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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

How to Use Social Media Video Marketing on Your Website's FAQ Page

When it comes to social media, we camp pros have a major leg up on almost every other industry in the world. While everyone else struggles to find where they fit in, you just need to look at the magical connection between a camper and his or her counselor to realize "being social" comes naturally to us.

Yet even though we're inherently some of the most social folks in the world, sometimes we share the same struggles as everyone else especially when trying to figure out the best way to connect, social media and content-wise, with prospects and customers online.

If you're looking for social content suggestions, you can't beat video. So here's a marketing tip which might be a nice complement to your already outgoing social personality: Change your website's FAQ page from its current pure-text "Q and A"  to video FAQ's instead.

For example, some of your current FAQ's are probably along these lines:

  • "How many kids do you have at camp?" 
  • "How much room to you have left?"
  • "How much does it cost?"
  • "When does the Early Bird rate expire?"
  • "What kind of food do you have?"
  • "What's the ratio of campers to counselors?"

And so on and on...

So what you can do is, you can post videos of you and your staff answering all these questions in video format instead of the typical plain-text answers you have now.

Not only would this be a unique and novel approach no other camp is using, it's social media marketing at it's best.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

What's the #1 Tip When Marketing To Kids, Teens and Tweens?

I was speaking at conference in Tucson last week when someone asked my opinion for the #1 tip when marketing to kids and teens.

I don't know if I have a #1 tip, but I can tell you this: When marketing to youth, YOUR CONTENT MUST BE SHORT AND SWEET.

Kids today have short attention spans, in no small part due to their social and mobile media exposure which limits:
  • Text messages to 160 characters
  • Twitter posts (tweets) to 140 characters
  • Vine videos to 6 seconds; and
  • Intagram, which is built exclusively for viewing photos and videos of between 3 and 15 seconds (not to mention character limits on comments of around 240 or less)
So remember: keeping kids and teens engaged requires keeping everything you post brief. Long sentences, videos, and copy won't work. Pictures, graphics, and short paragraphs will.

If you carry on with long blocks of copy, text or any of that, you'll lose their interest quickly.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Is Your Website Mobile-Friendly? Take Google's Mobile Website Test to Find Out

All of us know the frustration of visiting and/or using a website where you have to pinch the screen and expand the text because the words are too small and scroll sideways just to read all the website content and the links are too small or too close together and all that.

Well guess what?

Sites like these, in Google's opinion, are not mobile friendly. That means your site is not optimized for mobile users, so Google could penalize you in its mobile search results.

In fact, starting yesterday, Google began adding a "mobile-friendly" label to its mobile search results so users are better able to find what they're looking for.

Is your camp's website mobile-friendly? You can take Google's "Mobile Friendly Web Site Test" here to find out.

If you (actually, Google) discovers that your site is not mobile-friendly, you should consider making the requisite updates quickly.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

How to Get the Most Social Media Marketing Benefits from Your Camp Photos

I try to make a point of visiting at least five different summer camp websites and their social media sites each day. It's the best way to monitor the competition and all that. In many cases I've followed the same camps online for years. One thing I keep noticing is that many of these camps are using the same pictures and videos in their marketing that they've used forever.

If you're using the same photos on your social media sites that you used many years ago, I suggest you revisit this practice because you may be severely limiting your social media marketing benefits by doing so.

Some photos are timeless, no doubt about it, so this isn't to say stop using old photos. But in most cases it's better to use current camp photos --  preferably from the most recent summer -- to maximize your social media marketing benefits especially when marketing to kids themselves. Here's what I mean.

Imagine a child who attended your camp last summer is visiting your camp's Instagram page right now.  If he sees a photo of himself at camp last year, he's MUCH more likely to tag and/or share that photo with friends than if he was looking at very old photos from many years ago with completely unrecognizable kids.

On some of my own sites, I still use photos from 10 years back, but VERY sparingly. In order to get full and complete social media marketing benefits, the majority of your camp pictures must be current and new, not old and used.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

How to Get a 58% Email Marketing Open Rate by Including Lists in Your Subject Lines

Did you know creating lists (numbered or bullet pointed) is one of the top ways to get people to share and read your content?

