Summer camps have become a competitive space so it's important to understand how you can set your business apart. If done right, your marketing spend can be well within your grasp while still increasing your brand awareness and camp registrations.
Contrary to what many believe, marketing is more of a science than an art.
Here we try to remove complexities that many businesses face when it comes to marketing, and present the basic steps you can take to have a successful boost in registrations next year.
1. Start early (probably now)
Did you know that many summer camp providers start planning their campaigns with us in the fall? It is never too early to start, especially if you want to ensure a smooth year ahead with a well thought-out plan that you can easily follow and execute on.
There are two waves of summer camp bookings you should know about. The first is for those alpha-parents who plan early and organize and want to ensure their kids are in their #1 camp of choice. These parents start booking camps as early as January, however, depending on the city you live in it can ride out to mid March. By having your camp registration during this wave with some built in marketing lead time, you can hit this wave of parents.
The second wave is the last-minute parents. Around the beginning of May we start to see this group trickle through, surging to the last weeks of school. If you've planned well, you'll want your marketing efforts to hit this wave as well.
2. Get familiar with your target audience
Many businesses we've talked to skip this crucial step, but it's what the best marketers will nail. Before you start figuring out how to get more registrations or your budget to take you there, take a deep breath and step back to see the bigger picture on who you'll be marketing to. This one simple and often overlooked factor should be what drives all of your next decisions.
For example, if you offer basketball camps to teenagers who compete at high levels, your marketing strategy will be vastly different from a recreation camp at the local community centre.
3. Think about what makes your camp different
On top of understanding your audience, you should deeply understand what it is about your camp that makes it special or different from other camps. This can really help you with the messaging you use in your marketing efforts.
Sure, parents want to know what activities their kids will be doing at camp, and want to know that they'll be safe and have fun while doing it. However, every summer camp will have these basic components. These can (and should) still be included in the details but put more of your focus on what makes you special.
For example, if you think of big brands like Nike; their advertising really focuses on the lifestyle of a person who wears Nike, not the features of their shoe or clothing. Take a tip from their playbook- tell parents what their kids will gain from choosing your camp, then follow it up with the nitty gritty details.
4. Set your marketing budget
A typical answer we hear from the businesses we talk to is that they spend between 10 and 25% of their camp revenues on marketing. Based on your 2018 camp revenues, you could determine the upper and lower bounds using this typical spend, and decide what amount within that range you are comfortable spending.
Later, we will talk about your return on investment (ROI). While it can sometimes be difficult for business owners to part with their hard earned revenue, remember that the goal of doing marketing well is that you'll receive more in revenues next year as a direct impact of your marketing spend. So, even if it feels like a step backwards in terms of cash flow, it's an investment in the long run.
5. Determine how far you want to reach
Be careful where you are drawing attention from as it should make sense with the type of camps you offer, or your marketing dollars may be going to waste.
If you offer day camps: Keep marketing efforts local, as the average parent won't want to travel too far every day to drop off and pick up their kids (yes- even if you have awesome camps).
If you offer overnight camps: Don't ignore the local market, as most overnight camps say their main source of registrations is still within a certain geographic region around their location. Larger camps sometimes draw from across the country, or even from abroad. If you don't already it's great to incorporate questions when you sign up a new camper to see where they are from and how they heard about you. The more you do this you can understand what's working, and keep refining where you are advertising to this group.
6. Get your website optimized for your camps
A nice looking and easy-to-use website is a necessity now. A parent who is interested in your camp should be able to:
Easily find your website
From there, easily find that you offer summer camps
From there, easily find the camp they like and register for it
Complete steps 1-3 from their mobile phone too
Your website can also serve as your landing page for any online advertising you do, whether it be social media, ads, etc. If you are spending money attracting people to your site, you want to ensure it is optimized for converting them to registrations.
Your website should be an extension of your services. It should match the quality and image that your camps do. In today's world, impressions matter.
On a separate note- you've probably heard the term SEO before, which stands for Search Engine Optimization. If we boil it all down, it essentially means how well you rank in Google. If you offer coding camps in Vancouver BC, ideally if a parent living in the area Google's "coding summer camps in Vancouver" you will show up on the first page of results. If you are not, don't worry, there's steps you can take to get there but it does take time. SEO is a long-term strategy and results don't happen overnight which is why many businesses don't focus on it (it's not rewarding enough) but we promise, it's worth it in the end!
If you are concerned your website might not be performing how it should or needs help for SEO and conversion, you should speak with the person who created your website and share your concerns. If you need help, don't hesitate to contact us first.
7. Try this quick way to get to the top of Google
It should go without saying that getting found in Google is a hugely important aspect to marketing these days. It's the go-to source for parents, grandparents, and kids alike (even my 7 year old nephew knows how to Google!) who are trying to get their questions answered. If their question is "where should I send my child to camp?" then you want to be an option they consider.
