by John Fitterer
With each passing season, more summer camps have migrated toward digital solutions for the management of their businesses. How many camps use a paper ledger to manage their financial accounts? It sounds silly, and in 2004, it is. What hasn't changed, however, about financial management of a camp is also true for marketing — the principles remain the same. It is simply easier to use a financial management application over graph paper. The same is true for marketing — the audience and clientele haven't changed. It is simply easier, faster, and cheaper to market to them through the Internet.
Your Camp's Web Site: An Interactive Marketing Engine
Virtually every summer camp has a Web site. It is usually a static series of pages that reflect the print marketing material created for that year. Session schedules and costs, directions to camp, and biographies of camp directors are important; however, this does not address the dynamic nature of the Internet. It is a medium where interactivity with each visitor is key. A camp's Web site must be an interactive marketing engine — where new prospects are engaged and current customers find value. It is a springboard that empowers parents to spread the word about a camp's program and tradition.
The Marketing Audience Pyramid
Now that you've identified your community, how are you empowering this audience at the top of the pyramid to spread the word to potential camp families? This is where the interactivity of the Internet greatly separates itself from the static nature of print material. Developing an interactive online community with newsletters and photographs allows for parents, campers, counselors, and alumni to easily spread the word about your camp program. This is achieved in a number of ways — e-cards, community invitations, guest books, and appropriate placement of contact information on a Web site.
Online Photo Albums
Implement two rules for success — make sure the photo is framed with your camp's logo and overall Web site look and feel and make sure you provide contact information enabling e-card recipients to learn more about your program! You are empowering parents at the top of your audience pyramid to promote your camp on your behalf through the direct testimony of photographs.
Parents are not the only members of a camp's community who would like to see all of the camp's photo albums. Because photo albums should be password protected, enabling custodial parents to invite an unlimited number of friends and family is key to the marketing success of your Web site. An invitee is one big step closer to becoming a camp parent. Invitees are now aware of the diversity and quality of your programs — and have an intimate relationship with camp. They are advocates of your camp program and will now spread the word to other potential camp families.
Prospecting and Sharing Information
Remember, what is considered run-of-the-mill at camp is magic at home. Photos and news of campers eating in the dining hall, walking to and from activities, setting up for the evening's program, cleaning out their cabin — all add to the overall quality of a camp's online community. Of course, capturing campers on the zip line, on the climbing wall, and in the camp play are extremely important, but these are the highlights of a day. Allow parents to share the whole world of camp. Parents tend to live vicariously through their children; it is this emotional connection with parents that makes them such great marketing advocates through a diverse online camp community.
The summer of 2003 marked a decrease in the number of campers attending camp. Directors must focus on their marketing strategies — and how best to cover their overall marketing base. Empowering a camp's greatest advocates — parents and campers — to spread the word about camp through the Internet is inexpensive, easy to implement and to use, and easy to measure the success or failure of your approach and strategy.
John Fitterer is director of business development for eCamp Messaging Services, Inc. For more information about Internet communications opportunities for the camp community, visit www.ecamp.net .
Originally published in the 2004 March/April issue of Camping Magazine.