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Thursday, April 29, 2010

How to use Traditional Offline Advertising Strategies In Conjunction with Your Online Marketing Efforts

When the internet first got popular, lots of people said it was a fad. Well, now we know it’s here to stay, and the marketing opportunities it lends your camp are phenomenal.

But that doesn't mean traditional ("offline") advertising is dead. You could even make the case that some forms of traditional advertising even work better simply BECAUSE the Internet exits. Take direct mail.

Due to the Internet, direct mail has seen a resurgence in popularity and effectiveness among camp marketers in recent years. The reason why is because you can use direct mail to drive traffic to your website and generate more online leads.

Next time you do a postcard mailing, try an experiment. Have your postcard's marketing message send people to your website. Maybe your postcard could say, "Looking for a summer camp? Visit our website to learn more about our program." Make sure you put your camp's website address prominently on your postcard. Then watch your website traffic spike up a few days later when the postcards arrive in people's homes.

If you're not into direct mail, you can still do this experiment in other offline advertising mediums. You could place a classified ad in your local newspaper or parenting magazine, again directing people to your website. And again you should notice a direct correlation between when you placed the ad and increased traffic to your website.

Despite the incredible allure of the Internet to promote your camp, don't forget that offline advertising still works and, in many cases, makes your online marketing activities better.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What if you Could Increase Your Website Visitor Count Just by Changing a Picture?

What if you could get a few more enrollments each day just by tweaking a word or two on your website? What if just by changing one picture for another, your website visitor count went through the roof?

You might not believe it, but sometimes making what seems like an insignificant change like these can dramatically boost your website's performance. Problem is, how do you know which parts of your website to change in order to see what works best with your users?

You use Google's website optimizer, that's how. This free tool is easy to use and let's you compare one picture to another, one headline to another, one word to another, or any other variables of your choosing on a single web page.

Then it gives you the results you need to make any necessary changes in order to reach your online goals.

I started using the website optimizer last year for Aloha Beach The first time I tried it, I tested this headline:

"Click here for a $10 discount"

Against this one:

"Wanna discount? Click here!"

My website visitors had no idea I was conducting this test. Google's Website optimizer handled everything for me. When users viewed my home page, everyone saw the exact same thing from the pictures to the punctuation except Google always showed one group of people the first headline and another group of people the other one.

(In other words, I was using two different headlines for the same web page; everything else stayed the same.)

You don't need any technological skills to do what I did. Just use the website optimizer tool to get started. Believe me, it's easy and anyone can do it.

Here's a little more info about how this works:
  1. Choose a web page within your camp's overall website you want to test
  2. Decide whatever variation(s) of that page you want to test
  3. Set a goal for whatever action you'd like users to take upon viewing the page (Maybe you want them to fill out a form or click through to another page, it's up to you.)
Now you don't need to test just two pages against one other. Your testing can be as basic or complex as you want. There's really no limit to what you can test. But the important thing is that you do test, otherwise you won't know which elements of your website could be improved just by making a simple change.

(When I tested the two headlines above, I discovered that people clicked the "Wanna discount?" link four times more often than "$10 off camp tuition." But I'd have never known this without Google's website optimizer. Wouldn't you want to know if you're missing out on getting four times as many clicks to a page on your site just by changing a few words?)

Look, you might think you're the most creative person in the world, or you might think you have the most beautiful website in the world, or you might think you have the best website content of every summer camp in the world. And maybe you're right!

But it really doesn't matter what you think. It only matters what your customers think.

And using Google's website optimizer tool is the best way to find out.

Why Email Marketing Works Better Than Facebook and Twitter

Social media marketing on Facebook and Twitter is all the rage. Camp directors are knocking themselves out trying to figure out how to capture the incredible marketing potential of this new phenomenon, but if you're looking for the absolute best way for your personality to come alive between your computer and your prospects, email marketing is where it's at.

That’s because email marketing takes place on a more personal level than “typical” social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkIn.

Does this scenario sound familiar?:

  • You post a status to your Facebook page hoping someone responds
  • One or two people might click the “Like” button 
  • One or two more may say something back in response to your post
  • Now you’re excited, so you write back, hoping to keep the conversation going
  • No dice though -- the connection ends there
  • You repeat the process all over again hoping for better results, but it always ends the same way

No question, websites like Facebook and Twitter have huge marketing potential for your camp. But email marketing’s better for one-on-one, responsive marketing with your prospects, especially in terms of making an initial connection.

If there’s any doubt, consider how many times you’ve exchanged emails back and forth with a single person in just a short period of time. Only yesterday I talked with a dad via email who was confused about how to pick a camp. We emailed back and forth 11 times within 15 minutes. And with each additional email, you could tell he felt so much better about sending his kid to camp.

Now THAT’S how you connect with customers and prospects!

By now you know what I’m gonna say next: If your camp's marketing plan doesn’t include capturing email addresses from prospects, you’re missing the boat. 

But wait a minute. I don’t know anyone who's begging to get more email and I’ll bet you don’t either. So how do you get people to willingly hand over their email addresses? Here’s how.

First, you make it blatantly clear you won’t spam them, ever. Then you assure them they can remove themselves (opt-out) from receiving your emails anytime they want.

Now you’ve got them where you want them -- they're a little more receptive and less defensive.

But for some people, this still won't be enough. So what do you do? You bribe them.

Yep, bribe.

I’m not talking about holding a gun to their head. I’m talking about making people an offer they can’t refuse. Let me explain.

When people see that little box on your website asking them to join your email list, some of them will join out of general interest or simply because they’ve got nothing else to do (seriously).

But if you go one one step further and offer them something in exchange for their email addresses - a bribe - your subscriber list will grow like gangbusters.

