Pelland Blog

Long Term Success

January 27th, 2017

I am writing this article after attending the latest Warren Miller Entertainment ski film, “Here, There & Everywhere”, at the first of two showings on a Saturday night in November at the Bushnell Theater, in Hartford, Connecticut. For those unfamiliar, this was the 67th in a series of annual ski films that bear the name of the now 92-year-old, legendary filmmaker, author, philanthropist, and outdoor sports enthusiast, Warren Miller.

Miller actively directed and narrated each of these films through the 1990’s, selling the company to his son in the 1980’s, with the company eventually being sold to a series of publishing conglomerates, starting with Time, Inc. and now Active Interest Media (the publisher of Ski Magazine and a long list of equestrian, backpacking, and outdoor lifestyle magazines.) It has come a long way from when a young Warren Miller was discharged from the U.S. Navy in 1946, buying his original wind-up 8mm Bell & Howell movie camera, and camping out in a teardrop camper in the parking lot of Squaw Valley for two years. The production quality of the films has spectacularly improved, with high-definition cameras and helicopters replacing the old 8mm movie camera, as I can clearly recall from the time when I attended my first Warren Miller film back in 1971 or 1972.

WarrenMillerPromo

That night’s two showings in Hartford represented only one of 136 venues in the United States for the English language version of the current film, with the United States being one of 14 countries that are included in the world tour. These extravagant live events all take place within the month of November, leading into the upcoming ski season (already underway at some resorts that strive for early opening dates.) People pay an average of $20.00 per ticket (with a discount for purchasing a month or more in advance) to attend, and there were probably 1,000 people at the Bushnell that night for the first showing. Per the Warren Miller Entertainment website, the films are shown to 500,000 fans per year.

I am relating this story because I see remarkable parallels between the business enterprise that a young Warren Miller founded and the histories of so many of the leading campground operations today, particularly the nominees and winners of the annual National ARVC Park of the Year awards. Many campgrounds share a common beginning, with owners who devoted endless hours to performing every necessary task, saddled with shoestring budgets and staffs that often consisted of little more than family members who shared the commitment to a vision. One common element that I see between Warren Miller Entertainment and successful campground operations is an investment into consistent improvements from one year to the next.

The parallels between Warren Miller films and the campground industry only begin with production quality and infrastructure. Both businesses are probably incorrectly perceived by most people as “seasonal” operations, since most of their respective incomes are generated within very narrow calendar windows. (If you think that a campground with a prime season between Memorial Day and Labor Day has a short season, imagine showing a film in venues around the world within the single month of November!) What most people fail to understand are the endless hours and investments behind the scenes that involve everything from backhoe labor to hiring an upcoming season’s entertainment.

I should also mention that the Warren Miller films feature some of the finest athletes on skis and snowboards today (as well as a tip of the hat this year to snowmobiles and fat bikes.) The films do not simply show footage of anybody who knows how to stand up on a pair of skis or a snowboard. The common thread here would probably be represented by the quality of the staff employed at a park, a persuasive argument for recruiting the best employees possible.

The success and longevity of Warren Miller films is only partially based upon the income from ticket sales to people who want to see the finest athletes on snow. Perhaps the biggest players are the sponsorships. These include the obvious connections like Ski Magazine, with the same corporate ownership, as well as several of the destinations, such as Western Montana’s Glacier Country, that are featured in the various location segments within the current film. Other current sponsors include K2 Skis, L.L. Bean, Helly Hansen Outerwear, and Moosehead Beer. Then there are local sponsorships and media partners, such as the Hartford Courant newspaper and Connecticut’s Ski Sundown.

The sponsors pay dearly for the opportunity to be promoted both within the films and within the events. In at least one segment of the film, the product placement for Moosehead Beer was almost embarrassing in its transparency. In another segment, everybody seems to be skiing on K2 skis, with frequent close-ups of the K2 logo and branding. These sponsors are also prominently featured in the “Warren Miller’s Snoworld” magazine that is given out to each person who attends a film showing (remember that the parent company is in the magazine publishing business), featured in the on-screen advertising preceding the film and shown during an intermission, given the opportunity to participate in the free “swag” coupons that are available online exclusively to film attendees, on on-location signage, and during the live program segments where handlers work up the crowd to cheer for sponsors.

There are also opportunities for schools, clubs, and independent promoters to host DVD showings of the films in local venues in exchange for an upfront guarantee or percentage of gross tickets sales, whichever is greater. These opportunities come with a wide range of marketing and promotional support materials that help to ensure a successful partnership.

Whether a sponsor or a venue for a local showing, these arrangements are highly profitable for Warren Miller Entertainment and present an opportunity for businesses to effectively reach a wide audience with sought-after demographics. The sponsorships themselves help to drive ticket sales. For example, our price of admission was more than offset by the value of the free lift ticket to Vermont’s Sugarbush ski resort, a solid incentive for us to attend the showing. When we ski at Sugarbush this winter, we will be spending money on food and drinks, while others might include lodging, rentals, and additional lift tickets. These are clearly win-win situations for everybody involved.

