The Tailor

Quick! Who signs 95 percent of your camp’s registration applications? Mom. Who do you think makes the decision as to whether it’s time for her child to go to camp, and which camp to go to? Right again. So regardless of our aims in child development and recreation, we have to sell mom first.

Related Article: Designing Your Marketing Budget

So what does mom want? Several camps went together a number of years ago and did a novel thing. They asked her. Many moms, in fact, through the use of a research firm and focus groups (focus groups can give you the motivation behind decisions in a way simple surveys rarely can).

What They Want

They found that far-and-away their number one concern was safety, and no one would argue that it’s an even bigger concern today. Parents would sacrifice anything to keep their children from harm. As one mom recently told me, “Why would I deliberately put my child in a risky situation, and pay for it?!”

Number two on the list will be of no surprise either: “Mature, well-trained staff as role models.” Not just to keep the kids safe; that’s been covered already in #1. Parents know that their kid will very likely pick up habits from their camp counselor. They want those to be good habits. They want their kids to idolize a responsible young adult that makes good decisions.

Number three on the list is “improved self respect through skill development.” In other words, learning new things.

Fun was on the list, of course. At number 5.

Now if none of this comes as a surprise to you, let’s look and see how we use the information in our marketing, specifically in those big out-of-pocket expense areas of brochures and Web sites.

The Right Shot

You’ve probably collected dozens of camp brochures over the years and have them in a file drawer. And most Web sites are just the brochure, minus half of the photos, and with lots more words. (“Oh yeah, stick this in there too.”)

The brochure cover is typically a picture of a cute kid. Usually a girl, smiling. I’m guessing that girls are just more photogenic and that’s why we have so many pictures of girls when it comes time to layout the brochure. So what does that photo, in the most valuable and expensive piece of advertising real estate we have, actually say? “A cute kid once went to our camp.”

Doesn’t set you apart from all the other camps where “a cute kid” also attended. Doesn’t help with mom’s #1 and #2 concerns.

The next most popular photo, which shows up all through brochures and Web sites is the “group shot.” Now it’s a group of kids, most likely smiling and looking right at the camera. But no counselor anywhere in sight. (Maybe they were taking the picture?) So how safe are these kids if they are unsupervised? No role model. No instruction. Wasted opportunity.

On the second or third page will be the obligatory “high ropes” shot, no doubt to show that camp has programs for teens, too. It usually involves a camper on a “pamper-pole” lunging for a trapeze in mid air.

How do most parents actually interpret that shot, do you think? They say, “I’m sure this camp conforms to all ACCT standards and even though I can’t see it I’m sure that child is in a full-body harness belayed by a certified instructor.” Or maybe not. In fact, how many teenagers sign up for camp for their first year from seeing your brochure?

The Right Target

Which brings up the most urgent question, who is the brochure for? By trying to make one marketing vehicle fit all needs, we usually end up missing everyone.

Let’s look at our needs. Our strongest market is returning campers, and even that needs two messages: one for the campers, one for the parents.

The campers need to be primed before they leave camp that you want them back and you’ll miss them if they don’t return. You can reinforce that with special news pages on your Web site, and postcards or newsletters or a yearbook.

Every one should offer the opportunity to sign up for next year, either via Web site or with a registration form. Don’t be subtle here… “Make sure your parents have signed you up for next year before all the spaces are full!”

In most cases, parents are looking for confirmation from their child that the summer was worthwhile. You can help that along by teaching parents how to ask open-ended questions.

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  1. The Elevator Speech
  2. Out in Front
  3. Preparing Parents
  4. Steps to Jump Starting Your Brand Marketing
  5. Designing Your Marketing Budget
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