What can you offer people?  What can you bribe them with? These are the two best ways I know:

  • Offer them free information like a “How To” report or “Top 10 List”
  • Offer them a freebie or discount

Bribe Them with Free Information

I’ve used this strategy before with great success and so can you. Last year I bribed about 400 people into signing up for my email list by offering them a report called “Top 10 Beach and Ocean Safety List for Kids and their Families.” If you want to do something similar, why not offer a free report or white paper like “The Top 10 Questions to Ask a Camp Director” or “Top 7 Secrets of Choosing a Summer Camp?” (How could anyone say no to that??...just the word "Secrets" would probably get them to do it!)

Offer a freebie or discount

Economists keep saying the economy’s improving. Oh really? Nobody I know feels like that. But even in a good economic times everyone loves a discount or getting something free. Why not offer Mom $25 bucks off camp tuition? Or a free lunch sack from your camp store? How about 4 free tickets to the new Disney’s Oceans movie or a Major League Baseball game? You can bet I’d give you my email address if you offered me something like that!

I just thought of something I better not leave out. When you start seeing your email list getting larger and larger you'll be temped to start emailing people left and right. You must control this urge! If you start abusing people one with email after email, offer after offer, day after day, they’ll eventually get resentful and opt-out of receiving your emails faster than they joined your list in the first place. I recommend emailing your prospects every 10 days or so -- that's more than enough to keep folks engaged without pissing them off.

You know what? I’ll bet if you asked my wife if I’m a smart guy she’d say “only sometimes.” But if there’s one thing I know for sure right now it's this: Establishing relationships via email is the single most fail proof way to establish trust and connections – at least initially – with prospects online.

You can take this advice or leave it. If you decide to use the ideas presented here, I assure you your prospect list will grow much faster than whatever you can get from Facebook and Twitter, and people will warm up to you faster, too. By extension people will feel more comfortable signing up for your program and telling all their friends about your great camp, too.

How can you beat that?

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Top 5 Traits of All Good Websites

Nobody knows for sure how many millions of websites are on the internet. But we do know this: all the good ones share the same five characteristics: 

The best websites are:
  1. Visually appealing. This means perfectly matching color combos with nice layout and design 
  2. User-friendly. The best websites are easy to navigate. Novice web surfers should be able to their way around your site quickly and easily.
  3. Optimized for search engines. (Not just Google, but all of them.) 
  4. Aware of their audience. For example, your camp's website should appeal to kids and parents alike, not just one or the other
  5. Updated frequently. New pictures, content and material keep your site fresh, useful and relevant.
These five qualities are not hard to master. But there's too many lazy people running websites who don't take the time to make sure their sites meet these standards. If your camp's website stands up to these traits, you're golden.

How to Solve the Problem of Many People Tweeting from the Same Twitter Account

Does your camp have one twitter account but lots of people post (tweet) from it? Bird Herd is a cool way for you to manage this challenge.

How to Train Camp Staff in Customer Service Techniques

In many cases your camp counselors are also your camp's customer service reps. They're the "face" of your camp, the front-line people your families deal with on a daily basis. That's why it makes sense to devote a portion of your staff training time to teaching them about customer service and other reputation management skills.

I'll bet your orientation schedule is already filled to the brim, so don't go overboard on the marketing discussion front or you might not fit everything in. Instead just pick a few important topics and cover the main points.

Here's a few ideas to get you started:
  • Customer service
  • How to handle angry parents
  • What to say to parents, and the general public in the case of an emergency

Let's not kid ourselves, seasonal camp counselors usually only work for you because they enjoy working with kids, not because they're interested in helping you promote your program. So if you're gonna teach staff about customers service, you need to keep them engaged and buy into what you're doing.

One approach that's worked well at my own camp is this:
  1. Breaking staff into groups;
  2. Assigning each group a marketing topic (like customer service); and then
  3. Having each group make a presentation to everyone else about their respective marketing topics

Counselors seem to enjoy this training method because it breaks up the potential monotony of a marketing "lecture" and instead morphs into a fun, hands-on role-playing activity. Not only that, it's an easy way to learn and the added benefit is that it spreads your camp's marketing message across your entire team.

Now the one caveat when doing marketing training with staff is this: you don't want to give away so much information that it hurts you later. If you've got a killer marketing secret that works like crazy for you, it should probably stay that way. Coca-Cola's not sharing its secret soda ingredients with its employees and neither should you. You don't want some rogue camp counselor getting a job with a competitive camp down the road and sharing your marketing plan with them. That's why you need to focus on generalities, not specifics, as you train your staff in customer service techniques.

One more thing to consider. Don't forget the potential marketing windfall you might be missing by not asking your staff for marketing ideas of their own. What if your counselors are sitting on a goldmine of marketing ideas, but you never even knew it because you didn't think to ask? Even a small idea from a counselor you might never see again could turn into a tremendous promotional advantage for you.

Here's the bottom line on this one. Considering how fast word spreads from person-to-person these days, you don't want your counselors giving misinformation to parents or kids. You want them promoting a trustworthy, professional image that makes you look good. Your customers (including kids) will form positive or negative impressions of camp by how your staff interacts with them. They'll share these views with their friends, too, which explains even more why training your staff in the basic principles of your marketing program is only a net gain for your camp.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Living Example of Thinking Outside the Box (or Inside, as the case may be)

Here's a LITERAL DEFINITION, a true living example, of thinking outside (or inside) the box. Check this out, it's absolutely BRILLIANT.

What's the #1 Way to Get Your Website to the Top of Google?

What's the number one way to get your website to the top of Google without paying money? Camp directors ask me that all the time.

Only Google knows the answer. In fact just the other day, Google's Matt Cutts announced Google changes its search algorithms every day.

Obviously it's virtually impossible to crack the code. But if I were a betting man (and from time-to-time I am, even though betting's a losing proposition), here's the kind of thing I'd do.

First, I'd make sure your site (and I mean each page, not just the home page) is fully optimized for every search engine, not just Google, with accurate meta tags and descriptions and all that.

Then I'd make sure you include a site map.

Then I'd update your blog at least three times a week (or more often) and link your blog to your website.

