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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Top 4 Summer Camp Marketing Tips for the Off-Season

Now that camp's over, you have a decision to make.

Will you wait several months before you start marketing your camp again, or will you use this time to your advantage to get a head start over your competitors who are sitting around waiting until January to start promoting their programs again?

My feeling is, there's no time like the present to create awareness for your camp, especially right now when no other camps are doing it and you have the stage to yourself.  Even though summer's over and families probably aren't thinking about camp these days, any promotional activities you undertake now will pay big dividends later among families who are interested in trying your camp for the first time next year.

Before I share some marketing concepts to use now in your off-season, please note I am NOT a proponent of spending lots of money to do so. With your peak money-making season behind you, the goal is to work harder, smarter, and more creatively than anyone else especially with limited-to-no money coming in right now. That means you need to get the absolute maximum ROI (return on investment) on your marketing budget. Every dollar you spend on marketing should do the work of $2 dollars or more. The best advice I ever heard about how to make your marketing more effective without increasing your budget was from my friend Andrea Cohen when I interned at her ad agency 32 years ago. Andrea said to stop spending money on marketing activities that don't work, then double up on those that do. I use that advice all the time today and so should you.

With that in mind, here's a few low-cost strategies you can use to start laying the foundation today for what will come later in terms of more getting more kids to sign up for your camp. It's a way of thinking long-term that will pay big dividends later.

1. Blogging


Naturally you want your website to show up on the first page of Google's search results for certain keywords. If it already does, great job! But unfortunately most of us aren't that lucky.  And even though we can't know or control all the factors Google uses to decide which camps to show on the first page, in my opinion there's no substitute for producing strong, interesting, sharable content on a consistent basis. That means pumping out three to five new blog posts every week. Blogging is FREE, helps create awareness for your program, and (eventually) can improve your search result rankings. If writing five blog posts every week sounds daunting, it needn't be. Spend an hour or two each Sunday afternoon or Monday morning writing all your posts for the week. Don't get too caught up in perfect grammar or any of that -- just write the way you talk. Then set your blogging calendar to release each post on a postdated basis so you have new content appearing online every few days. It could take a few months, but as your blog posts populate the internet and get shared among friends and followers, eventually Google (and others) will notice.

2. Joint Ventures and Marketing Partnerships


The fastest way to enter new markets and reach new prospects you never had before is by joining forces with other people and organizations you don't directly compete with, but share the same demographic customer and prospect base as you. Forming these types of alliances enables you to market to each others' customer bases again and again while gaining access to untold numbers of new new prospects you couldn't otherwise reach. The most ideal partnerships are other businesses that are up and going during your off-season. Why not reach out to a children's math tutor to propose an affiliation? The math tutor could distribute your brochure to her customers, while you write a glowing endorsement of the tutor and email it to your customers. It becomes a win-win-win-win scenario with you, the math tutor, and both customer bases ending up happy. But don't stop with the tutor! You can (and should) arrange many types of deals with many similar types of businesses or organizations as possible. I assure you, doing joint ventures and marketing partnerships is the easiest way to reach new markets and grow your enrollment quickly.

3. Get Customer Reviews


A few years ago folks turned to trusted friends or family members for referral or recommendations before making a purchase. These days they might consult Yelp or Google first and, rightly or wrongly, generally believe what they read. Considering how influential online reviews can be, its imperative you accumulate as many positive customer reviews as possible. Just ask your customers if they wouldn't mind spending a few minutes online to share their impressions of your program with other families who might be considering it for their kids. If you can grab four or five new reviews every month starting now, you'll be sitting pretty when new prospective families start checking your online reviews next year.

4. Stay Connected on Social Media


Camp is seasonal, but social media isn't. You need to stay connected year-round, but don't go overboard directly promoting your camp since this isn't the time of year most people are interested in hearing about your arts and crafts activities. Some of most ideal ways to engage followers and fans won't have anything do to with summer camp anyway. Posting questions relevant to people's family situations or current events can get you spectacular results. Try some of these examples (or some variations) and I'll be you'll be happy with the level or engagement you get:
  •  "What's the best bedtime for a 9 year old?" 
  • "Anyone know of any great cupcake recipes for kids?"
  • "What's a great local restaurant to surprise my husband or wife with?"
  • "Anyone have a good recipe for apple pie?"
  • "I'm looking for a karate class for my kids...anyone have any recommendations? 
  • "What's your opinion on private vs public schools?"
  • "Anyone here home school their kids? Would you recommend it?"
Contests also work really well to create engagement. Offer a great prize, and people will participate. I own a beach camp, so when I run contests I give a new surfboard, boogie board or wetsuit to the winner. People go nuts for these!

How about a photo contest?  You can tell people to share the contest with their friends or even tag their friends, too. You just need to figure out what works best for your situation. What's great about all this is that you're out there on social media getting exposure for your camp. And even though you personally aren't talking directly about camp, your customers, prospects, friends and followers will be talking about you.

5. Clean Up your Database and Email Lists -- Cut Costs to Save!


Remember what I said about getting a big return on your marketing investment? One strategy that works great is cutting your marketing costs. Even if you don't view cost-cutting as a marketing "strategy" per se, it's a valuable undertaking especially in your non-peak season when you need to keep an extra eye on what you spend. There's any number of ways to cut your marketing costs. One of the best I've found is by cleaning up your marketing database and email lists. Cleaning up your lists can be a time-consuming project if you haven't done it lately (and especially if you've never done it before), but it's more than worthwhile from a marketing and financial standpoint. For instance, if your email marketing service (Constant Contact, MailChimp, whoever) calculates your monthly fees according to the number of contacts in your account, you're wasting time, money, and energy by hanging onto, and continuing to email, old and outdated contacts who are no longer, or never will be, customers for your camp (not to mention you might be bothering them by continuing to reach out). While it's always important to have a customer reactivation strategy so past customers return, sending marketing information to people who attended your camp 6 years ago probably aren't decent prospects anymore. Similarly, there's no sense continuing to email families who stopped coming to your camp a few summers ago because they outgrew it or were less than thrilled with your program. You need to examine each individual subscriber in your account to decide if it's feasible to keep them active. If it is, great. If not, cut them. Getting hammered each month with unnecessary bills from Constant Contact (or whomever you use) is NOT something you should be doing. You could be pocketing that money or allocating it to other marketing investments or program improvements instead.


If I could just wrap this up, I'd encourage you to use this "down" time to plan and execute wisely. The fall (like every season) passes quickly, so I hope you'll get started today! Whatever you do now might not pay off in actual dollars today, but that's not the point. The point is to think long-term, so when the more traditional summer camp marketing season starts again in several months, many new prospects will already know about you.

[EDIT: Looks like there's actually FIVE, not four, summer marketing tips included in the post. I gave you a bonus! Enjoy!)

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