Digital Marketing

By Matthew Smith

When camp directors first created websites in the 1990s, most took their brochures and put them online. Although today’s websites may bear some resemblance to those virtual brochures, there's a major difference: today's websites collect information—vast amounts that can be extremely helpful because of their instantaneous and constant feedback.

Do you ever wonder whether a website is effective at communicating the value of your camp? The answers can be found. For example, one can glean how many people visit a site, where they come from, what pages they visit, how long they stay, where they click, and even where they scroll—and that's just scratching the surface.

Where does one start? Collect data with Google Analytics. Track scrolling and clicking with CrazyEgg. Improve site speed with GTMetrix—all for free.

Getting Started
For those who are ready for digital marketing, here are three pieces of advice:

  • Carve out a marketing budget.
  • Hire consultants.
  • Build trust online. 

1.) Carve out a marketing budget.
A budget and a willingness to spend money will assist camp directors in learning how to market their camp. Items must be customized. While ideas may be “borrowed” from other marketers, these items will likely require tweaking to make them work for you.

To create a marketing budget, cuts may need to be made in other areas. Aim for revenue in the 5- to 10-percent range. If this is not possible, start smaller and increase the revenue over time. Something is better than nothing; but don’t spend more than you can afford to lose.

2.) Hire consultants.
The rate of technological change these days is staggering. In fact, it’s so fast that it’s impossible for small business owners to remain at the forefront of digital marketing on their own. For this reason, consider hiring consultants.

To determine whom to hire, find someone to evaluate your online presence. There are two options:

  • Find a friend in the industry. (Put that LinkedIn account to use!)
  • Hire a consultant.  

Consultants can be beneficial for several reasons. For starters, they're experts—they live and breathe this stuff. And second, if they don't work out, they can be replaced fairly easily—better than if you hired someone in-house.

The most difficult part is finding people who can be trusted. There's plenty of snake oil out there. This problem stems from what economists call a low barrier to entry: to be a consultant, it's easy to learn the basics, throw up a flashy website, and start selling services. And it's not only swindlers one has to be on the lookout for. There are good people who just honestly overestimate their abilities. Be discerning.

For those who don’t want an evaluation of their online presence, and want to do their own hiring, it's time to shop around. Begin by setting up sales pitches—a process that is enormously edifying. To demonstrate their expertise, and in an effort to win your business, consultants have to let you see behind the curtain.

One word of caution: never (ever) hire a consultant before comparing that person with others. Set up three or four sales pitches before narrowing the list and then making a decision.

3.) Build trust online.
Just as a camp director may be skeptical or reluctant to trust a consultant, parents looking to send their child to camp are equally skeptical and rightly so—they don't know you as a director, and they're definitely concerned about the safety of their child. Parents looking at your website are trying to determine whether the camp is trustworthy. How your website looks, how it works, and what it says may be a telling factor in their decision.

Build trust with visitors to the site with a positive user experience—the look and feel, site speed, navigation, internal linking, images, and testimonials. It is only after parents have a good user experience and determine you are trustworthy that they will begin to consider the messaging.

For those who are ready to get started, there is bad news and good news. The bad news is that little will be accomplished in the first business cycle. The good news is that making a commitment to digital marketing will eventually produce dividends. And when it does, you'll be congratulating yourself for such good foresight.

Matthew Smith is the Director of Longacre in Newport, Penn. Reach him at (717) 567-3349, or matt@longacre.com.