Let's say you're writing a blog post about why kids love camp so much. You could title your post, "Kids Really Love Camp!", and that might get you a few readers here or there.

But if you titled your post with a list, like "Top 5 Reasons Kids Love Camp," you will ALWAYS garner more interest than the generic example above.

Here's an email marketing tip. Try using lists in your email subject lines. I'll bet your open rate will be MUCH higher for those emails than your others.

Most email marketing companies let you compare and test things like this, so that you can use the data to continually improve your email marketing in the future. But when you're doing your testing, be sure to ONLY test one variable (such as the email subject line) or you won't get accurate results.

Here's what I mean in real life -- here's an example from an email I just sent out to my own customers where I tested the email subject line to get people to sign up for my summer camp.

First I selected 500 random families on my email list who've been to my camp before, but who have not signed up for camp this year. I wanted to get them to re-enroll for this upcoming 2014 summer season.

So what I did was, I divided my list of 500 families in two sets of 250. Then I wrote the email itself, which I made CERTAIN was the same for all 500 families. (The entire body, pictures, text, etc. of the email was identical for everyone AND I sent the email at the exact same time on the exact same day.)

But even though all 500 families got the same email content itself, each group of 250 got a different subject line so I could test which subject line worked better.

For the first group of 250 families, the subject line was this: "Sign up for Camp Today!"

For the second group, the subject line was this: "Top 5 Reasons You Need to Sign up for Camp Today"

Guess what? 

The first group had an open rate of 29% -- not too shabby by any means.

But the second group -- the one with the LIST ("Top 5 Reasons..." in the subject line) had a whopping 58% open rate! It was amazing, and it shows that using a list in the subject line did the trick. (The reason I know this is because it's the only variable that was different between the two emails.)

Try it yourself. Ask your email marketing provider if they allow A/B testing. (I use Constant Contact). If your email marketing vendor does not allow this type of testing, switch to one who does. You will be pleasantly surprised with the results!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

How to Do a Joint Venture Marketing Deal

From time to time I get emails from people with topics that run the gamut. Some ask me for marketing advice, others just write to say hello, some people flat out challenge and criticize me. I was particularly amused with a message I got today from Tammy, a very angry person who is not a fan of my joint venture marketing ideas. (Tammy didn't say what camp she's affiliated or where it is).

 Apparently Tammy doesn't believe I practice what I preach. Here's what she said:

"Hello Eric, Most of the stuff on your blog is very good information, and truth be told I've used a number of your ideas to help increase my camp enrollment. But I'm calling your bluff on the notion of joint venture marketing -- specifically the "4th Commandment" of your recent "10 Commandments of Summer Camp Marketing" post and the numerous other times you've tried to jam joint venture marketing strategy down our throats. I have tried approaching two companies in my town to propose joint deals with them, but they both rejected me so I gave up. The fact is joint ventures don't work and I'll bet YOU don't even do them, either."

So what do you think I told Tammy in response? Well, I basically just thanked her for writing to me. Then I told her that not every joint venture marketing proposal she makes will work. Then I told her if she'll just be persistent, she'll eventually develop some very worthwhile contacts and joint marketing partners. Then I assured her I always put my money where my mouth is by showing her the exact arrangement/actual marketing piece my camp did with Delta Airlines last year for their employees (and which we are in the midst of setting up with them again this year):

After I sent this to her Tammy never wrote back, but hopefully she can use this a template for setting up her own joint deals. Good luck Tammy!

Monday, February 3, 2014

34 Sentences To Use in Your Sales Copy That Will Leave Your Reader Wanting More

When you publish written content, you probably have a goal (or several goals) you want to accomplish. You want the reader prospect to take some kind of action, like call you, email you, text you, click a link, fill out a form, whatever.

As you probably know, the headline is the most important part of your written sales piece. But if you've got a multi-paragraph sales letter, it doesn't do you any good if someone only reads a paragraph or two. To really max-out your selling opportunity, you want them to read the whole thing. How do you do that?

You need to write the the final sentence of each paragraph in such a compelling way it leads the reader to want to hear more. The last sentence of each paragraph needs to "leave them hanging" so they feel like not reading the next paragraph will make them miss something important.

