Marketing Parks

A few years ago, we at the Genesee County Parks in Flint, Mich., realized that the citizens didn’t know nearly as much about the parks as we thought they did, and some of what they said they knew wasn’t accurate.

Survey says! Find out whose using your parks and plan your marketing accordingly. © Can Stock Photo Inc. / naumoid

Our general advertising simply wasn’t having an impact, so we took a leap and contracted with a marketing firm to help create a brand and campaign—print ads, radio ads, billboards, and a website.

People remember the message now. The difference is huge—like the difference between remembering Nike’s “Just Do It” and remembering nothing about a generic shoe. We also tied into the highly successful “Pure Michigan” campaign, and partnered with the state’s website.

Residents can now use the parks more effectively, too, because they know more about specific programming.

The key to successful marketing in parks is starting small and following through. Initial success begins with determining what to do with customer surveys. To glean information that can actually be used, one must learn to ask the right questions.

Effective surveys, diligent compiling of data, and good analysis of the responses can help to get the marketing ball rolling.

Start With A Survey

First, one has to learn what to ask. Genesee’s parks department developed a customized survey for several facilities, asking specific questions, such as how the visitor learned about the facility, who made the decision to come to the facility that day, and how the visitor preferred to learn about special rates and discounts.

Additional questions, such as how a reservation was made, whether it was the visitor’s first time at the park, and the gender and age of any children who came with them, also are helpful.

Finding out how far in advance they plan trips to the park, where they look for park information, whether their recreation plans change because of current economic conditions, and what family programs interest them is all beneficial information.

Then information about residents’ use of social media and their name, address, and ZIP code can be gathered.

Design the majority of the questions as simple check-offs, so the survey can be completed in a few minutes. Don’t ask vague questions, like whether they had a good time; assume they did and if they didn’t—you’ll hear about it!

Do both paper and electronic surveys. Here’s what to do with that information:

ZIP codes identify where visitors come from. They inform decisions about where to advertise and where to add or decrease programming. And they help measure economic impact (more about that later).

Email addresses are a gold mine. Compile them into a database in order to send email blasts with messages about upcoming programs, and anchor links to lead readers to specific areas on the website. Blend traditional and digital communication by hyperlinking TV commercials, digital newspaper ads, and radio ads.

Personal information, including gender, ages of children, and preference for programming, helps to develop what customers want. That is tremendously cost-effective. Don’t waste time and money trying to figure out what people want—let them tell you in the surveys.

Here’s what else you can do with the surveys:

• Use negative comments to help address concerns. Email the visitor, give a phone number, and invite a conversation.

• Learn the age of participants to drive program development and focus advertising to send out email blasts.

• Determine how far in advance patrons make reservations to guide decisions for the timing of advertisements.

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