes, yet it’s one of the best things you can do to steadily increase camper volume over time.
9. Thou Shalt EDUCATE THYSELF ON MARKETING
Let’s face it, there’s some pretty good camp marketers out there. There’s also some some pretty bad ones and many in-between. If you’re one of the better ones, great! If not, I have good news for you. Marketing people are made, not born. The best marketers in the world had to LEARN what to do and how to do it, and they’re STILL learning. And NONE OF THEM are any smarter than you! No matter what your marketing skills or education level might be, commit to learning more. It will only help you in the long run. Let’s say you want to redesign your camp’s website but don’t know too much about SEO (search engine optimization). Does it really matter if you put your new site online today, or if you wait three months instead? Of course it doesn’t, and in fact, waiting those three extra months might be a good idea so you can use that time to educate yourself about SEO and how to make your website better. Take the time to learn how to do things the right way. Be patient and prepare yourself for success. Read some marketing books, follow some marketing blogs. Study companies outside the camp industry and steal their marketing ideas. Then, when you’re ready to launch that new site, or try that new marketing tactic, you’ll be that much more prepared for how to do it right.
10. Thou Shalt HIRE THE BEST CAMP COUNSELORS Anywhere
Sometimes we get so consumed marketing our camps the traditional way (website, blog, print advertising, social media, etc.) that we overlook our absolute best marketing strategy: hiring superb camp counselors and staff. Skilled camp counselors know how to connect with kids like no other marketing tool I know. Sure, you can get a kid to sign up for camp the traditional way. But your counselors, man, they're the difference makers. A good camp counselor who your campers look up to can be responsible for keeping the same kids at camp year after. And that means high camper retention rates, lower marketing costs, and phenomenal word of mouth referrals. I don't know if there's any such thing as marketing magic, but if there is, your staff might be the ones who create it.