The Three “Knows” of Marketing

By Tim Diering

From the outside, marketing can look complicated and confusing. And, done incorrectly, it can be. But, if you think about marketing correctly, if you examine the process (and marketing is a multi-faceted process) systematically, you can eliminate much of this confusion.


The easiest way to systematically construct your marketing plan is to start at the beginning. But where is that? What are the keys to opening the marketing door?

The Three “Knows”
Every marketing campaign begins with what I like to call the Three “Knows”: know your message, know your audience and know what they want.

In past articles, we’ve seen how all elements of your camp, from brochures and websites to camp facilities/property and even phone manners, combine to create a positive impression on customers and prospects.

The Three “Knows” are the basis of all these elements and, if tightly targeted and understood, work to strengthen your entire message.

Know Your Message (and Goal)
You need to tackle this “Know” first because it’s the most important. What’s your message? What are you trying to accomplish with your message?

If you don’t know the answer to these two questions, your marketing efforts will fail.

For example, say you’re writing a fundraising letter to camp alumnae. The message may be: Remember all the wonderful summers here with us? Remember how much those days meant to you? Well, now’s the time to show your appreciation.

The alumnae letter is targeting a dedicated and loyal group of former campers, who may be willing to show their appreciation by making a donation to help the campers of the future. While the message of the letter may be complicated, invoking strong emotional and sentimental responses as it asks for the donation, the goal of the letter (what your trying to accomplish) is very simple: get the donation.

This kind of marketing letter will have a completely different message, in both tone and feel, than, say, an off-season newsletter for returning campers.

The off-season newsletter is targeting a completely different group of campers, with a completely different message. The newsletter will be crafted for current campers, to keep their interest in the camp for the upcoming season. The message is: Wow! Wasn’t last summer fun? We can’t wait for this summer…and you won’t believe what’s in store for you this season. The idea here is to build excitement for the upcoming summer, and, hopefully, get many of the kids to sign up sooner rather than later.

These two messages have a different goals; each will use different language to achieve those goals.

In each of the previous examples, we were targeting past or current campers. If you’re creating material designed to interest new campers and their families, like a brochure or camp catalog, you will require a different kind of message than used in the other examples. Which brings us to the Second “Know”.

Know Your Audience
This “Know” is so closely linked to the first “Know” they could be part of the same one. If you don’t know who your audience is, then how will you be able to effectively target your message?

The answer is, of course, you won’t.

In the above examples, the audiences were alums and current campers. For a brochure or catalog, the audience is new campers and their families; which mean you are actually talking about two separate and totally different audiences. One audience is the children, and the other audience is the parents. And these days, your message often needs to resonate with both of them for it to work.

We refer to this as a two prong message, or simply “parent/child” marketing. You need to integrate the wants and needs of both parties into a coherent message. Make it work, and your camp will be in a much stronger position when it comes time to make a decision about what camp to attend. Which leads us to the third part—know what they want.

Know What They Want
In order to craft an effective message for your audience (one that resonates with them), you need to know what they want. Actually, it’s probably more accurate to say “Know what kids want; know what parents need.”

This can be tricky because each audience, kids and parents, will require different messages; each message, however, will have the same goal: Getting kids to enroll.

So, what do kids want?

Kids want excitement. They want exciting photos and fun things to do. They respond to other kids. Not just in pictures, but in words as well. Testimonials from past campers, that seem real and unscripted, can have a very strong impact on a young person. When kids read the words of another child their age, they think: if they like it, I might too.

But, most importantly, kids want to see those exciting programs and summer adventures quickly—which normally means visiting your web site as opposed to waiting for your brochure to arrive in the mail. (This is one reason why a well-made, professional looking web site has become mandatory for every summer camp.)

And this is one of the big changes in the landscape of camp marketing. Because of the internet (and kids connectivity to it) and because parents are so busy working, commuting, and parenting, the initial summer camp research is often provided by the potential camper (unless one or both parents has a legacy with a particular camp). So, if your site doesn’t grab their attention and hold it immediately…CLICK…onto the next camp.

Of course, capturing the kid’s wants is only half the equation (and maybe less than that). Filling the parent’s needs is as (or more) important.

And, what do parents need? Security. Safety.

If you can’t meet this need (or don’t appear to—which is the same thing in their minds) they will move on almost as quickly as their kids.

Parents want to know the bunks are comfortable, the water is clean, and the trails are safe. They want to know about camper/counselor ratios, and the quality of the food. They appreciate the concepts of creating lifetime memories and developing life skills.

This message has to be right there on your web site, on your mail piece and in the tone of your receptionist’s voice always balanced with the kids need for excitement and fun.

It’s a challenging juxtaposition. But it can be done.

The More You Know
The easiest way to find out what people want from your camp (and if you’re providing it) is to ask them.

Ask new families to fill out a short survey about why they chose your camp. Ask about the website, the brochure, what they liked, what attracted them to your camp. Ask kids to fill out surveys at the end of their stay. Use this information to craft your messages for the following season. Because the more you know, the sharper you can make your marketing materials—which is what we’ll cover next issue.

Tim Diering is the Vice President of Marketing at Summer Camp Design, a full service marketing and design firm dedicated to creating cost effective marketing and design solutions for summer camps. He can be reached at 800 957 7175, or at or visit