Then I'd make a big time effort to accumulate as many inbound links (links from other websites) that point to yours as possible.

There is much more you can do. But this is where I'd start.

Friday, April 23, 2010

How's Your Website Working Out For You?

How does your camp's website compare to others? Is your website working for you? Is it generating leads, and do the search engines like it? Is it popular in social media? Find out now for free at Website

"'I'm Too Busy to Market My Camp."

Most camp directors wear many hats. Especially now, as summer draws near, you're running around like crazy making sure everything's set for another great camp season.

That means it's easy to put marketing on the back burner. When you're hiring staff, focusing on your program, preparing your facility and all that, it's easy to tell yourself, "I'm too busy for marketing right now."

Please think twice, and then two more times, before putting your marketing on hold. Even if you're phone is ringing off the hook (hell yeah!), you gotta keep marketing your program. No matter how busy you are, you don't have the luxury saying "not now" to your marketing.

From one camp director to another, I realize your "to-do" list is growing, not shrinking. So here's my list of the four top things you can do to fit marketing into your daily schedule even when you're tied up with countless other day-to-day tasks:

1. Stick to a Daily Marketing Schedule

Designate a fixed time each day so you're marketing takes place according to a set schedule. Does your marketing plan call for daily blog posts? Do it at the same time every day. Because if you know 8:15 pm is your designated assigned time to post to your blog, you're gonna have a hard time finding excuses not to. It's kinda like going to the gym: you might not like it, but you know you gotta do it. And if you push yourself, eventually it becomes second nature and just another part of your busy day.

2. Stick to The Marketing Activities You Like

I don't know too many camp directors who put marketing at the top of their "Fun Things To Do" list. But unfortunately our lives are made up of doing things we don't like -- even if we despise them, we gotta do them anyway. Wanna keep your teeth? Go to the dentist. Wanna keep your camp? Market the heck out of it. Here's the good news though: ANY marketing you do can help, so why not stick to the promotional activities you like? If you hate cold calling, don't do it. If you love making connections on twitter, do that. You know the phrase, "do what you love and the money will follow?" Marketing's the same way. If you enjoy your marketing activities, they are more likely to be effective, and in turn you are more likely to see positive results.

3. Focus, Focus, Focus!

If you're like me, you probably spend a lot of time online each day. Why not? It's fun! But one thing about the internet, it's WAY too easy to get distracted. You visit one website, then innocently click a link, then one more, and somehow you end up 200 cyber miles from where you started. So remember this: For every minute you find yourself distracted watching a YouTube video or playing online games, that's one less minute you're spending marketing your camp.

4. You Don't Need to do Everything Yourself

This should be a no-brainer. But sometimes camp directors feel like they need to do everything themselves. Trust me, once you learn to delegate, life gets easier! For one thing, you won't be stressing out so much and you'll have more time for all of your responsibilities, including marketing. If you have fliers or brochures to hand out in your community, you don't need to waste a whole day doing it yourself. You can hire a high school kid to hand out the fliers for you while you do other stuff like reference checks.

I wish I knew one single surefire way to create more awareness, referrals, and enrollment for your camp. But I don't -- I only know a bunch of different ways that all work together to achieve these results.

But I can tell you this: There is one surefire way to lose marketing momentum and hurt your enrollment, and it's this: forsaking your marketing activities because you "don't have time" or you don't like doing it or whatever.

Sure, you're busy, I know that. But following the four tips I outlined above should give your marketing a boost, even in crunch time.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Social Media Marketing and More

Here's a copy of your free 2010 Social Media Marketing Report, on whitepaper by Michael Stelzner, founder of Social Media

Every camp director should read this in my opinion.

It basically details the results of a study Stelzner did where he invited close to 9,000 small business owners and entrepreneurs to share how they use social media marketing and whether it works for them.

Close to 2,000 of the invited participants responded with their insights

If you really wanna get into the nitty gritty of how people are using social media these days - and how you can use social media in your camp marketing - this report is for you.

Is it Time to Let Customers Pay for Camp Over Time?

How many campers do you lose because they can't afford your camp tuition?

Or maybe they can afford it, but since you require full payment up front, it's too much money for a family to come up with all at once.

For some families, paying for camp all at once is a drop in the bucket. For others it's nearly impossible. (Naturally you want the money, but the ultimate loser in this case is your prospective camper since they miss out on your fantastic camp experience.)

Even if a family can afford to pay for camp upfront in its entirety, that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t appreciate the option to pay over time. Offering families a way to pay for camp in installments is a nice way to help more people afford your program and get more referrals.

If you don’t offer tuition financing, perhaps you should consider it. Letting prospects pay over time can help them fit the cost of summer camp into their family budgets more comfortably, especially in times like these with high unemployment and maxed-out credit cards.

Try to come up with a tuition financing plan that works for both you and your families. As long as your financing plan requires families to complete full payment before summer ends, you should be able to cover your operating costs.

For all you know, nobody will even take you up on this and they'll pay for camp in full upfront anyway. But even if they don’t choose to finance, maybe they know some friends who've been holding back because they can't afford camp.

But when they tell their friends about your new financing options, you may just pick up a few more campers you otherwise wouldn't have even known about. Pretty cool!

See what you can do. My guess is families will really appreciate the option to pay over time, and your gesture will go a long way toward your improving customer service, your social marketing efforts and your word-of-mouth referral rates.

And of course, all of that means more enrollment....YES!!!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What do Logos, Mascots and Symbols Say About Your Camp?

No question about it: your camp's logo, mascot, meme, unique selling proposition, or anything else people recognize as a symbol of your camp can give you an incredible marketing edge. They make you look polished, professional and focused. That's good for your camp's image.

But one thing you must remember is each person views things differently and forms their own impressions.

Two of the more prominent mascots you undoubtedly recognize are the Geico lizard and "Flo," the Progressive Insurance saleslady.

