Did you know that your average camp parent receives more than 120 business emails each day? This means that email marketing for summer camps is more than just write text, click send, and repeat. Email continues to be the most important way to communicate with your audiences, and this post is geared toward helping you create a sound strategy so you can stand out in crowded inboxes. There are so many Email Service Providers to choose from (Hubspot, Mailchimp, and Constant Contact are a few popular options), but these big-picture takeaways are true no matter which option you choose.
- Email types include transactional, alerts, and marketing, and each requires a different schedule and content approach.
- Fonts, images, and template design can make or break a campaign, and they all should be tested before any email is sent.
- Open rate, click rate, and unsubscribe rate are worth tracking, as they can help you refine your content strategy and send cycle.
Like a tree that falls in the forest with no one to hear it, an email is only valuable if people are reading it. These tips are simple to implement and don’t require technical expertise, but they can make a huge difference when it comes to successful email marketing for summer camps.
Strike the right balance – know which emails to send and when
Whether you’re a for-profit camp or nonprofit organization, the emails you send are likely to fall into three main categories.
Set up your transactional emails
This step isn’t glorious, but it’s extremely necessary and something you should take care of as soon as possible. Has someone registered their child for camp? They’ll need to get an automated email thank you. Have they filled out their health form? They need to get a notification that the form was received. Has camp just ended? It’s time to send out a survey to get feedback about how things worked over the summer.
Don’t forget about a welcome email for folks who have filled out your general information or interest form. Many parents do this first before submitting an inquiry about signing their kid up for camp, and it’s a low barrier to entry. This is where you can wow parents with a simple message that includes:
- A quick thank you for their interest in your camp
- A call-to-action that drives them back to your site to view a current promo video or a page about the impact of camp
- How to connect with you on social media
- What to expect from your camp in terms of future communication
Set up your alert emails
While your transactional emails can be more conversational, your alerts should be short and to the point. These are the emails you’ll send when forms are due or overdue, reminders about payment schedules, or alerts about issues that have come up before or during summer. To do these right you should:
- Write a clear and direct subject line
- Get straight to the message without creative intro text
- Focus on a single topic, need, or issue
- Be clear about next steps and direct recipients to a page on your site to get more information
Set up your marketing emails
Keep your parents and campers in-the-know (and increase your top-of-mind awareness on a regular basis) with marketing emails and newsletters. At CampMinder, we focus on creating content (like this!) that helps our clients. As a camp director, you might focus on content that regularly reminds your parents and campers of the impact of camp and that provides updates on new things happening. A few examples are:
- Monthly newsletters
- Seasonal updates
- Alumnus of the month
- Staff intros
- School-year events
One very important thing when creating your marketing emails is that they should always drive traffic to your website as opposed to giving all information within the email itself. Even emails with more content should have a hierarchy with bold headlines, smaller subheads, brief text, and buttons. Not only does this make your emails more digestible, it also sends people to your website, where they have the opportunity to click around and learn more about your camp. Once you’ve mapped out these different messages, you need to design your email templates.
Make your email cohesive with your brand
Consistency is a big part of brand recognition, and email templates are no exception. If you can spend the relatively small amount of money to have stellar looking emails custom branded to your camp, great! If not, most email platforms now provide strong templates out of the box which you can easily customize. A few important tips to remember for stellar emails are:
- Uphold your brand – Use your camp’s logo and color palette
- Stick with your templates – You can have a set of templates, with different styles for your transactional messages, marketing emails, newsletter, etc. Just don’t change how your email looks every time, as this can lead to confusion.
- Use powerful images, size them correctly (600 pixels wide), and avoid GIFs that may not animate in every browser or device. Many email programs require recipients to download images. If they choose not to, there will be a blank space where photos should be. Just in case, make sure to add alternative text for each image so readers will know what you intended them to see
One very important thing when creating your marketing emails is that they should always drive traffic to your website as opposed to giving all information within the email itself.
Test, test, and test again
Even if you think you’ve covered all your bases, we can’t stress enough that testing your emails before you hit the send button is absolutely critical. This is because new features (like dark mode) are being implemented on browsers and devices all the time, so what works one month may need adjustments the next.