Try it yourself: Google "summer camps in [insert your city]", for example "summer camps in Edmonton". What shows up?
First, you'll likely see some ads, and then you're most likely to see aggregate articles like "13 best summer camps for kids in Edmonton." Visit any of these blogs or websites that are appearing on the first page, find their email address, and politely ask if you could be included in their list. You'd be surprised how responsive they are!
8. Advertising do's and don'ts
There are so many ways to advertise, and depending on your budget, this can mean many different things. Especially when we are talking to smaller businesses with lower budgets, we really like to focus them on things they can measure. It is fun to see your business on a billboard or the side of the bus, but unless your goal is general brand awareness (instead of increasing registrations) then you should stay away from these for now. They are expensive and there is no accurate way to measure what real impact it has on your business.
There is a fine balance between cost and effectiveness. Ultimately, your goal is to maximize effectiveness (registrations) with minimal cost.
In our experience, your best bet is digital advertising. It's cheaper, it's effective if done well, and you can measure it.
9. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, oh my!
Ah, social media. Something we all love, hate, or love to hate. These platforms need no introduction as I'm sure you have heard of them all! There's no bad social media platform, but there are bad ones for you. This ties back to the #2 tip of knowing your audience. Which platforms do they spend their time on? Because that's where you want to be.
Just because other businesses are using Snapchat with success doesn't mean it will work for you. You are busy, make sure you are only leveraging the platforms that will impact your business and focus on those.
Many businesses think they need to be everywhere, but what often happens is they spread themselves too thin and end up not doing well on any one of them. It's better to have a rockin' Facebook page with no other presence as opposed to a mediocre presence across all platforms.
10. The power of email
Email is one of the most underrated forms of marketing today. Someone who has given you an email is already way more engaged with your business than someone who has liked the last 5 of your Instagram photos. Treat these people like royalty, and only email them for a purpose (or they WILL unsubscribe).
Our favourite email tool is Mailchimp, which is free for most small businesses (up to a certain number of subscribers). It's super easy to use with drag and drop design, they even provide templates for you to work from. You can import your existing email list easily to get started. It is also very easy to add to your website so that future subscribers get looped in to your emails seamlessly.
Pro tip: Keep these subscribers at the front of your announcements, letting them know of registration openings, early bird deadlines, or any special offers. People who are on the fence love a deal, and often it is the tipping point to their decision.
11. Figure out the local go-to for parents
Every city has one or a few, whether it's a website, blog, publication, Facebook page, or local influencer. There's almost always a trusted source in your city that parents look to for advice. You want them advocating for you.
We are biased, but ChatterBlock is quickly becoming the go-to source for parents in major cities across Canada, and we're even in 15 cities in the US now. Speaking from experience, we know that on average 25-40% of parents (depending on the city you are in) who are searching online for summer camps will land on ChatterBlock. You should be listed there, not because we are trying to pump our ego, but because it will benefit you in the end. You can even sign up for free and list up to 3 of your camps.
But, we're not the only opportunity like this. Lots of mom bloggers have an amazing presence and an army of moms who follow them. Some are even Instagram famous in their own city. And yes, there are sites similar to ChatterBlock too. Inquire about how to get mentioned and advertising opportunities and weigh your options. As long as you track and measure, you'll know which ones worked for you.
12. Consider offering early bird and/or sibling discounts
A great way to get a sharp increase in registrations is the early bird discount. Parents love a deal, and it's a great incentive to catch that first wave of parents in their decision making process. This isn't reinventing the wheel, a large majority of summer camp providers offer this, and for good reason- it works.
Another benefit to prompting early registrations is that you have cash flow to work with, to use for your marketing, hiring, securing of equipment, etc. It could even be a signal of needed expansion (offering more of your camps) if the demand is extremely high.
Sibling discounts are a great way to incentivize parents with more than one child. Camp can be expensive for parents, and many specifically look for camps who accommodate their needs.
13. Create your marketing calendar
Ok! Decisions have been made. You've decided on your marketing channels above and how we're going to allocate the budget. It seems like there's a LOT to be done and it may feel overwhelming. This is where we create our marketing plan and put it into a calendar that we can follow for the coming camp season.
Not everything has to be done today, in fact, it shouldn't. It should be timed right based on your audience, and based on the two waves.
Start inputing key dates, deadlines, and work backwards from those to figure out when to schedule your ad campaigns, website updates, emails, etc. For example:
When to have your schedule finalized and ready for
When to start updating your website with new schedule
Deadline for early bird registrations / Facebook post to be sent 1 week prior to this to notify our followers / Email to be sent 5 days prior to notify our current customers
You should also start a spreadsheet that lists out the different ways you marketed your camps with the spend allocated to it in the next column.