I don't know about you, but "Flo" and the little lizard irritate the crap outta me. I change the channel whenever they come on, that's how much I can't stand watching them. Many people I know feel the same way.

And yet, the ads must be working because Geico and Progressive have used these two little irritants in their ad campaigns for years.

Now here's a few mascots I absolutely LOVE .... Coke's polar bears:

I don't know why I love them so much. Certainly a polar bear's more likable than a lizard -- at least that's my opinion.

But I'm so attached to Coke's polar bear ads I practically look forward to seeing them every Holiday season.

Question for you: Do you put your camp's logo, mascot or symbol on all of your camp's marketing materials? If you don't, you should. This way you'll have a recognizable, unified look.

More questions: What do you think about the lizard, Flo and the polar bears? Do you like them? Do they bother you? Do you care?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How to Market Your Camp to Teens

Astute camp directors like you realize you have two distinct target markets: the kids who come to camp, and their parents who pay for it. If your marketing doesn’t target both groups, it won’t be as effective as it could.

When marketing to kids, you may have a secondary challenge in that your camp probably serves a wide range of age groups who each respond differently to your marketing messages. Depending on a kid’s age, he or she will also have varying degrees of influence over their parents in the camp decision making process.

Assuming your camp serves teenagers, one fact you should keep in mind is that even though the 12-17 year old population is shrinking, the products and services this group uses and buys is increasing. This means there's fewer teens to go around, but you also have the unique opportunity to zero in on this group and capitalize on their spending power.

If you’ve been reading this blog for some time, you know I’m a big proponent of marketing ROI (return on investment). I want every dollar spent on marketing to do the work of two. If I'm not getting double the marketing effectiveness of what I'm paying for, screw it.

To help you achieve maximum ROI when marketing to teens, here’s a few things to keep in mind.

  • Teenagers have strong beliefs and opinions, which their urge to express is overwhelming. Your job as a marketer is to provide them the outlet to do so. This is where social marketing comes in. 
  • The teen crowd is also very tuned in to their own originality, yet they have a simultaneous need to feel important and part of a crowd. This is why you see so many of those ridiculous (and sometimes funny) Facebook groups like, “Yes, I got your text, I just didn’t feel like texting you back.” These groups are almost always started – and joined – by thousands and thousands and THOUSANDS of kids and teenagers.
  • The teen set is OBSESSED with the latest trends, celebrities, music and pop culture. They love the gossip websites too. How to use this info to your advantage? If I were you, I’d bend over backwards trying to incorporate your camp’s brand into teens’ everyday actvities and interests. That doesn’t mean spending lots of money hiring Miley Cyrus to do a guest chat on your website (although that wouldn’t hurt). Instead you could run a sweepstakes or promotion where you give away tickets to a Justin Beiber concert or Taylor Lautner movie. Posting links to free downloads, the latest hot videos, various celebrity and gossip sites or even video games could also do the trick.

Now you need to be aware of just one thing. Teenagers are FICKLE. What’s cool today is lame tomorrow. You’ll drive yourself nuts (and you'll go broke) trying to catch up to what’s hot and new and trying to please every teen all the time. Instead come up with a few core marketing messages that are solid enough to connect with teens today, but flexible enough to change and update as new trends come and go. That should not be difficult with the ability to update your blog, website and Facebook page on the fly (which is something you should be doing all the time anyway).

It’s not hard to develop awareness for your camp among teens, but it will take time. And yet, teens already DOMINATE Facebook so you won’t have to look too far to find them. Just keep finding ways to connect your camp to what teens are into. That's how you'll get that much sought-after two-way communication between them and you.

Now please excuse me while I post a Rhianna video on my blog. There’s a few 13 year old girls considering my camp who love her! :)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Put a video on your home page and watch the magic happen

Video marketing (youtube, dailymotion, etc.) is becoming the most popular method of internet marketing. Among the many ways you'll benefit by marketing your camp with videos is:

  1. People love sharing them (so they're an ideal form of social media marketing and can help your site go viral)
  2. They help build emotional connections with your audience (so your prospects and customers will trust you more)
  3. They help turn your website into a lead generation machine rather than just an online brochure

Consider posting a short video clip right on your website or blog ... and I mean right on the very first page. (Don't set your video start playing automatically; let website visitors click the video to play it if they choose.)

But believe me, they will choose to play it. The temptation to watch a video when it's right in front of you is overwhelming. (To see what I mean, check out my blog at; the video's easy to find at the top of the page before all the posts, so people can watch it right away. And, I've discovered almost 100% of the people who visit my blog watch the video. Can't beat that!)

Just imagine a short video clip of yourself or your staff or happy campers on your homepage telling -- indeed, showing -- people why they should attend your camp. This is very powerful idea and it works. If you have a camp video buried inside your website or, even worse, sitting unused on your computer, post it to your homepage today.

Facebook ditches "Become a Fan" for "Like Us"

It's time to stop asking customers and prospects to "Become a Fan" and ask them to "Like Us on Facebook" or "Find us on Facebook" instead. Check out the new change, effective today.

A lesson from Mary Kay

"Everyone has an invisible sign around their neck that says, 'Make me feel important.'" - Mary Kay

Camp Doesn't Start For a Few Months. But What are You Doing now to Connect with Current Registrants?

Maybe you've got lots of kids already signed up for camp, but camp doesn't start for another few months. I know you're probably crazy preparing for camp and you've got lots of other stuff going on. But don't miss this phenomenal opportunity to really please and connect with your new families (and even generate more sales from them) between the time of their initial enrollment and when camp starts.

Use the time before camp starts to your advantage to really "wow" your customers. Now that they've signed up, strike while the iron's hot. Send your customers surprise gifts. Write and send them personal letters about how much fun they're gonna have at camp. Put on a pre-camp party for new families. Offer a pre-camp discount for enrollment extensions (if someone's already signed up for 2 weeks, now's a perfect the time to get them to add one more). Engage your families on Facebook and have them fan your page. Email them periodically to let them know you're here for them.

