The first question camp professionals often ask about market research is: Does it really apply to something as basic and as genuine as camp? This is the nice way of saying: Isn’t market research mostly for things like consumer package goods? The answer: yes — and no. Yes, market research has significant value for camps, and no, it is not just for Madison Avenue and the like. When the product is the summer camp experience, you need as much input as possible regarding what people — both children and parents — desire so that you can continually evolve your offerings to meet needs and perceptions.
You have an excellent opportunity to conduct focus group research, similar to the process used by providers of products and services worldwide, and you do not need to hire expensive professional focus group moderators to do so. Instead, you can do this kind of work yourself, relying on the close and supportive relationships you establish with campers to produce priceless results.
Campers can provide rich feedback, and you have easy access to them right during the season. Once back home, children tend to lose vivid memories of all they did during the summer. However, in the middle of a camp session, they are immersed in the experience and find it easier to speak their minds. Priceless direction for the future can be yours, and all you may have to do is to invite a bunk group into your cabin for an hour.
How to Conduct a Focus Group
Consider the following steps when designing and conducting focus groups at your camp.
Determine your goals
Recruit your interview subjects
Keep the group campers only
Choose the correct occasion
Explain the project
Tape record the session
Channel the discussion
Keep things positive
Write a report
Use the findings
Share with parents
Responses from Focus Groups
The minute children realize they are being taken seriously, they open up and can become very constructive. For the past three years, groups of children have comprised panels at the Tri-State Camping Conference in New York. These sessions have revealed some interesting findings.
For instance, the children said that marketing messages that concentrate on swimming pools and tennis courts are simply showing them images already well understood. Instead, the children desired an understanding of bunk life. As one panelist said, “That’s the part of camp we are nervous about since living and sleeping with a group of kids in a big room is something we have yet to do when we are thinking about a first camp experience.”
The panelists also said that daily schedules — when included in brochures and on Web sites — actually make them nervous that camp might be highly scheduled like their school year. They want advance reassurance that camp will include time to relax and just hang out with the other campers.
In regard to videos, the children stated that they prefer hearing directly from campers rather than from an unseen narrator. They watch carefully for the testimonials of their peers, and they find them significantly more believable than scripted descriptions.
Just as these sessions provided insights, your own focus groups — concentrating on the specifics of your camp operation — can be a most creative use for rest period.
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 2001 May/June issue of Camping Magazine.