Let me give you a few examples of some sentences you can use in your sales copy that will carry your prospects into each next paragraph of your marketing copy while keeping them glued all the way through:

1. What I'm about to tell you should not be shared with anyone.
2. I've been meaning to tell you something.
3. Can I ask you a favor?
4. Want to know how I did that?
5. Here's an example.
6. Let me explain.
7. Let me tell you how to do this.
8. More on that in a minute.
9. I wanted to fill you in on something.
10. I wanted to get your opinion on something.
11. But here's the dilemma.
12. Want to know something else?
13. Want to know a secret?
14. You're not gonna believe this.
15. Here's what I mean.
16. Let me tell you how I did that.
17. But that's only part of the problem.
18.We thought about it, and here's what we decided.
19. Here's what you should know.
20. There's just one more thing I forgot to mention.
21. We discussed it, and here's what we came up with.
22. Here's what I recommend.
23. There's something else I've been meaning to tell you.
24. Maybe you already knew that, but I'm pretty sure you didn't know this...
25. Now there's just one more thing you should know.
26. Here's an idea you might try.
27. There's something I've been meaning to run by you.
28. You'll never believe what she told me.
29. He wanted me to tell you something.
30. She just told me the funniest thing.
31. She made me promise not to tell you, but I'm gonna tell you anyway.
32. But there's a lot more to it than that
33. Get this.
34. Guess what happened next?

Are you starting to get the picture? If you use any of these sentences as the last sentence of your sales paragraphs, you'll see an increase in the number of people who read your material for a longer period of time...and you'll eventually get more sales, too...which is exactly what you want, right? Right! :)

Friday, January 31, 2014

Do You Use Google Plus to Market Your Camp?

Most people I know aren't too fond of Google's social network, Google Plus. Yet it's growing like a weed and is probably among the top things you can do to market your summer camp in terms of SEO (optimizing your camp's website for Google). Do you use Google plus to market your camp? Take the poll and let us know.

Do You Use Google Plus to Market Your Camp?
Yes, we use Google Plus to market our summer camp
No, we are not actively using Google Plus as marketing tool
What's Google Plus?

Free polls from

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Limited Budget but Need to Reach Everyone? Try Door Hangers or Direct Mail

I apologize if you've emailed me with a marketing question or comment and I haven't responded. I'm inundated with them and try to get back to as many as I can, as fast as I can, and I am so sorry I haven't gotten to yours. If you have a question or comment, you're always welcome to email me, but if you're inclined to leave a comment on the blog I think I will get back to you faster.

Meantime, just wanted to share something real quickly regarding an email I got from "Mary H." who runs a kids soccer day camp in Philadelphia. Mary asked what I thought was the best way to reach EVERY SINGLE FAMILY in a given area quickly and cost-effectively with her summer camp's marketing message. She only has a VERY limited budget for a one-time shot to get the word out.

What I told her was that she should first do as much FREE promotional stuff as she can. That means lots of community involvement, seminars, PR, blogging, that kind of thing.

But what she was really asking was about paid advertising. My suggestion was (and is) to try door hangers or the United States Postal Service Every Door Direct Mail Program. With either of these strategies, you can reach every single person in a given zip code or mail route, for instance, and if you only have one chance either of these options are among the best.

You probably know what door hangers are. They're kind of like the "do not disturb" signs you hang on
your hotel doorknob, except they're hung on people's front entry doors to their homes instead. You can design a door hanger yourself or use a template, then pay a service to print, deliver and hang them on everyone's front door within a neighborhood. So when people come home, they may even throw your door hanger away,  but they definitely have to hold it in their hands and look at it first! So if you've got a winning offer, a captivating message, and a well-designed door hanger, you're in really good shape to pick up a few new campers if not a bunch of new prospects.

The Postal Service's Every Door Direct Mail Program helps you reach anyone you want in any community anywhere at any time. They even have a tool on their website which helps you figure out where to send your direct mail piece, how to design it, how much it'll cost and more.

Mary, even though I emailed you with additional details, I wanted to post this here for everyone else who may be interested in marketing their camps with direct mail or door hangers or who may be in your same boat with a limited budget to work with. Good luck!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What are your Camp's Enrollment Goals this Year?

