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Top 7 Ways to Market Your Virtual Summer Camp

Last updated on November 14, 2022

Summer 2020’s turned out differently than any of us could have ever imagined. Thanks to coronavirus, many camps aren’t operating or, if they are, don’t look the same as before. Many camps have moved their programs online. And many others have been wanting to try to virtual summer camp concept, but haven’t been sure where to start.
If you’ve been meaning to move your camp online but need some initial guidance, the American Camp Association has some helpful tips and guidelines to point you in the right direction.
Anyone Camp Open a Virtual Summer  Camp
For better or for worse, starting an online summer camp is available to any person, anywhere, anytime. This means lots of potential competition –even Walmart and YouTube have jumped into the fray — and market saturation quickly. But there’s also many benefits to offering a virtual summer camp. For one thing, it gives day camps — which are generally limited to their immediate geographic areas from which to draw customers — worldwide market access. Offering an online camp can be a tremendous opportunity for every camp to gain lots of new online customers now, then convert them into traditional campers later when in-person programming resumes and camp can operate “normally” again.
Just a quick point about competition. Never be afraid or intimidated by what other camps are doing. Differentiate your program as much as possible, stay in frequent touch with current and past customers, and keep providing great service. Do all this, and you should be fine.
Top 7 Virtual Online Marketing Strategies
Once you’re virtual summer camp program is ready for customers, it’s time to let people know about it. Thankfully, developing a marketing plan for your virtual summer camp isn’t as hard as you might think. Many of the same marketing strategies you’re already using for your in-person camp are applicable to your virtual program, too.  Here’s a 7 point marketing plan you can use to start promoting your online camp today.
1. Email your entire customer and prospect bases to let them know about your online programs. Make sure they know this isn’t “camp as they know it,” but rather a necessary (if only temporary) fun, alternative to your regular program due to the coronavirus pandemic. Impress upon your customers and prospects that your virtual camp is the next best thing to the “real thing,” as it offers campers an opportunity to enjoy worthwhile summer activities while staying connected to their counselors and friends with live human contact, even if they can’t be together in person in the same physical location.
2. Even if you’re charging money for your digital summer camp, offer the first class, activity, or session for free. Your free trial offer could be just the thing to entice families on the fence to try your virtual program, especially if they’re comparing it to other virtual camps to make a decision. The “try before you buy” model is a hallmark of internet marketing. Once you start marketing with free trial offers, you’ll instantly find out why it’s such a successful promotional tool. (I personally am always more willing to consider someone’s offer when there’s no financial risk.)
Camper referral program graphic

3. Implement a camper referral program. If one family refers others who sign up for your program, reward the referring family with cash, a free camp session, or some other valuable gift or prize. Incidentally, referral marketing should be a staple of your camp’s marketing program whether you’re offering digital summer camps, live in-person camps or both. John Jantsch’s book, “The Referral Engine,” is one of the top books you can read to get valuable referral marketing ideas to use at your camp right now.

4. Taking your referral marketing efforts even further, I suggest putting in place a few formal joint venture or host beneficiary marketing arrangements with like-minded marketers. Host-beneficiary marketing relationships are like referral marketing programs on steroids. This kind of marketing gets others to do your marketing for you, while helping you reach huge additional new market bases otherwise unavailable to you. I learned how to set up host-beneficiary marketing programs by studying the practices of marketing guru Jay Abraham. In Jay’s book, “Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got,” he dedicates an entire section with a step-by-step instructions for how to set up joint ventures and host-beneficiary marketing relationships. Pick up Jay’s book on Amazon.
5. You’ll have to spend some money to market your virtual camp, but you’d likely do that anyway to market your traditional programs. Paid online advertising — so costly when used the wrong way — can also be an extremely worthwhile investment when executed properly. If you’re unfamiliar with Google Ads and Facebook Ads, it’s worth taking time to learn more about them. Once you have a basic understanding, try one or both with a small investment, increasing your advertising spend incrementally as you get more comfortable.
6. Don’t forget the value of traditional (offline) marketing and advertising when it comes to promoting Direct Mail Marketing Graphicyour virtual camp programs. Direct mail, in the form of a sales letter or postcard, announcing your virtual summer camp could work wonders in getting families to sign up. Display a coupon or discount prominently on your postcard or sales letter as an incentive to sign up.
7. Stay active on social media. There’s no reason why you can’t still post photos and of your in-person program even though you’re operating online. Short of email marketing, your Facebook, Instagram, and other social media accounts are the primary ways you’ll stay connected with families during this pandemic. Out of sight, out of mind…so don’t stay out of sight!
It’s Time to Start Marketing Your Virtual Camp Today
I spoke to a camp owner last week whose camp is closed this summer due to COVID-19. He told me he wants to move his camp online with virtual programming soon. Six days later, he hasn’t moved a muscle. It’s important to note, more and more camps are coming online each day with new and novel virtual programs. These camps are going after YOUR campers! So it’s important to act as quickly as possible to move your camp online and start marketing it right way.
Grab this Golden Opportunity Now
When things get tough, we need to be tough-minded and look for opportunities in the rubble. If you’ve been waiting for the perfect time to start your online camp while expanding your camp into additional markets, this is your golden opportunity to expand into many new markets and pick up lots of new campers you’d never have reached without coronavirus happening.
Who knows, you might find the online summer camp model so worthwhile you continue operating it as an adjunct to your in-person camps once everything gets back to normal later.

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