An often overlooked issue is the circumstances under which your marketing message is seen, heard, and felt. While careful attention is usually given to gathering the information for each marketing message, this same level of attention is not always applied to when and where the message is viewed, heard, read, and digested.
With any specific marketing tool — brochure, video, Web site, etc. — there are several issues to consider:
- Who will view this message?
- Who will view this message first?
- Who will view this message together?
- Where will this message be viewed?
- When will this message be viewed?
- How many times might it be viewed?
- How much time will be devoted to this message?
Of course, the definitive answers to these questions can never be known. However, applying some logic and evaluating some previous experience can help you to craft each message for maximum impact in the actual reading/viewing environment.
There are some general hypotheses upon which many camp professionals agree:
- In today’s hectic environment, people desire short messages. It is important to keep it simple, sticking to a carefully crafted story about your camp with a single core value proposition that can remain memorable. Avoid flooding your brochure and Web site with endless copy. For those who either skim relentlessly or refuse to read at all, rely on the value of photos that tell stories all by themselves.
- Children are an important partof the camp decision process. Every year we hear more and more stories about parents allowing children to make the “which camp” decision for themselves, and there are certainly many situations when the children are the first to see the marketing materials. You must make sure that elements of your messages have specific appeal to kids.
- Not all media lend themselves to a shared experience. The preferred environment for discussion of your camp remains the valuable interaction between parents and children, children and their siblings, children and their friends, etc. Brochures and videos continue to allow these kinds of opportunities for sharing, but Web sites tend to be surfed by individuals in more solitary settings. Do not rely on your Web site alone to lead to a well-rounded consideration process.
- Many people will absorb your message in an atmosphere of apprehension. We all tell each other how difficult the camp decision process is for many families. But do we understand why? Often the reason is a basic apprehension. Am I ready? Will I like it? Will I feel safe? Will I fit in? Will I achieve? Will I make friends? Will I like my counselors? The list sometimes seems endless — and parents mirror these same concerns along with others of their own. You score major victories in communicating when you exhibit an understanding of people’s concerns, by addressing these very issues in your message.
- People need forceful reasons to interact during the decision process. You want parents and children talking more about your camp than about your competitors’ camps. You want them saying “Hey, look at this!” and “Hey, you’ve got to read this!” And, if word-of-mouth is indeed your best source of new enrollments, you must give people something to talk about—with other parents, relatives, and more. Dramatic photos, creative video sequences, and fun-filled Web sites must be included in your total marketing tool kit.
- The cover of your brochure gets noticed over and over again. Remember that, no matter what you print inside your brochure, it is usually the cover that sits there on the coffee table or kitchen table for several days or longer during the decision process. Make sure your cover presents impressive and interesting images and that it says more about your camp than just the name. A plastic box with a full-color cover enhances the excitement of a VHS cassette or a DVD more than do those standard white cardboard sleeves.
- Readers are conditioned to expect the big news first and the details later. Too many camp brochures and Web sites bury discussion of the mission and character of the camp somewhere way below the rates and dates. If the most important thing you have to say about your program is when it starts, when it ends, and how much it costs, you need to re-evaluate much more than just the marketing message. However, most camps do have wonderful, big stories to tell; it is just that we operate in an environment of schedules, and this tends to make us want to push the dates to the foreground.
- People get frustrated with surfer-unfriendly Web sites. Even more important than what you place on your Web site is the issue of how easily it may be accessed. Navigation through every corner of your site should be simple, and all roads should lead back to the home page. Remember that those who visit your site possess varying levels of sophistication in dealing with the Internet, and it is your job to make the experience enjoyable for all. In addition, they do not yet know your camp lingo so make sure not to use unfamiliar terms.
- Lots of unsolicited mail gets thrown away without being opened. If you use direct mail, which can be a very effective medium, make sure to compel the recipient to look inside. This task begins in the lower left corner of the mail panel, where you should include copy which “teases” and/or promises the benefit to be had by simply opening the mail piece. Sorting through the daily mail is generally a rather “disengaged” process. Thus, if your mail is not anticipated like a letter from Grandma or a check from the U.S. Treasury, you need to make it very, very intriguing.
- Camp tours often happen at the wrong time of the year. Many camps — most often day camps — invite visitors year-round — particularly if the camp office is on-site. This is risky, because camp cannot possibly look like camp in January or February. If you entertain visitors on-site during the off-season, you must be sure to make camp come alive. This replicating of the summer experience is best done via video. Remember, though, that this version of your video must remain brief, so that you and they do not have to sit through a long presentation.
If you concentrate on what you have to say, you have addressed only the first half of the communications dynamic. If you analyze the target audience in terms of demographics, you have begun to complete the second half of the equation. However, the quality of attention that any marketing message receives is actually more important than the number of people reached. When your message enters the home of a target prospect via your Web site, brochure, or direct-mail piece, it must then gain and hold attention, or it might as well not be there. Think carefully about when, where, and how your message is being seen, heard, and analyzed — and you will most certainly strengthen your marketing approach.
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 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published in the 2003 July/August issue of Camping Magazine.