Most summer camps have different enrollment goals. Some camps are just trying to add a couple new kids here or there, while others just want to maintain their status quo, while others need hundreds of new kids every summer just to keep afloat. At Aloha Beach Camp, we set a goal of increasing enrollment by at least 10% each summer. It's not easy to do, but that's what we shoot for.

What are your enrollment goals for this year? We just posted a new poll asking this question on our Summer Camp Marketing Tips group on Facebook. Take the poll and make yourself heard!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Why Your Camp Needs a Mobile Website and How to Make One

The principal way people will access the internet in 2014 is through their mobile devices. Even though most websites can be viewed on mobile, how they look and function are different stories unless such websites are optimized for mobile devices.

How to Optimize Your Summer Camp's Website for Mobile

Mobile users are on the go. They generally don't have time or patience to pinch, scroll, widen or otherwise manipulate their mobile screens to view or use your website. If they get too frustrated, you're likely to lose that potential enrollment.

But even if your website is not currently optimized for mobile, you still have options.

The first is to simply do nothing. Just keep things status quo with your current website while basically ignoring mobile visitors. (I probably don't need to tell you this isn't a great option, but it's technically an option nonetheless so I'm just putting it out there.)

Another thing you could do is upgrade to a full-feature "responsive website." A responsive website means your single website looks and functions seamlessly on any device whether a desktop, laptop, cell phone, etc.

Now even though a responsive website is the ideal option you should eventually shoot for, it's probably too much trouble and potentially cost-prohibitive to convert your current site into a responsive website now. (If you're building a new website from the ground up, that would be the ideal time to make a responsive site. But going back to basically gut or "retrofit" your current site into a responsive one could be extremely difficult at this point point.)

So let's assume for now your current website is ready to go for the current 2014 marketing season, but it's not optimized for mobile and you're also not interested in spending the time or money to turn your current site into a responsive one or build a new website from scratch.

Good news, you still have one extremely viable option: Build a new mobile website, separate from your desktop site, with its own domain name (such as using one of the current DIY mobile site builders out there like Duda Mobile.

Under this scenario, you'd basically have two sites, your traditional desktop site and your new mobile website. Then, when someone visits your regular site on their mobile device, they are redirected to your mobile site with the help of some simple HTML code.

While this last idea may not be the best solution (because you have to maintain two sites, rank in the search engines for two sites, market two sites, etc.), it's better than nothing and can help you reach at least some of your mobile audience until you're ready to upgrade to a single, responsive website framework and design.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Why Video is Huge for Summer Camp Marketing

Video marketing is one of the top marketing strategies summer camps can use to create awareness for their programs and build emotional bonds with customers. In fact summer camp video marketing is one of the best social networking strategies I know.

There's almost nothing you can do wrong when marketing your camp with videos. Let's face it, some of the absolute worst, most unprofessionally made videos EVER often get the most views.

(So that's video marketing tip #1: If you want your videos to look more "homey," "down to earth" or have a more "personal feel," then you don't need to pay some expensive service to create your videos. Make your own videos instead.)

Another point about marketing your camp with videos: Search engines love them almost as much as people love watching and sharing them with their friends. (So here's another summer camp video marketing tip: In addition to posting  your videos on YouTube, share them on Google + to get maximum search engine exposure from them.)

In today's digital marketing age, content creation is king. You can create content any number of ways. Let's say you're trying to describe your high ropes activity to a prospect over the phone. Wouldn't you rather direct that prospect to the high ropes video on  your website rather than trying to describe it to someone who has no idea what you're talking about? And wouldn't that prospect rather watch a video about that activity than listen to you try to describe it? Of course they would! Not only is seeing believing, it creates an understanding and helps your develop unique emotional bonds to prospects that leaves them wanting more.

Did you know you can actually build trust and relationships with people through your videos? That's a huge benefit since camp is a personal, customer service-driven business. Video marketing is one of the few summer camp marketing activities where your personality can really shine. Customers and prospects can get to know you on a deeper level by watching your videos than just reading your website or brochure text. They'll feel like they already know you after watching your s videos even if you've never met in person. Here's an idea idea you might try.