It's important to remember that your customer relationships begin the moment they sign up for camp, NOT when they arrive at camp the first day. Marketers who clue into this will have a much better time endearing camp families to them, earning their trust, getting lots of referrals and repeat campers too.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

How to Piss Off Your Best Customers (Not something you wanna do!)

I subscribe to several magazines. One of my favorites is, or was, Inc. Magazine before they pissed me off so much I canceled my subscription after 6 loyal years.

Here's what happened. I've got three young kids who love to read, so my wife and I take them to bookstores all the time. We like Barnes and Noble and Boarders the best because they have cool kid's sections.

But every time we'd go to the bookstore, I kept noticing the newest issue of Inc. Magazine was already on the shelf BEFORE it even arrived at my house about a week later. This gave me the impression Inc. was more interested in selling magazines to one-time buyers off the street rather than loyal customers like me who'd been subscribing forever. Why should I have to wait an extra week to get my magazine when the average Joe could just walk in and get his first?

I hope you, like me, are always looking for ways to keep loyal customers happy. Serving your best families first should be your top priority.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

"How Much Money Should a Parent Pay for Camp?"

This is the absolute best time of year to promote your camp. People are already in the market for what you're selling. Half your work is done for you. Hot prospects are everywhere.

Wanna know just how easy it can be to lock up one new enrollment after another? Just direct your marketing to what families want - camp - and they could be hooked.

When I graduated from high school, I needed to buy a new car for college. I'd never bought a car before, so I had all kinds of questions in my mind:

1. What kind of car should I get?
2. How much should I pay for it?
3. What are the features I should be looking for in a car?

About this same time, I saw a newspaper ad from a Toyota dealer in Santa Monica. The ad's headline read, "How Much Money Should You Pay for a Car?"

And you know what? I read every word in that ad five times. And then (perhaps stupidly) I bought my new car from that dealership without even considering other dealerships or other cars!

As the school year winds down, your customers and prospects are thinking similarly to the way I did.

The car dealership's ad did not "create" my need to buy a new car -- I'd already decided beforehand I was gonna get one -- but what the car dealer's ad did do was smack me right in the face with the information I needed to help me make a buying decision at the exact time I wanted to buy.

The takeaway? Now that it's springtime, families everywhere are contemplating summer opportunities for their kids. That means they're ready to buy what you're selling. Give them the information they need - for example, an ad with the headline, "How Much Money Should a Parent Pay for Camp?" - and signing up new kids could be like shooting fish in a barrel.

4 Ways to Generate Word of Mouth Referrals for Your Camp

If you're running a 1st class camp, you're gonna get word of mouth referrals automatically. But why not increase how many you get? Many people don't know you can actually FACILITATE the word of mouth process so your customers refer more
people more often they normally would. Here's four ways you can get the word of mouth process cooking for your camp.

Facility Maintenance is Camp Marketing, Too

I've always wanted to start a summer program in Hawaii, so I visited a camp there recently. I'm afraid the director forgot to include "facility maintenance" in his list of marketing activities.

Facility upkeep is as much a part of marketing as your camp's website or brochure. It's all part of your image.

Even if chipped paint and broken door handles don't matter to you, others will make decisions to attend -- or not attend -- your camp based on its appearance.

If I were a parent, I'd have been turned off by the Hawaii camp's unkempt premises. I had the impression the directors were careless. If they couldn't take care of their own place, how could they take care of my kid?

Message here? Simple.

Even though you might not notice your run-down equipment and torn-up archery targets because you see them everyday, they send a negative signal to parents.

So make sure your camp facilities are clean and attractive from the bathrooms to the mess hall. This will keep your image strong and cause any impressions your site makes on people to be good ones.

Queston for you...

Question for you: Do you generally read this facebook page, my blog, twitter or all three? If one of these methods is better for you to get my marketing updates, I'll focus on that one the most. Please let me know.

Want More Referrals? Pay for Them!

The other day I said I shoot for 85% referral-based enrollment at Aloha Beach Camp. That means for each group of 100 kids that enroll, I want at least 85 of them to come from another camp family -- the typical word of mouth referral we're all after.

Not only is word-of-mouth the most credible marketing you can get, it reduces your customer (camper) acquisition costs to virtually nothing.

But sometimes you have to pay for referrals...and you probably shouldn't mind. In fact, "paying" for referrals is a pretty good way to get them. I use any number of organized customer referral programs where I pay a financial reward to referring customers. One of the more effective ones goes something like this.

When a person signs up for camp based on another customer's referral, I reward the referring person with a letter and financial gift. The letter looks like this:

“Dear Mary, Thank you so much for referring John Smith to Aloha Beach Camp. He signed up for the same Enrollment Package you did. Because you did such a nice thing for me, I'd like to return the favor. Enclosed please find a check for $50. I value your business and the trust you've put in us. Here's to a great summer, Eric Naftulin.”

Now there's just one catch. As you probably already know, people are motivated by money...especially when it's easy work like telling their friends about your camp. So if you adopt this "pay-for-referral" technique, watch out. Once your customers get their hands on your cash, they'll want more. So get ready for a steady stream of referrals.

Every camp should have an organized customer referral plan in place. Paying for referrals isn't a bad idea, especially if you want a flood of them.

And that is what you want....right??

Friday, April 16, 2010

Market your Camp with Tabbed Flyers and Reach 10 People for the Price of One

Last month I discussed marketing your camp with flyers. Some folks think marketing with flyers is "old fashioned." Who cares? I'm more concerned with getting results from my marketing, and I know you are, too. And if you're looking for a cheap, easy and effective marketing tool, flyers are a great way to go.

Now check this out. The typical flyer you're probably thinking of is printed on a standard 8/5 x 11 piece of paper, right? But I recommend you try "tabbed flyers" too.

