Marketing Matters: Avoid an Identity Crisis

by Steve Cony

Let's consider an important element of your total marketing approach that has impact on current campers and their families as well as prospects: your camp's basic identity program.

Marketing identity for a camp is defined as the consistent use of a logo that communicates quality and professionalism of the camp operation. When combined with a dynamic theme line, often referred to as a slogan, these elements can go a long way to establish your camp's image in the memories of both children and their parents - both pre- and post-registration.

Think of Kodak and you automatically picture in your mind a distinctive font in a distinctive color - and not just any color but a particular shade of yellow. Think of Coca-Cola, Holiday Inn, McDonald's, or Shell Oil, and you can easily see the value of a well-designed and well-used logo for making a product memorable.

Camp is a purchase, and people purchase products. Some are trivial products, such as the kinds of items lining supermarket shelves. Others are serious products, like cars and life insurance policies. This is why companies like Ford and General Motors, MetLife and Travelers are as serious about their corporate identities as are the manufacturers of those lesser products. Camp is a potentially life-altering experience for a child - a serious purchase, but nonetheless a purchase. Your camp deserves superior identity.

The logo and theme line are means by which campers and parents build an affinity with your camp. They appear on shirts and hats, as well as stationery and brochures. How many repeat McDonald's customers have strode under the golden arches thinking, "I do deserve a break today?" How many greeting card buyers have reinforced their decision to send Hallmark by thinking that she or he does indeed "care enough to sent the very best?"

A Look at Your Logo

First, do you have one? If you reproduce your camp name in a variety of fonts - perhaps, font du jour - you likely do not have a logo.

A logo is the very foundation of what you say when you make a statement about your camp. Everything else you show and say depends upon the communication that begins with your logo. You may refocus an advertisement, rewrite a brochure, or redesign your home page, but your logo endures. It is the single unifying element.

A strong logo has the following attributes:

  • original and distinctive

  • legible

  • simple

  • memorable

  • adaptable

The development of a logo is serious business. The results will be for keeps, and the process should involve some level of professional graphic design. It should be a true exploratory. Rather than looking at just one or two designs, review a spectrum of options. When making what is an admittedly subjective decision, seeing a significant number of candidates helps you feel confident about your final decision.

When developing a logo for your camp, avoid the following:

  • use of thin lines

  • dependency on color to be successful

  • inappropriateness to the nature of the camp experience

  • unwieldy proportions for multiple uses

  • tendency toward overly busy layout

  • employment of a fad font

  • use of visual cliches

  • lack of imagination

Updating your logo
If you have been using your logo for a substantial period of time and it has become dated, you may want to consider updating the design. In many cases, this involves simplfying an original version that was drawn in a more complex fashion than is currently in style. Over the years, graphic design has become more streamlined. Your logo is the principal communication tool, so make sure it looks intriguing and current.

Your Theme Line

To complement your logo, carefully consider the value of a theme line. Some call this a slogan, but the title "theme line" makes it seem all the more special - and it is. Just as the logo is the visual way to make a statement of distinctiveness for your camp operation, the theme line is its verbal complement. Since some people are more visually oriented, the theme line can be as valuable a communication tool as the the logo.

Attributes of a strong theme line are:

  • original and distinctive

  • short

  • memorable

  • alliterative

  • complementary to the logo

Ideally, a theme line should be seven words or less. That is a number of words a driver can read as the car passes an outdoor advertisement at 55 miles per hour. While this is not a direct application, it serves as a reminder during the theme line development process.

Consistent Use Is a Must

Once you lock in on both logo and theme line, make a firm commitment to the concept of continuity. Every piece of communication from your camp should include the prominent use of both elements. You cannot equivocate! If you use color in the logo - and you should - it must be consistent in color as specified with a PMS (Pantone Matching System) number. Even the font you use for your contact information (address, phone, fax, Web site address, and e-mail), should be used consistently. All these specifics - exact colors and fonts - should be recorded as specifications to be easily passed on to printers. The net impression you leave when you use your logo and theme line with perfect continuity is one of orderliness and organization. Conversely, when you identify yourself with great variation, you run the risk of communicating the opposite: carelessness that translates into lack of trustworthiness.

For your prospects, a tight combination of logo and theme line provides a clearly identifiable point of introduction to the total message about your camp. For current campers and their families, these elements provide memorable ways to think about camp throughout the year. They contribute toward the pride-filled and loyal relationships that you want with both campers and their parents.

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 July/August issue of Camping Magazine.