Marketing Matters: Marketing = Common Sense (Sometimes)

by Steve Cony

Often the difference between a wise marketing decision and an almost-wise one is not much more than an infusion of common sense. But sometimes common sense is too obvious and must overwhelm us before it becomes apparent.

For example, I had the good fortune to arrange a seminar at last year’s Tri-State Conference in New York. The seminar panelists were children who candidly shared their thoughts about how to market more specifically toward their interests. One young man said, “Why do all camp brochures and Web sites have pictures of arts and crafts? We know that all camps do arts and crafts, but we really want to see different and unexpected activities.”

Well until I heard that, you could have fooled me. But, upon additional consideration, it made sense. You may want to continue including photos of those typical camp activities in brochures and on your Web site to reassure parents that your camp has not forsaken all the great traditions, but remember to surround those traditional pictures with images of your camp’s unique activities that appeal to children.

Also, try to gear your marketing to first-time campers. One young female panelist had this advice to give: “Your materials show lots of pictures of swimming pools and tennis courts. We know what those things look like. What we’ve never done before, if we are looking for our first overnight camp experience, is sleep with other kids in a bunk. So, if you show us lots of scenes of bunk life, it will show us something new and make us feel comfortable about coming.”

Top Ten Common-Sense Marketing Tips

Understanding the needs of your target audience gives you a strong marketing advantage. You can improve your market sense even more with the following common-sense tips.

Say “hi” like you mean it
Answer your office phone like you greet new campers on the first day — with a smile in your voice. The telephone is truly the gateway to first perceptions of your total camp experience. A gruff or business-like greeting is simply not what people expect to hear from a camp. There should be no exceptions to this rule. Only people who sound cheerful and who will create a good impression of your camp should be allowed to answer the phone.

Print only the news that’s fit to print
Since readers are unlikely to write to you or send you something in the mail immediately upon perusing your color brochure or watching your camp’s video, keep contact information to a minimum on the back cover, on your Web site, and at the video’s conclusion. In any first-encounter marketing tool, the camp logo, phone, and Internet address are all the means a reader or viewer needs to contact you. The registration form, on the other hand, needs the full mailing address and fax number.

Tell the whole story
If your camp’s location is so far away from your market that prospects do not tour the facility — or if tours are simply not part of your marketing approach — make certain that your video and/or brochure and/or Web site present a comprehensive look and feel of the camp and the camp experience. Otherwise, families have no way of creating their own perceptions of what your camp will be like. Do not shorten the content of your marketing pieces simply because you are concerned about holding attention. Families are making big decisions; they need details.

Anticipate, anticipate, anticipate
If you offer tours of your camp, plan the itinerary carefully. Prepare visitors before they get their very first glimpse of the climbing wall or the zip line. Tell them all about your camp’s emphasis on safety and about the protective equipment you use for various activities. Raise this point well before the visitors see what goes on — not after they have already watched the activities and have built up unneeded levels of concern about “all those dangerous things you want my child to do.”

Speak to the decision makers
When developing new marketing messages, do not make the reactions of current campers or staffers your primary concern. They are not your market. You must address the needs and desires of prospective families. Many camp directors worry about the responses of seasoned staff members to a modernized, enhanced marketing piece. This is clearly the wrong focus. Your recruiting brochure, video, and selected Web site pages are not yearbooks; their objective is not to “make nice” but to sell camp.

Tell them what to look for
Do not assume that a prospect family knows what they seek in a camp experience. In many cases, they are either unprepared consumers or may just be using some buzzwords heard as part of the word-of-mouth process. Use every point of contact to educate both parents and children about the value of the camp experience, via the “World of Good” story. Help them determine if your camp is the solution for their child. Help them to understand their own needs, and they will ask more of the right questions.

Never show an empty camp
If you ask an artist to draw or paint a map of your camp, make sure that he or she draws lots of active, happy children within the camp. Too many camp maps portray trees, fields, lakes, and buildings without depicting campers using the facilities. Every page of a brochure or Web site should communicate involvement.

Leave the plane on the runway
Think twice before paying for aerial photography of your camp. Your prospects will see only brown-colored playing fields and roofs in need of repair. Although aerial photos may show campers and staff on the grounds, the images will be too small to show them participating in activities.

Define those terms
Remember that prospective families may not be familiar with even the most long-standing of your camp’s names, places, and traditions. If you use the name of any monument, building, or activity that seems to call out for capitalization, be sure to define it to the first-time viewer or reader. For example, places with names like Teen House, Treehouse, Leoj, Black Rock, The Swing, etc., should be explained.

Do unto others
Finally, a point so elementary, it might seem downright condescending: Act responsibly. Not long ago, a large national religious organization came to a local house of worship to present their marketing video and answer questions. When I saw the announcement in print, I decided it would be another good opportunity to monitor the state of the art of camp marketing, and I planned to attend. That Sunday morning, dozens of parents arrived promptly at 9:00 A.M. to view the video with their children. The camp representative, however, was a no-show. The clergy kept the crowd interested with holiday stories and a brief, extemporaneous worship service. Finally, the children had to be dismissed to attend religious school, and half the parents exited as well. The camp representative sauntered in thirty-five minutes late, saying he had gotten lost. He made no calls to inform the congregation of his impending lateness.

He showed the video to those who remained and answered questions. Inevitably, someone asked him about the camp’s fees. He fumbled, threw out an incorrect figure, and finally admitted that he really didn’t know the correct numbers.

It should be noted that he introduced himself as the camp’s assistant director. I could only wonder how many parents convinced themselves on the spot that any camp led by this individual could not be trusted with their children. You would not choose a nonswimmer to teach diving or someone who had never been on horseback to lead a trail ride. Why choose unqualified people to form prospects’ first and most critical perceptions of your camp?
Sometimes marketing is complex: setting a fee schedule, choosing an optimal direct-mail list, carefully editing a video, etc. Sometimes, however, marketing is as simple as making sure to use good old common sense.

Steve Cony is a marketing consultant who assists children's camps with the development of strategic plans and the execution of marketing materials. Camp directors may contact him at 914-271-8482.

Originally published in the 2000 March/April issue of Camping Magazine.