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Marketing Matters: It's a Camper's Market
You’ve sent your marketing materials and one of those personalized-looking letters to parents about the benefits your camp can offer their child. Then you call to discuss price, safety, and your qualified staff, but the parents won’t even allow the conversation to proceed. And why? Their child has reviewed the mound of brochures, videos, maps, and more received to date and has not identified your camp as one of the finalists. What more could you have done? It is possible that you could have put more emphasis on marketing directly to the seat of camp decision making in the family — the child.
As a major auto manufacturer might say, it’s not a parents’ camp anymore! Today, the real camp consumer is often between the ages of eight and fourteen. Parents often set parameters of price, distance from home, and theme (sport, computer, arts, or general) and then allow the child to take over the decision process.
Understand Your Target Market
Before you revise or re-start your next marketing project, revise your understanding of the target market. Communications Counselors LLC, a communications consulting firm, conducted a camper focus group during the first quarter of 1999 with twenty typical campers. The participating campers fit into the following profile:
Camp cures the rest-of-the-year syndrome
When asked why their camp is the best, most said, “We have free time to do what we want.” And why do they want this free time? Campers responded by saying they need free time to hang out with friends and bunkmates.
Camp Kids’ Views
As a result of this successful focus group session, three children (two of which were from the original focus group) were invited to the Tri-State Conference in New York to offer their points of view to camp owners and directors about what they liked and disliked about camp marketing materials (i.e., brochures, videos, Web sites, etc.). Camp directors who attended the seminar were mesmerized by these child experts’ opinions and suggestions.
Good versus bad marketing materials
Kids listen to kids
Year-round communication is key
Things to Remember
Remember that the majority of your child prospects have never before been to camp. You must persuasively convey the spirit of camp, or they may opt to stay home and ride bikes or surf the Internet.
Remember, the make-new-friends mantra of almost all camp brochures will not set your camp apart from your competitors. Without getting specific, the premise is obvious (“Of course, I’ll make new friends if I hardly know anyone there.”) and the promise is shallow (“How can these strangers, thrown together with me, become good friends?”).
Also, remember that the children of the turn of the century are media-saturated people who have seen it all. Overly obvious claims and overly staged situations will lead to an immediate credibility gap. Your Web site is likely to be viewed in between visits to other Internet destinations, one more spectacular than the next. Finally, how can you expect children to crave what your camp offers so they can rescue themselves from their boredom if their very first contact with your camp lacks enthusiasm, energy, mystery, and fun?
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 1999 July/August issue of Camping Magazine.