You know how camps sometimes include a "Letter from the Director" in their brochures and websites welcoming prospects to camp? Why not make that "letter" a video instead? Can you imagine the impression you'd make? A video like that would really strike a cord with prospects helping you to forge an immediate emotional bond you couldn't achieve otherwise. You'd certainly hold their attention that way!

Now regarding video marketing's social media aspect, sometimes it's hard to understand whether sites like YouTube really are social media sites. Of course they are!

YouTube has all the elements of the top social sites. People can comment, share, and like your videos, and send you private messages and all that. And once your video gets outside of YouTube, look out! That's how videos go viral since people are more likely to share online video content than anything else!

When you get right down to is, showing is ALWAYS better than telling, so how about making a new summer camp video today.

(And let me know when you're done so I can share your video with my friends!)

Want to stand out in your Community? Host a Food Drive

Yesterday I wrote a blog post about how to increase camper retention by hosting a "Camper Appreciation Day" at the conclusion of camp. As long as we're on the subject of marketing when camp's not in session, here's another way for you to get noticed in your community while helping others and get some good marketing exposure too: Host a food drive at your camp in the fall.

Encourage camp families to bring canned foods and other non-perishables to your facility for distribution to your community food pantry or soup kitchen. You can reward campers who contribute something to the food drive with a free t-shirt, hat, water bottle, or something else from your camp store that won't cost you too much money but has high perceived value to campers. To really max-out your marketing exposure, hold your food drive between Halloween and Thanksgiving and tell the local media who might pick up the story and get your camp in the news.

Friday, January 24, 2014

How to Increase Camper Retention Rates with a Camper Appreciation Day

As we approach the high point of camp marketing season, I’d typically share summer camp marketing ideas here about how to get more kids into camp. Of course I’ll continue doing that leading up to summer. But as long as it’s on my mind, I wanted to share with you a marketing strategy I’ve been using the past few years at Aloha Beach Camp at the CONCLUSION of the camp season which has really helped boost my camper retention rates.

At the end of each summer, we hold an organized “Camper Appreciation Day” right on the beach (our campsite). We invite all camper families who participated in the summer-just-ended to enjoy a carnival-like atmosphere with games, BBQ’s, camp staff and more.

Not only is it a total blast, it’s also one of the very last things, and happiest memories, campers take away before heading into the school year. When we survey families as to what they enjoyed the most at camp, the Camper Appreciation Day event always tops the list.

There’s no reason you can’t have a Camper Appreciation Day at your camp too. But there’s a few additional ideas you can use to really call attention to your event and even incorporate a social media aspect into it:

1. When you invite campers and their families to your Camper Appreciate Day event, make sure to tell them to also invite their friends. This way their friends can see what they missed by not attending your program all summer. This is a great way to show off your camp and get new prospects excited for next season.

2. Hire a local radio station to broadcast the event live from your site and/or tell some local bloggers and reporters about what you’re doing. In fact you could even invite them, too. This is a great way to get free PR and endorsements from influential people.

3. Make sure everyone who attends your Camper Appreciation event  “checks-in”on Facebook from their mobile devices. (You could even have an organized "group check-in" where everyone does it at the same time!) By having everyone check-in, all their friends who didn't come to the even will see what’s happening at camp at the same time!

4. Be sure to take lots of pictures and videos of the Camper Appreciation Day, just like you would if camp were in session. Be sure to post them all over your website, blog, social media sites, wherever.

And finally, be sure to let me know when your Camper Appreciation Day is because maybe I’ll even drop by to say hello! :) 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

How to Convert More Leads into Paid Enrollments

One of one most frustrating marketing problems every camp director shares is how to turn leads into paying campers.Want to know the quickest way to improve lead conversions off the bat?

Increase your response time when you get a lead.

When prospects want information, they want it now. When a potential customer takes the time out of their busy schedule to reach out to you, THAT VERY MOMENT signifies your best opportunity to convert them into a paying camper.

You must be easy to reach and quick to respond. Here's what I mean.

Last summer I was looking for a camp for my three kids (they go to other camps besides mine). I narrowed down my interest list to three or four different camps and called each of them for info. Not a single one had a live person answering the phone. I had to leave voice messages for all of them -- very frustrating as you can imagine.
Finally, two of the four called me back…2 or 3 days later. Waiting was their downfall.