This is a very simple way to start tracking, and it will make it easier to measure your success in the next two steps.
14. Always always always track your marketing efforts
Great, you've successfully marketed your camps! But wait... How do we know if they were successful or not? This is where we realize how important it is to come full circle with marketing and reflect on our campaigns. This comes in two parts: Setting up proper tracking, and analyzing the data.
Properly tracking your spend can be time consuming and difficult. If you are the head of marketing for Calgary Zoo then you likely have the resources to set up an incredibly accurate tracking system with funnels, demographics, etc. If you're a small business, you likely do not. However, there are some simple ways you can start tracking right now.
Our favourite tool that we suggest (and it's free) is Google Analytics. If you don't have this set up for your website, you should contact the person who created your website to get it running. Even with no developer knowledge you can see important things like:
The amount of traffic you are getting
Where your traffic is coming from (Google, Facebook, ChatterBlock, email, etc)
Which pages users are going to
The bounce rate (how many leave after arriving instead of clicking through to more pages)
It's a very powerful tool. You can also set up your own custom events and funnels if you have the tech know-how, which can show you the percentage of people who come to your website convert to a registration, and can break this down across the platforms your traffic is coming through.
Another powerful tool for tracking... Ask!
It's free, it's easy, it's accurate. Add it in to the registration forms "how did you hear about us?". Make sure you list every possible avenue you advertise on the list, so that they can check off the exact place they heard about it. For example, don't list "Online" as an option, break it down to the platforms you're on.
There are many tracking tools out there and we implore you to research. This article is aiming to keep things basic and cheap, so those are the only two we talk about.
15. Calculate your ROI across your marketing campaigns
At the end of your camp season you can now reflect on the different marketing campaigns and sift through your data to see what knocked it out of the park, and what did not. It's ok if not everything was a huge success, a big part of marketing is trying things. What makes you a good marketer is knowing to measure them so that you know what works well for your business. You will continuously refine, try new channels as they present themselves, and reiterate the process every year.
The easiest way to measure it is to take your spreadsheet that you made in the step #13 above, and in the next column enter in the revenue generated from that campaign. For example, if you bought a package with ChatterBlock for $1,000 and you can see through your tracking that it resulted in 19 registrations, and if we say your average camp costs $250, then you have brought in $4,750 from that campaign.
In the next column, you'll want to create a formula of Revenue Generated / Cost. This will give you your return on investment (ROI) in a format that makes it easy to compare across all of your campaigns.
In this case, $4,750 / $1,000 = 4.75
If you did this with Facebook too, let's say you spent $300 total on ads, and can attribute 2 camp registrations to it, meaning you brought in $500.
This would give you an ROI of $500 / $300 = 1.67
Ps. this was a real example with a customer of ours, and generally is very common. Clients typically have more traffic from Facebook than ChatterBlock, but when you look at the actual numbers and results you can see that your ChatterBlock campaign was more successful in terms of realized revenue, since you had a larger ROI. That's why measuring is important, it gets to the real benefit instead of vanity metrics.
Once you compare the ROI's of your different campaigns to the best of your ability, you can use this to guide your marketing plan for next year.
Remember that it's not wise to put all of your eggs in one basket as you want multiple marketing channels and good overall awareness. So don't just choose your top performer and do only that. However, it can help you weed out the under-performers or at the very least give you a benchmark to see how you can improve it over coming years.
16. Keep it real (and be patient)
'Get rich quick schemes' you see in the marketing world are like diets: they don't work. What really works is consistent effort and a dedicated mindset to continuously learn and improve. If someone offers something that sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
So if you don't see your numbers soaring right away don't feel discouraged, it's normal. But as you keep working hard and working smart you'll see there's a pay off over time, you just have to be patient.
Marketing isn't just about execution, it's also about thoughtful planning and reflection. If you aren't nailing all 3 of these steps you are probably wasting some of your hard earned money.
1. Your first step is all about the bigger picture of your marketing goals. Figure out what success means to you, know your key messaging, and deeply understand who you are marketing to. Work backwards from here to create a planning calendar, this should help eliminate stress once you're in the thick of your camp registrations.
2. Next is your execution phase. Follow through on your plan and ensure all of your marketing campaigns are timed well with the market and with your deadlines.
3. Lastly, reflect on your summer camp season when it has come to a close. Quantify your marketing efforts so you can objectively see what works for you and what doesn't, save this for your planning for next year to drive smart decisions.
What do you think? Do-able? If you have any other tips we've missed we'd love to hear about them in the comment section below.
If you'd like to speak with us directly about marketing your summer camps for 2021 you can email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call at 1-888-415-3167.
If you like to try out ChatterBlock you can do so by signing up for your free account here.