In case you're unfamiliar with tabbed flyers, they have little "tabs" on the bottom or sides of the flyer. Here's a picture of one I found on Google so you know what I'm talking about:

See all the tabs at the bottom? Each tab contains basic information about your camp, like your phone number, email or website address.The tabs are cut or perforated, so lots of people can pull them off your flyer.

And THAT'S the reason tabbed flyers are so effective: Not only are they cheap and easy to make and distribute, but just one flyer does the work of many.

Here's what I mean.

Your typical single-page flyer is only useful for one person at a time. You print 100 flyers, and you give one each to 100 different people.

But as you can see from the flyer above, there's 10 tabs, so this flyer reaches 10 different people simultaneously instead of just one. Place your flyer in a good location, and your response rate increases tenfold.

Regarding location, you need to experiment with the best places to distribute your tabbed flyers. Schools and community bulletin boards are good places to start. 

By the way, you don't need ANY computer or design skills to make your tabbed flyers, because there's a free tool on the internet right now that will make your flyers for you. All you need to do is input the basic info (and even some pictures) you want to appear on your tabs and flyer, and your flyer will be generated in seconds.

Visit right now to see what I mean. Have fun!

"Mobile website use will overtake desktop website use within 5 years."


How to make sure your website is viewable on cell phones

Is your website optimized for mobile devices like cell phones? Can people see your website on their cell phones?

I've blogged about this before, but in the past few weeks many camp directors have asked me how to make their websites cell-phone compatible. So I thought it'd be worthwhile to revisit this topic today.

Now that camp marketing season's in full swing, more and more people are using their cell phones and other mobile instruments to access the internet and view your website. 

The problem is, most websites look terrible on cell phones. The reason why is because most sites are not optimized for the smaller screen size.

Do this right now: Take out your cell phone, and go to your camp's website. What does it look like?

Hopefully it looks pretty good, but chances are, probably not. 

So here's what you need to do. You need to create three different versions of your website for these three different screen sizes:
  1. PC
  2. Smart phone
  3. Basic (WAP) phone
Once your site's set up to accommodate these three screen sizes, you can be sure your growing mobile audience can view it clearly from anywhere and everywhere.

I suggest starting at and registering a .mobi domain extension for your camp's website (.mobi is an alternative to .com and stands for "mobile" to ensure compatible content. So, for example, my website would be for viewing on standard computers, but also for mobile devices.)

Nice thing is, you can build your own mobile-compatible website on your own without help from a professional web designer. You can do online for free, it's relatively easy, and it won't take very long. Visit right now, and you can have your cellphone-compatible website viewable on cell phones in just a few hours or less.

In the past, a mobile website was a nice luxury to have, almost an "add-on" or an "afterthought." Not anymore. 

Why? Because for every one personal computer purchased, four times as many people buy cell phones. 

That means there's countless numbers of people whose main access point to your camp's website is via their cell phone. 

So don't wait any longer before making certain your site is compatible with every possible tool someone might use to view it.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Add your camp to Eco Friendly

Building a couple new summer camp search engine/blog sites. The first one is called Eco-Friendly, and it's up and running now at Add your camp for free today.

The #1 FREE Search Engine Optimization Strategy in the World

I don't know about you but I HATE paying for advertising. Instead I shoot for my enrollment to be 85% referral based, and the other 15% from people finding us organically in search engine rankings and other online means.

In the past, when I was starting out -- and this still goes for other camps who might be new or struggling -- you might need to pay for advertising. Google adwords is a very effective tool you can use for people to find your camp online. But it can be also be very expensive, especially when you're bidding for popular keywords.

So if you're like me, you want folks to find your camp organically in the search results. Who doesn't want their website to come up first on Google...for free?

I can't guarantee your site can be the first people see when they search for camps online. But I can share with you the #1 way to improve your chance of getting your site to rank more effectively on Google without paying a dime:
Get links, more links, and MORE LINKS from other websites. And make sure those links are related to sites dealing with camps and kids
Getting quality links isn't easy. It's an art, and it's hard. Here's a few links to some of the better articles and websites that show you how:

1. Seobook
2. Microsoft
3. Yahoo and Allbusiness

When you're trying to acquire links, it's a better idea not to "trade" links with other sites. Google doesn't like that. It's much more worth your while when a site links to you without your reciprocity. (See what I mean when I say it's hard?)

Anyway, if you're gonna spend time doing just one thing to improve your search ranking, acquiring links from other sites is your best bet. Here's a tip to get you started: start connecting with bloggers and writers who might have an interest in writing about you. This is a strategy I use a lot, and it works pretty well. Once you become friends with someone like that they're inclined to write about you because 1) they like you, and 2)  they feel like they're sharing important information with their readers. 
So don't waste another minute. Get started on your link-building efforts today!

Monday, April 12, 2010

You Need to Market to Camp Staff, Too

Sometimes you need to think about marketing to your staff as well as customers and prospects. As we all know, a happy staff makes happy campers. If you run an overnight camp, here's something you can do to endear yourself to your staff off the bat.

When your staff arrives at camp, how about giving them a goodie bag filled with toothpaste, a toothbrush, disposable razors, shaving cream, some camp store items, and even coupons from restaurants, movie theaters and other local establishments to use on their days or nights off?

This small gesture can go a long way not only towards creating goodwill towards your staff, but since most of them of probably college students (and college students tend to be loyal), it may help with staff retention rates from year-to-year, too..

Friday, April 9, 2010

Who's the Lucky Winner? Unlock the Treasure Chest to Find Out

The most effective marketing tactics I know are also the most versatile. You can use them anywhere in any number of cases. Here's an idea your prospects will find downright irresistible and you can do anywhere.

Here's what you do. Fill a locked treasure chest with all kinds of goodies -- camp store items, toys, and other items that don't cost you much but have a high perceived valued to kids and prospects.

Then let the first 500 kids or parents who come to your open house or site tour choose a key to the chest at random and try to open it. Make sure only 1 key opens the lock, and 499 keys don't.