I guarantee you, if they’d called back sooner -- and  I mean within an hour, tops -- I'd have had a MUCH better first impression of their programs (and we all know how important first impressions are), and I'd have been MUCH more likely to sign up for their camp(s).

But that's not the only thing. By not being available immediately, they left the door open for their competitors to persuade me to sign up with them. In other words, any amount of time between a prospect leaving you a message and your response to them is a window of opportunity for a competitive camp to swoop in and steal your prospect.

So the main message here is to get back to people quickly -- no longer than 1 hour after they contact you -- and always have a live person answer the phone if possible. There's a number of other strategies you can use to increase your lead conversion rate, but starting with an improved response time to inquiries is the first and easiest place to start

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Summer Camp Marketing Idea: Sponsor an Ice Cream Social to Benefit Local Schools

Here's s a summer camp marketing idea that will give you get direct access to lots of new camper prospects while costing almost nothing but your time in doing so. It has a nice philanthropic, community service component, too. Here’s what you do.

Sponsor an Ice Cream Social Fundraiser Event

Approach a local ice cream store to propose an affiliation. Tell them you’d like to host an ice cream social at their store, in the form of a fundraiser for local schools, with your camp as the sponsor. In general, you and the store owner/manager will pick a convenient day or night (preferably a weekend so more kids will come) for the fundraiser. Your arrangement will be that 50% (or whatever amount you two decide) of the proceeds will be donated to local schools.

It won’t be too hard to convince the ice cream store to get involved. To sell them on the idea, just tell them it’s a chance to make a bunch of new sales, acquire new customers, and support local schools.

(Then approach the schools to get them on board. This should be the easiest part of the process.) 

How to Market the Ice Cream Social Event

The ice cream social fundraiser event won't be successful unless you (and the ice cream store) commit to marketing it a few weeks in advance leading up to the event. You will face some (minimal) costs to promote the fundraiser. But remember, you’re the sponsor, so there are benefits to you as well. In general, any money you spend in advance (which, in fact, you can get covered by bringing on more sponsors) is nothing compared to the benefits this joint venture marketing activity can mean for your camp.

I suggest printing a bunch of flyers and making some signs to advertise the fundraiser. To keep your printing and production costs down, you could get other local businesses to sponsor the event by including their logo on the flyers and signs in exchange for them paying the printing costs. 

A few weeks before the event, the ice cream store should hang the signs and distribute the flyers inside the store. They should put the flyers on the counter next to their cash register or some other conspicuous place.

Be sure to also send flyers home to every student family through the schools. Your camp’s name, website and phone number must be prominently displayed on the flyers since you’re the main sponsor.

The Day/Night of the Event

The night of the fundraiser, make sure you personally attend the event along with some of your camp staff to meet and greet all the customers coming into the ice cream store. Be sure to have flyers, brochures and business cards on hand. Assuming you (and the ice cream store) have marketed the fundraiser well, this will be a huge opportunity for you to meet lots of family prospects as they come through the door. 

Will This Summer Camp Marketing Idea Work?

If you have any doubts this summer camp marketing strategy will work, the real question is, how could it not? The arrangement benefits you, the cream store, and schools. Hot weather (summertime) and ice cream to go hand in hand, right? And kids love ice cream, right? And small businesses (in this case, the ice cream store) always need more customers, right? And schools always need more money, right?

It's pretty obvious, this one can’t miss!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Top 7 Bare-Bones Marketing Ideas for Summer Camps

Summer camp marketers have so many marketing tools to choose from, it causes anxiety just wondering if you picked the right ones.

Assuming time and money weren’t issues, you could experiment forever with marketing tools and strategies until you’re blue in the face without thinking twice. But let’s face it, most of us aren’t in that position. Even if we wanted to advertise our camps on prime time TV, we don’t have that luxury. Many additional marketing tactics, for obvious reasons, are out of our reach too.

But it doesn’t matter. You can still create a marketing program that puts you on the fast track to success irrespective of what your resources might be. It comes down to your creativity and ability to out-think your competition, not outspend them.

In a broad sense, you should be using as many free or low-cost marketing weapons as possible while striving to meet customer expectations and staying within your budget.

