Most camp directors I know don't like marketing. They see it as a necessary evil. However you feel about marketing, you absolutely need to do it. If you embrace the notion that your role as a salesperson can be equally as important as your role as a camp director, you will see greater success in recruiting campers. If you want to make 2011 your strongest enrollment year, now's the time to get cracking. Follow these eight steps for marketing your camp to increase your enrollment.
1. Create and Follow a Marketing Plan
Your marketing program will never reach its full potential without a marketing plan to guide you. It doesn't need to be long or involved. You can write an effective marketing plan in seven sentences or less. The simpler the plan, the better. Your plan needs to be flexible enough that you can make changes on the fly, but firm enough so you know if it's working. You should know if your plan is effective after approximately six months.
2. Optimize Your Web Site for Search Engines
In years past, camps searched for customers. Today customers search for camps, so you need to make it easy for online prospects to find you. This means optimizing your Web site so search engines can find you. Start by creating a sitemap and submitting it to Google. Update your blog three times a week. Make sure your Web site title, description meta tag, and page content include keywords and key phrases relevant to a user's search. Get other Web sites to link to yours. Write and post articles about camp and encourage other writers and bloggers to post those articles on their sites. Download and follow Google's "Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide," then smile as you see your Web site search result numbers rise quickly.
3. Social Media Marketing
Even though camps have always been social organizations, your organized social media marketing program lends even greater opportunities to connect with customers and prospects on a deep, personal level. Before the Internet and the social media craze, camps created marketing messages that spoke to customers. But today, your marketing needs to speak with people, not at them, with the goal of making new friends, building trust, and enhancing existing relationships. Conversations about your camp are taking place online with or without you on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Myspace, Flickr, and Yelp, so why not join the fun? (If you're picking just one or two places to start or refine your social marketing activities, stick with Facebook first and YouTube next. That's where you'll find the greatest number of parents and kids hanging out online).
4. Video Marketing
You can write and talk about camp all you want; written content and static photos are nice. But no other marketing tool has the capacity to send your message virally more than video marketing. Done right, it's the surest way to reach the whole world overnight. If your camp doesn't have a YouTube account, sign up for one today. Then start posting videos, invite viewer ratings and comments, and respond to any comments you get. Don't wait another minute on this, because other than Facebook, there's no place online you'll find more camper prospects gathered in one place than YouTube.
5. E-mail Marketing
When used right, e-mail marketing can be one of your camp's most effective social media marketing and enrollment generating tools. No other online marketing vehicle has the ability to develop and enhance one-on-one connections with customers and prospects. If you don't have a "join our mailing list" sign up form on your Web site or blog, put one there now so you can start building your e-mail list, and use an autoresponder to follow up on leads. Don't spam people or send junk. Only send e-mails to people who've requested receiving them from you. Test your e-mails to see what works, then trash what doesn't and double up on what does.
6. Customer Referral Program
If your camp rocks, you're probably benefiting from lots of word-of-mouth referrals. But you can get more, and you don't need to wait for people to tell others about you. You can facilitate the word-of-mouth process with an active customer referral campaign. Referred customers are the best kind because they cost less to acquire, stay longer as campers, and have a higher lifetime revenue value than people who've signed up cold. The easiest way to get more referrals is to ask satisfied customers and your staff if they have friends or relatives who might enjoy your camp, then make contact and follow up with those people right away. You can also offer discounts, free gifts, or financial incentives for people to send you referrals. Just remember, any customer referral program you start must be simple to understand and easy for customers to refer — otherwise they won't do it.
7. Local Marketing
Especially for day camps (who depend on local customers for their revenues) — but for overnight camps, too — local marketing is where it's at! Why blow your marketing budget elsewhere when you can find your customers in your own backyard? Google recognizes that most people go online to find everything they want to buy, especially from local merchants. In fact, the first page of Google's search results is increasingly dominated by local listings. To improve your local Web site optimization strategy, visit Google, Yahoo, and Bing to claim your local listings and create your camp's profiles today; obtain links from locally authoritative sites (like the local charities, chambers of commerce, and schools); get listed in online yellow pages; and encourage customers to review your camp on Yelp, Insider Pages, and Merchant Circle. These are opportunities for marketing that you don't want to miss.
8. Collaborative Marketing
The days of the lone wolf marketer are over. It's all about collaboration now. Team up with people who run organizations similar to yours — but who don't directly compete with you — to help each other meet your respective marketing reach. Why not approach a toy store owner to propose an alliance? You'll send an e-mail to your customers endorsing her toy store, if she'll do the same for you. Or why not invite the manager of a family restaurant to do a guest post on your blog, while you do the same for him? Nothing beats the synergy (and higher enrollment!) you'll get from successful collaborative marketing relationships . . . and they're fun to do, too!
Now there's just one more thing. All the information I just gave you works, I promise . . . but it all only works if you actually USE it. Get started on these marketing tips today and watch your enrollment swell.
Eric Naftulin is the owner/director of Aloha Beach Camp in Los Angeles and writer of the summer camp marketing blog, CampMarketingNews.com. You can reach the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.