This way you only have one lucky winner who gets to keep everything you've placed in the treasure chest.

We do this on the beach at Aloha all the time. Our campers love it. We also do it at open houses, and the mere fact we have the treasure chest there helps increase attendance.

If you decide to try this "treasure chest promotion," market it like crazy beforehand. Let everyone know they could be a lucky winner at your next camp event. This can really build interest and create excitement among prospects, and best of all it works and it's fun!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Meet the "Frugalista" (The Coupon Diva Mom)

This article from Mediapost is among the most persuasive I've read about why you should market your camp with coupons.

Summary of the article:

  • Today's mom LOVES using coupons and finding bargains
  • Today's mom LOVES sharing coupons with other moms -- it's a social networking thing
  • 60% of moms used coupons for the 1st time last year
  • You can win a mom's loyalty by offering coupons
  • Coupon use is here to stay

How to Keep Customers Loyal With Coupons

You probably already know I'm a big fan of coupons. Everyone loves a bargain. In today's economic climate, offering discounts to new and existing customers is the right thing to do.

The cost of offering a discount is nothing compared to the increased customer loyalty and camper retention rates you'll enjoy for doing so.

Here's an article I came across today from Small Business showing how coupons can increase customer loyalty and boost camper retention rates.

As you'll see from the article, there's many places you can post your coupons online from twitter to google to dedicated coupon sites like .

Even though some camp directors don't like offering discounts, you might think twice when you see how coupons can endear customers to you and your camp.

How to List Your Website on Google, Yahoo and Bing for Free

Even though your website and blog may already be included in the top search engines, it doesn't hurt to cover your bets. Here's where you can add your sites to Google, Yahoo and Bing for free:

Here's where to submit your site to Google:

Here's where to submit your blog to Google:

Here's where to submit to site to Yahoo:

Here's where to submit your site to Bing:

You might also try DMOZ,  the open directory project. DMOZ is a massive internet directory run by volunteers who understand the needs of the internet users. It's a little harder to get included there, but if you do, it can pay off big time. In fact DMOZ is so potentially influential that many of the smaller (and larger!) search engines often use the sites listed in DMOZ to deliver search results to their own users.

It sounds funny, but MILLIONS of people still don't even use the internet. As they eventually come on board, more families will find your camp online. You certainly don't want to be overlooked in cyberspace. So take a few minutes and make sure you're camp's listed everywhere possible across the internet today.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

You can't outsmart Google. But you CAN outsmart your website searchers!

You can try to "think like Google" and when optimizing your website and try to outsmart it the other search engines. Unless you're a programmer with inside knowledge of how Google works, forget it. You'll be better off just thinking like a a regular person -- a typical "website searcher" --  and optimizing your site that way.

Points to remember:
  • Search engines can't see pictures or video. Be sure to add include "alt" tags with tight descriptions and keywords for all your images. (That's one way to get your pics to come up in Google image searches, for example)
  • Don't overload your page with keywords and keyword phrases. Use Google's Webmaster Tools to help you identify the exact keywords folks are using to find your site, then sprinkle those words and phrases throughout you page. (Again, don't overdo it....).
  • Search engines love fresh content. Try to update your site at least twice a week. Three times is better.
  • You need clear, concise title and description tags relevant to each of your web pages. Each page should have different tags.
  • Google doesn't use keyword tags anymore, but it the other search engines might so it won't hurt to have some.
Don't waste your time trying to crack the Google code.  It's like Coke's secret recipe - nobody will ever crack it. Instead, use the tried and true website optimization strategies mentioned above. They work and have been proven in action.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

"I'd be stupid not to try this"

When prospects see marketing offers from Aloha Beach Camp, I want them to say to themselves, "I'd be an idiot not to try this."  If I can get them to think that way, they're mine.

I want you to start thinking that way too: How can you make your prospects an offer they'd feel stupid to refuse?

In today's economic climate, price plays a big part in a camp family's decision making process. It's important to realize families want discounts and bargains. It's already so frickin expensive raising kids in the first place, people want money-saving opportunities that'll reduce the sting of paying for camp.

Here's what I'd do. I'd focus on retaining old campers first, then getting new ones later. It costs you at least 5 times more money to acquire a new camper than to keep a current one, so camper retention is key.

But you definitely need new campers. You need them every year. That means you might also need more aggressive marketing offers that really hit home in the minds of your prospects.

What does "more aggressive" mean? Beats me. You'll need to experiment with your own situation and find out what works best for your market. I can tell you this though.

If you want high-impact results from your marketing offers, that 10% discount you're offering right now might sound generous to you and your staff, but it's not gonna work for prospects on the fence.

In fact, anything less than 20% off generally won't be enough to influence a buying decision. Twenty-five percent off and 50% is even better.

If you're nervous about giving this much of a discount, well, sure, you might lose on the front end. But if your camp kicks ass, chances are the new campers you acquire with your generous discounts will stay with you for the next several years. That means your acquisition costs become virtually nothing when amortized over all the future summers your new kids stay with you.

Now here's one thing you don't want to do. You don't want to offer discounts to people who'd otherwise pay full price. If your camp fills up each year without offering discounts, you're living a life of luxury most of us don't enjoy.

But if you're one of those who needs a steady stream of new kids, keep experimenting with different offers until you find one that works consistently well. Stick with it for a while, occasionally testing a new one until you find another that works even better.

Eventually you'll strike gold with an incredible offer nobody will be able to refuse. It will be obvious to you when this happens because you'll be rewarded with a completely full camp with a waiting list and you won't have to offer discounts anymore. Sounds nice!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Don't get in the way of campers and staff connecting online. It's good if they do! (Part 1)

If you’re one of the camp directors who got whipped into a frenzy this weekend when I said it’s time to cut the cord and let your campers and staff connect together online, this post is for you.