In a more narrow sense, the primary goals of your marketing plan should be getting as many word-of-mouth referrals and as much repeat business as possible while achieving the highest possible return on your marketing investment.

Now back to the original question: How do you know which marketing tools to use? 

Well, regardless of your budget, here’s a 7-point, bare-bones marketing tactic checklist you should be using if you're not going to do anything else:

1. Build a search engine optimized, responsive website. (For the purposes of this article, a “responsive website” means your site works seamlessly whether people view/use it on their desktop, laptop, or mobile device.) 

2. Have a social media presence. You don’t need to be on all the social sites, but you should be where your prospects are. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Google + are some to consider.

3. Start a blog and post regularly. There’s many free blog platform tools you can use. 

4. Join (and actively participate in) at least two networking groups in your community. This is a great way to get known and make personal connections quickly. 

5. Join forces with other businesses to create joint marketing initiatives and cross-promotions. It’s a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” type of thing. A local pizza place can hand out your coupon to their customers and you can hand out the pizza place's coupon to yours. This is a win-win arrangement, it's easy to set up, and it gives both of you instant access to new costumers you wouldn’t otherwise reach. 

6. Direct mail. I’m talking postcards specifically. Few marketing activities I know have the potential to generate leads quickly and make such a positive impact to your bottom line. At the same time, be careful here. Even though sending direct mail postcards can help you reach untold numbers of qualified prospects for an extremely affordable price, if you make a mistake (such as mailing to the wrong list) it can punish you financially as well. If you're new to direct mail, study up and do lots of testing before jumping in with both feet. When you’re ready, the results will amaze you. 

7. Have an active “Refer a Friend” program. This is the best way for your customers and prospects to help spread the word about your camp. You’re basically getting other people to do your marketing for you, which is the cheapest, most cost-effective marketing around. If you already run a great camp, chances are you're already getting lots of referrals. But you can get a lot more with just a little prompting. Why not offer a special discount or deal to your best customers if they send a few new customers your way? At my surf camp, we facilitated lots of referrals last summer by giving away a free private surfing lesson and free day of camp to families who referred at least 5 friends to us. You can do the same.

Keep in mind, these 7 summer camp marketing ideas are low-cost, high impact, high-results type strategies every camp can (and should) be using. Relative to other marketing strategies, they hardly cost any money and don’t take too much time. In fact if you devote just 15 to 30 minutes per day to marketing your program while rotating through the various tactics above, you probably won’t need to do too much of anything else.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

10 Commandments of Summer Camp Marketing

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.)


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.

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.


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!)


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!


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.


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.


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.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Mobile Social Marketing is the Future of Summer Camp Marketing. Are You On Board?

Forward-thinking summer camp marketers understand mobile marketing is here to stay, that mobile is disrupting every industry known to man, and they are eager to embrace the full potential of mobile marketing especially as it relates to social media.

Indeed, forward-thinking summer camp marketers realize mobile is the future of social media networking and marketing.

Camp marketers who don't understand, or bury their heads in the sand regarding mobile, are in for a rude shock. Camps that don't employ mobile marketing, and more specifically social mobile marketing, risk becoming obsolete sooner rather than later.

Think I'm wrong? Then just imagine what your camp will be like 5, 10 years down the line. Did you know that a camper's first experience with the internet these days is more likely to be on his/her smartphone or tablet than a traditional computer? Do you really see an environment where mobile devices aren't allowed at your camp? If you do, I assure you any camp that does allow such devices will have much higher enrollment than those that don't.

I hope I'm wrong, but my guess is there's very few, if any, summer camp owners and directors who approve of campers bringing cell phones and other mobile devices to camp right now. At my camp, we ENCOURAGE kids to bring their smartphones to camp, not just because discouraging them is fighting a losing battle, but principally because we're interested in "embracing the full potential of mobile marketing" as mentioned above. "Embracing the full potential of mobile marketing" involves encouraging kids to post and share camp photos, videos, and online reviews directly from camp itself.

That's just real life these days. You can either ignore it, or use it to your advantage. If you choose to ignore it, or say to yourself, "Camp's not camp if mobile devices are allowed," I won't say I told you so, but at the same time, please don't say I didn't warn you.