- Most ESPs have preview modes that allow you to see how your email will appear in various clients, browsers, and devices
- There are affordable tools such as Litmus and Email on Acid that you can use if your ESP does not
- This free tool allows you to paste your email code and view your message in dark mode to make sure it’s legible.
Once you’re confident that the emails will render correctly, always send marketing emails to key members of your team and have them review, test links, and give feedback. Typos, broken links, or photos that render incorrectly will negatively impact email marketing for summer camps, require more work on your end to send corrections, and can give an unprofessional impression of your camp.
Your emails are written, designed, and tested, and you’ve pushed the anxiety-provoking send button. Your work isn’t over; it’s time to track how your emails are performing now that they’re out in the world.
Track metrics that matter in email marketing for summer camps
While ‘set it and forget it’ might work for transactional emails (and countertop rotisserie chicken appliances), tracking your marketing email performance can help you refine everything from what time of day you send, how often you reach out, and how the order of the information you include.
Before you start tracking your email metrics, we highly recommend checking out benchmarking reports that detail annual averages for each metric. This gives you something to compare your stats to, and M+R and Campaign Monitor are great places to start.
To make sure you’re getting the most out of your email marketing for summer camps strategy, here are a few important metrics to keep an eye on.
Open rate is the most important metric you can track because people have to open your emails to take any of the steps you need them to take. If you’re not tracking open rate, you don’t know if your domain has been blacklisted (which can happen!), or whether what you’re sending is resonating. You can use your open rate as a baseline to test subject lines, personalization (such as including a recipient’s name in the subject line), and which days and times you should send.
For subject lines, you can try these different approaches to see which works best:
- Transparency (Check out our new dining hall)
- Humor (Same food, new location)
- Mystery (Can you guess which building we rebuilt?)
- Consistency (“March Updates from Camp _____ )
Your open rate is also an indication of who your inactive subscribers are, which is actually valuable information. You can create a segment of individuals on your list who haven’t engaged with your emails in a while, and send them a specific re-engagement campaign to help win them back. Once you have a clear sense of who really doesn’t want to connect with you, you can actually segment them off your main list, which can improve your open rates.
Click rate is an indicator of which links performed the best within an email, and it can help inform your template design and even your website content strategy.
- If you include various links in a newsletter, you can see which item gets the most clicks. Then you can push out more content that syncs with what you know your readers want.
- You can also see which links are underperforming, and change how you promote that information to help get the results you want.
- Google UTM codes allow you to track link performance in Google Analytics. Learn more about how to use them in this blog post from Neil Patel.
- Within an email you can also embed links in text, or include formatted buttons. Checking your click rate can show you which option works best for your recipients.
One additional approach you can take with your emails is list segmentation. The data from this Mailchimp survey prove that the more you refine your list into groups, and the more specific your messages are, the better performance you’re going to get.
This one requires a little math, but it’s pretty simple to calculate. Your click-to-open rate (CTOR) is the number of people who click an email link divided but the number of people who opened the message.
- If people open and don’t click, you know you are getting initial interest, but not enough for web traffic
- This means you’re nailing it with your subject lines, but the way you’ve written your message isn’t resonating
Watching your CTOR rise is one of the clearest ways to judge all aspects of your email marketing success.
At first glance, unsubscribe rate might seem like the bad news of any email campaign, but it’s not all bad. Keeping an eye on which messages generate more unsubscribes can help you decide what to send, when to do it, and which recipients to include.
Hello, is there anybody out there?
We have two final pieces of advice when it comes to email marketing for summer camps.
First, deliver on your promises. If you tell parents you’re going to reach out every week, make sure you do. If you create a monthly newsletter in January, keep to that schedule. More isn’t always better, and quality certainly outranks quantity, but you want your recipients to expect and look forward to your outreach.
Second, compare apples to apples. A transactional email that goes only to parents of a specific session is very different from a newsletter that your whole community receives. As you monitor your performance, make sure you’re judging each email against others of the same type.
Honing your email strategy takes time, patience, and a lot of tinkering, but as long as email remains the best way to reach your audiences, it’s not something you should be winging. Your camp’s story is compelling, and intentional email marketing is one of the biggest ways to help your camp resonate with campers and parents alike, increasing enrollment and the ongoing perception of your camp.