Marketing: it’s not a word people typically think of when they imagine summer camp. Summer camps, after all, are supposed to be about fun, relationship-building, adventure, learning, and independence.
As it turns out though, marketing is a critical success factor for many camps. New parents need help in finding the best camp for their children. Camp parents sometimes need an extra incentive to make that reservation for next year. Or to leave a glowing review. Summer camp directors, administrators, and owners must turn a sharp eye to marketing if they want to remain competitive this year.
The Competitiveness Question
If you’re like many camp administrators, marketing is not your first love. But getting the basics right can be done without an MBA. In fact, you already know the basic building blocks:
- What is your camp known for?
- What would the parents that love you say about you?
- What kind of camper population is a perfect fit for what you offer?
- What have other camps done to market themselves that you admired?
- What is unique to your camp that you wished everyone knew about you?
- How do you feel about your website? This is where anyone looking to learn about you will find you. Does it represent you well?
- How much are you willing to spend to ‘get the word out’?
Armed with answers to these questions, you’re ready to tackle your basic marketing plan.
5 Ways Your Camp can Become More Competitive
Want to make your summer camp more competitive this year? Here’s a step-by-step plan for doing just that:
1. Decide Who You’re Targeting
When you build a house, the first thing you construct is the foundation. When you build a competitive summer camp, the first thing you need to do is decide who you’re trying to reach.
Who is your ideal camper? Who is your ideal family? By understanding where these people are, what drives them, what they want from a camp, and how you can reach them, you can go on to build a seriously competitive online presence.
Ask yourself questions about the following camper demographics:
- Family income level
- The social/marketing channels family decision-makers are likely to use
- Priorities (for example, are you an SAT-prep summer camp or one that focuses on teaching kids about the natural world? What do campers and their families expect you to deliver?)
- What drives campers to your camp rather than the competition?
- How are campers frustrated by other camps
- What their goals are during a summer camp experience
Once you’ve built a target persona (don’t worry if it’s a little messy – you have to start somewhere), you can move on to the next step.
2. Take a Look at Your Website
You’ve constructed the foundation of the house. What’s next? If you’re like most summer camps, you’ll turn your attention to your website. Your website is the curb appeal and floor plan. It’s the first thing people see, and it shapes their initial impressions about your camp, staff, and programs. Your website is your brand. If you have a limited marketing budget, this is where you’ll want to start.
With all that in mind, it’s clear that having a great website is a critical consideration in this process. When parents and campers come to your site, they should have easy access to critical information, easy-to-navigate menus, and plenty of pictures, descriptions, videos, and reviews that give them a sense of your camp’s experience and feel.
Here are a few things to consider as you work your way through your website:
- Page navigation. Is your website easy for users to navigate? Can visitors always get back to your homepage, no matter where they are on your site? Are the registration, contact, and info pages well-defined? Is your website responsive and easy to navigate on a mobile platform? Are your images clear, high-quality, and demonstrative of your target audience? If you answered no to any of these things, you’d want to rework your site. Hiring a professional designer is a great place to start.
- Personality. We all make snap judgments about people we first meet. We do the same thing with the websites we visit. Are they friendly and inviting? Old school? Full of helpful suggestions and information, or dense and dated? Make sure the imagery and text set the personality you want about your camp.
- The registration process. More likely than not, your website is where parents register their kids for your program. If your registration page is difficult to use or navigate, though, parents will bounce off your page and, likely, head to one of your competitors. If your page’s payment processing platform looks unreliable, parents will be hesitant to complete payments and enroll their kids. With all this in mind, now is the time to take a look at your registration process. Is your registration software serving you well? Is it easy to offer discounts? Does your page look trustworthy and reliable? If not, it’s time to consider investing in new software or altering your registration process to suit your current demographic.
- Responsiveness. In 2018, mobile phones generated 52.2% of all global web traffic. This is up from 50.3% in 2017. With that in mind, you can prepare your site with the expectation that mobile phone usage is increasing each year. If you’re not already using a responsive website dynamic (one that adapts its sizing and presentation to suit the platform a user is viewing it from), now is time to dive in. Responsive sites perform equally well on mobile phones, desktops, and laptops, which means you won’t have to waste your time worrying about whether all your new pictures will be cropped on a mobile screen.
- The FAQ. Parents have a lot of questions about summer camps. The most competitive camps out there are good at answering those questions. As you seek to make your website more competitive, think about how it looks from a user perspective. Can you find all the information you need quickly and easily? Does it seem professional and reliable? Are there easy-to-find FAQ pages that provide information for customers? If you notice anything lacking, take some time now to fix it.
3. Establish a Marketing and Social Media Plan
If you don’t have a solid marketing and social media plan, now is the time to create one. Designed to dovetail nicely with your website, good marketing, and social strategy is the way to make your camp as competitive as possible.
Take a look at your camp’s primary goals (Do you want to increase sign-ups? Bring back repeat campers? Appeal to a broader audience? Gain press attention?) From there, develop a strategy for making those things happen. This is an excellent moment to think about social media. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook are effective ways to spread your camp’s message and can help you keep campers up-to-date on news and events surrounding your camp.
Another great way to create a marketing machine is to collect parents’ email addresses and send out emails when your camp opens yearly registration or has a big event coming up.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment
One thing that every career marketer will tell you is that there’s no one magic formula. Yes, the basics help you get set up for success. But the campaigns you devise, the messaging you use and sometimes even the target markets you go after can shift. You will try some things, and some will work incredibly well. Others, not so much. That’s exactly normal. So as you build out your plan, know that you’ll likely be changing and adapting it a bit as you go.
5. Your Parents are Your Best Marketers
If you think about any product you’ve ever loved, you know you can’t help but talk about it to your friends and family. And those friends and family take your advice over almost anything they hear or read. The same is true for your camp. Your campers come back year after year because you’ve given them a life-changing experience they treasure. Parents see it when their campers come back home.
Be sure to think about ways that you can encourage your parents to talk about your camp to other parents. Whether it’s asking them to check out your facebook page, or write a recommendation, or even considering a ‘friend of family’ discount if they refer other friends to your camp. You’ll want to craft these kinds of programs that are consistent with who you are so you don’t make it sound inauthentic. But many enthusiastic parents are more than happy to sing your praises if they have an easy way to do it.
Building a Competitive Summer Camp
The summer camp market is hot right now, and staying competitive is essential to build your camp and bring in new campers each year. By taking a careful look at your camp website, developing a streamlined marketing and social media strategy, developing content and keeping campers and their families updated, and being proactive about connecting with your fellow summer camps, you can establish a competitive, forward-looking summer camp that serves your campers and their families as well as possible.
Looking for tools that will help you streamline and improve your summer camp’s processes? Contact CampMinder today to get more tips and tricks, or check out the platform and how it can facilitate program management and communication for your team.