Knowing how much you are going to spend on marketing is important to the success of any program. That may sound very simple. But for many businesses, summer camps included, the idea of marketing at all, never mind developing an accurate marketing budget, is often one of the last considerations.
Marketing is sometimes viewed like a visit to the dentist: necessary, but dreaded and, in some cases, avoided until it's too late.
Summer camps have traditionally relied on family legacy and alumni loyalty to keep bunks full. On average, 70 percent of a camp's capacity every summer can be traced directly to one of these two; but what of the other 30 percent?
How do you reach those who haven't experienced your camp before? This is the answer to "Why marketing?" To attract and bring in campers who are going to become loyal repeat visitors and valuable alumni.
Planning the Budget
Getting a marketing plan off the ground can be challenging; it can be close to impossible if you do not budget for it. Think of building your marketing plan the same way you would a house; the budget is the foundation for your plan.
A good foundation makes for more secure structure. Committing the numbers to a marketing budget, and implementing an effective plan, will keep your marketing from slipping into a "well… what if… we'll see" pit of uncertainty.
Knowing how to create your budget will strengthen what you hope to build.
To effectively create the foundation of your marketing budget, you should be sure of three things before you begin. Think of these three factors as the water, sand and cement of the concrete that will become your marketing budget foundation -- purpose, percentage and target.
What do you hope to accomplish with your marketing program? Knowing why you are creating a marketing plan will determine how extensive your efforts will need to be in order to be successful.
For instance, if you're looking to keep your name in front of loyal campers during the off-season, this would entail a simpler plan and a smaller budget than if you were looking to increase enrollment for the upcoming season by 20 campers.
The budget needed for a brand new camp to get up and running would be considerably more than for an established camp with a loyal following. It's a matter of scale.
When you are looking to create your budget, and how much do you spend? Traditionally, most business experts agree that to effectively develop and implement a marketing plan, you should plan on spending at least 5 percent or more of your gross revenues for the year. Not five percent of net revenues; five percent of gross.
Think of your marketing budget as a cost of doing business, the same as staff and insurance and maintenance. Five percent of gross means for every hundred dollars that comes into your camp, you should expect to spend at least five dollars on your marketing.
Knowing what you have to spend will allow you to see the various avenues available to you in fulfilling your purpose for the marketing plan.
Once you know why you are implementing a plan, and how much money you are going to be working with, you will then need to know one other crucial factor: your target audience. Who are you going to be addressing in your marketing? Once you know that, you will want to determine the best means to reach these folks, and how those means can work within your budget.
Knowing your target audience allows you to craft a message that will resonate with that audience. You want your marketing efforts to pay off. Knowing what your target audience wants and how your camp meets those wants is what marketing is all about.
Let's look at a hypothetical summer camp to see how this all might come together...
Camp Tango is a traditional overnight summer camp. They have been established for almost 70 years, and have a great tradition of camping across many generations. While they have had some very successful summers, they have noticed that in recent seasons they have been experiencing a gradual decline in the number of enrollments.
They want to create a marketing plan that is going to bring more campers into Tango. They know that if they can get them to come, they can turn them into loyal campers.
Purpose: fill more bunks.
On average, Camp Tango hosts 200 kids a week, at an average of eight hundred dollars per week, giving them gross revenues of $960,000 for the season. Five percent of their gross revenue comes to $48,000.
Marketing budget: $48,000.
Who is their target market? Camp Tango has traditionally drawn their campers from the local suburban areas and many of the larger metropolitan areas just across the state lines.
They believe they should be targeting new campers and their families within these target markets; they want to target families of campers who may not have returned over the past few seasons, as well as those families that in the past had expressed an interest in Camp Tango, but for one reason or another had decided not to attend.
Target: New families, lapsed campers, and those previously interested but did not attend.
The folks at Camp Tango have known for awhile that their Web site needed updating. While it has served them well in the past, the look of the site does not accurately reflect the fun and excitement of the Camp Tango experience.
It needs to be revamped, and the functionality improved. They want to create a Web site that will be immediately engaging to the parents and kids that visit it. They want to add increased functionality, with photo pages and even video from the previous season, as well as a dynamic electronic back office that will allow them to create a database of contacts and campers.
Project one: Website upgrade.
The brochures for Camp Tango have been pretty much unchanged for the last five years, and have been used primarily as a vehicle for driving traffic to the Web site. But Camp Tango wants everything to be tied in together; they want each piece to reflect the whole.
To create an effective brand that resonates with their target audience, the brochure should be re-done to incorporate the new dynamic look of the Web site, and to focus on the points of most concern to their target market.
Project two: Re-do the brochure.
To reach the new campers, Camp Tango is going to create a direct mail campaign that is going to get the message out to the people they want to reach most.
The simple direct mail package will contain the new brochure, and a personalized letter of invitation. This package will be followed up later with a reminder postcard inviting the family to visit the website.
Project three: Direct mail.
Because Camp Tango knows that keeping their name out in front of their loyal campers and their families is a year-round process, they are also going to implement an email based newsletter, or e-zine. This will let their campers know what is happening, and what they can look forward to for the coming season. It's a nice way to keep their name out there, and it also helps build excitement and anticipation for the coming season.
Project four: E-mail electronic magazine.
It should be understood that the elements of the plan -- the Web site, the brochures, the letters and the postcards -- are going to be effective tools for a long while after they have been created.
A good, effective Web site that truly reflects the camp experience will continue to attract and interest numbers of campers and their families for years. Good direct mail packages, with a new brochure design and effective letters, will attract people to your Web site and your camp for years after you've originally budgeted for it.
To understand how your marketing budget can affect your camp's bottom line, try looking at it this way: calculate your costs of marketing against the price of one camper for one full summer.
In the example of our imaginary Camp Tango, they were looking to spend five percent of gross revenues (48K) on their marketing.
Calculate this against the price per camper per season: if they bring in one camper for a full six-week session at $800 a week, they will receive $4,800, or a ten percent return on their marketing investment.
They would need to attract ten new campers to break even on their initial investment (assuming they spent the entire budget).
Since the new marketing materials can be used for several more years, the cost of attracting those ten new campers is spread out over several seasons. If they bring them in right away, they will begin to see a positive return on the cost of their marketing more quickly. And they have also created a strong brand for Camp Tango as the fun, exciting and safe place to be during the summer.
But consider the reverse of this scenario. What if they did not spend the money? What if they went the same way they had done it before, and had not made the effort to reach out to new campers? What would have happened then?
Well, they might not have gotten that first new camper. And he might not have returned for five more summers. And his best friends would not have joined him at the camp for those summers, nor would his brothers and sisters, nor his friend's brothers and sisters.
When that one new camper grew up, with a family of his own, and was looking for a camp to send his children to, he would never have considered Camp Tango because he had never gone there in the first place, because he had never seen the brochure that attracted him to the Web site that gave him and his parents the idea of signing up in the first place.
When you make the commitment to spend the money on marketing, your efforts can create returns for many years. But if you do not budget for your marketing, and do not bring in the campers you need, it could cost you more than your projected budget for years to come. It is almost impossible to calculate the revenue lost from not marketing and successfully bringing in even one new camper.
All this is a way to simply illustrate a point: Understanding what you need to accomplish, and committing to budget that will make those goals a reality will allow you to create effective marketing programs that will have an impact on your camp's bottom line for years to come.
Tim Diering is the Vice President of Marketing at Summer Camp Design, a full service marketing and design firm. He can be reached at (800) 957 7175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.