Let’s cut to the chase. If you don’t get over your fears right now and turn your staff loose on the social marketing front, you will miss powerful marketing opportunities and your competition will eat your lunch.

Does that change your mind?

Look, for the past many years I was just like you. I took every step imaginable to keep my staff from communicating with campers online. I even made my counselors sign a “Camper-to-Staff Social Contact Form” that read in part:

Regarding web sites like Facebook and Myspace:
Do not ask a camper to “add you” as a friend. Do not agree, or agree to be, added to these sites. Do not join a camper's page as a “fan” and do not ask them to join your page as a “fan.” You shall have no contact or association with any child in any remote capacity on these sites. Any violations of these terms or conditions are grounds for immediate termination.

Then one day I had an epiphany. Why the hell am I fighting this?

My counselors are already in the field connecting in person with my campers anyway, so why would I want to HINDER this relationship's development? Instead I should be taking active steps to facilitate this relationship and strengthen the bond even more. If I'm trying to block camper/staff connections online, I’m biting the hand that feeds me, for crying out loud.

If you've done your due diligence hiring staff -- like conducting reference and background checks -- AND you have in place an effective social media monitoring system, you should have nothing to worry about. In fact you should be all smiles. Here's why:
  • Your marketing exposure will increase exponentially across the internet 
  • Your website will improve in the search result rankings
  • Your staff can stay in touch with your kids all YEAR (in the off-season, for goodness sake), doing your social media marketing for you year-round. (Just imagine how what this could do for camper return rates!)
  • Best of all, none of this will cost you a dime : )

You know what? I'll bet your campers and staff are talking to each other online right now in any case. Either you don’t know it or you DO know but you’re looking the other way.

In any case, how can having staff do your social marketing work hurt you? To the contrary, by fostering online relationships between campers and staff, you’ll be creating a special cyberenviroment where lots of good things can happen.

That's it for now. Part 2 of this post is coming soon. Keep an eye out...

Friday, April 2, 2010

How to Market Your Camp in an Improving Economy

The weather’s warming up, kids are antsy for the end of the school year and everyone’s looking for camps for their kids.

Or are they?

Thanks to terrible economic conditions the past two years, many camps have suffered sicking enrollment downturns while others closed forever. But now there’s growing optimism among families and camp directors that an improving economy might compel more people to spend a few grand on camp this year for the first time in a long time

The economy's still fragile, as is the above-mentioned optimism. So unless you offer a complete money-back guarantee where parents are absolutely CERTAIN there's no financial risk for signing up with you, your marketing -- now more than ever -- should be directed at convincing people that the VALUE they'll get by attending your program exceeds the PRICE they'll pay by leaps and bounds.

The most effective way to compel a customer or prospect to spend money with you now is to look at your offer through their eyes. When I put together marketing offers at Aloha Beach Camp, I want parents say to themselves, "I'd be an idiot not to try this."

Here's what that means. It means if you're charging $1,000 for a camp session, you need to make a parent feel like they're getting such an incredible value they say to themselves, "Geez, I'd pay a lot more than $1,000 for this."

So how can you make customers feel like they're getting more than they pay for? Well, you gotta be on your toes and run a sharp program at all times, that goes without saying. Running a top-notch program is surely part of marketing, but here's what else you can do:

If you take credit cards, PROMOTE IT! Put Visa and MasterCard logos on all your marketing materials with the phrase, "all major credit cards accepted." You'll get a distinct advantage over competitors who don't take credit cards. Imagine a family sitting around their kitchen table wondering how they're gonna pay for camp this year. because they don't have the cash. Then they see your ad inviting them to pay for camp with their credit card. Done deal!

Has your Early Bird Discount Expired? Extend it. (But figure out a way to accommodate all the people who busted their ass to meet your deadline so they're not pissed off.)

Give something away (that doesn't cost you anything) for free. We offer an Enrollment Protection Plan at Aloha Beach Camp. For $50, people can make free unlimited changes to their kids schedule all summer. Since we charge $35 to make a single enrollment change, almost everyone buys this plan since they see so much value in it (the plan pays for itself almost immediately.) Now here's the thing. It doesn't cost us a single dollar to throw in a free Enrollment Protection Plan "if you sign up for camp today." When we make an offer like that, we've just added $50 worth of value to their kids' camp tuition, and remember, it didn't cost us a dime. Then we put a big "N/C" (no charge) next to their Enrollment Protection Plan line item on their invoice so they really see what they're getting in black and white -- $50 worth of camp services, absolutely free.

Offer a coupon It's a proven fact (you can look it up) that sales increase when organizations offer coupons. Why wouldn't they? Everyone loves a discount. And according to, in addition to adding value to your offer, there's many reasons you should offer coupons, including:
  • To Increase Number of New Customers
  • To Increase Sales of a Specific Product or Service
  • To Increase Branding and Awareness
  • To Reward Current Customers
  • To Entice Return of Former Customers
  • To Create An Opportunity to Up-sell a More Profitable Product or Service
  • To Create a Highly Measurable form of Marketing 
I HIGHLY suggest putting a coupon on Camp It's my site, and it's FREE to you. We've already had some camps WITHDRAW from the site because they were getting too many people trying to use their coupon! So I assure you, it works.

If you can't offer a 100% money back refund, maybe you can offer some sort of guarantee so you're sharing at least SOME of the financial risk with the parent. At Aloha, if the kid doesn't like camp, the parents don't pay, simple as that. (I realize some people are afraid to offer guarantees. Don't be. Offering a guarantee works in your favor. For one thing if your camp is as good as you say, you have nothing to worry about. Second, the stronger your guarantee, the less refunds you'll give. That's just how guarantees work...)

Parting thought: the economy’s improving, but one of parents' biggest concerns when choosing a camp is price. In the past, customers could afford to send their kids to several camps each summer. But this year, due to poor economic conditions, they might to pick just one or two. Help them choose yours by adding value to what you're selling in the first place, and let me know if you need any more ideas than what I've mentioned here.