For years, I have been encouraging campgrounds to develop partnerships with local businesses that need their guests … and that their guests need to both choose a campground and to justify extending their stays. I am hoping that this article will have demonstrated the potential benefits of building those relationships with any of a wide range of local businesses that depend upon the same base of consumers that is represented by your guests. This goes far beyond having local businesses buy an advertisement in a guest guide or displaying their literature in your registration area. It is to your advantage to work these partnerships for everything they’re worth. Your business will benefit, and the results will be clearly visible in your bottom line. Perhaps the most famous Warren Miller one-liner from among his many compiled words of wisdom sums this up: “If you don’t do it this year, you’ll just be one year older when you do.”

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Effective Direct Mail Techniques

September 14th, 2016

A direct mail piece that was addressed to my wife recently caught my attention when I was sorting through the day’s mail and deciding what made its way into the house to be potentially opened and what would not make it past the blue recycling bins in our garage. This window envelope, printed with what appears to be a $10.00 bill sticking out of the upper left corner where you would expect the return address to appear, really intrigued me. Although we did not “fall” for the gimmick and open the letter, it was sent by one of the large wholesale buying clubs, offering a $10.00 temporary membership.

tendollarenvelope

This got me thinking about direct mail advertising campaigns and how challenging it could be to send out an advertising campaign that would intrigue your recipients enough to persuade them to open the envelope and read your message. I am not including three-dimensional advertising pieces that are expensive to produce, rather limiting this discussion to conventional mailings that any small business can afford to produce and mail. The 8 tips that I am offering for your consideration have proven to be effective. You will not use all of them in one mailing; however, several of these could potentially be combined within a single mailing.

  1. Use an envelope. Postcards are your least expensive mailing option, and guarantee that they will be at least minimally perused, due to the fact that there is no envelope to open. That said, postcards should be reserved for mailings to existing customers who recognize your business name and are likely to welcome your message. When reaching out to new customers, it is always preferable to use an envelope, adding an element of intrigue; however, there are ways to improve upon that level of intrigue that will, in turn, determine the effectiveness of your campaign.
  2. Use a stamp. Stamps simply look more personal than a mailing indicia or metered mail. Better than using just one stamp, you can really catch the eye of the recipient by using multiple stamps that total the correct first class mail rate.
  3. Add personalization. Nothing says “junk mail” more than an envelope that is addressed to “Current Resident” or “Office Manager.” If you do not have the name of a contact – spelled correctly, I might add – do not waste your time, effort and money because you will have truly limited the chances of your message getting read.
  4. Look Official. This tip can cross the line between tacky and deceptive, but many mailers have found success in printing envelopes that mimic the look of telegrams or Express Mail or Priority Mail graphics. (Be careful not to mimic the latter too closely, or your mailing could be rejected by the postal service!)
  5. No return address. If you include your return address on the envelope, you will seriously limit the chances of your message getting considered by recipients who might already be predisposed against your business. The lack of return address also adds an element of curiosity that will encourage many people to look further.
  6. Use a handwriting font. There are quite a few fonts available that mimic handwriting while still remaining readable by automated postal service sorting equipment. Click here for a link to free handwriting fonts on Google. Needless to say, an envelope that appears to be hand-addressed (at least to some people) looks more personal than the more conventionally used mailing fonts. Of course, if your mailing is small enough, real handwriting (keep it legible!) is even better.
  7. Lumpy mail. Although you have to be careful that your mailing will not get jammed and damaged in automated sorting equipment, and also avoid the surcharge for letters that exceed a maximum one-quarter inch thickness, studies have proven that envelopes clearly containing something are more likely to be opened, particularly if the envelope has a lumpy texture. Ideally, that item should relate to your mailing, in order to take a step beyond simple gimmickry. For example, a teabag with a message that invites the reader to “sit back and relax with a cup of tea, while taking a minute to consider our offer.”
  8. A yellow repositionable note. These are yellow adhesive notes that are designed specifically for this purpose, with double the adhesive strip (so they stay attached in transit.) These are specialty items that are custom printed by companies on a list of vendors provided by the postal service.

If you will be turning to a mailing house for assistance, they will add the advantages of taking your mailing database and both removing duplicates and running it through the National Change of Address data registry. Mailing services pay enormous fees to the U.S. Postal Service in order to utilize this service, charging end-users a very reasonable service fee that is far less than the money that would otherwise be wasted on mailing to bad addresses.

According to the postal service, approximately 40 million Americans move their place of residence and/or business each year, estimating that at least 8% of all mail is undeliverable due to incorrect addresses. We all know how difficult it is to reach new customers. When direct mail is part of your efforts, do everything possible to make it work, starting with the design of your advertising campaign itself.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Highly Effective Facebook Posts

March 8th, 2016

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” is an age-old philosophical question. While pondering the answer to that question, let me present a very similar question: If you post to your Facebook Page, but Facebook only allows for a small percentage of your followers to see the post, are you totally wasting your time? Almost anybody can quickly answer that question with a resounding ‘yes!’

Most people know that, unless you promote (in other words, pay for) your posts, only a small percentage of the people who have “liked” your page and want to see your posts will actually get to do so. Facebook claims that, “Pages organically reach about 16% of their fans on average. To make sure your fans see your stories, sponsor your posts to increase the reach of your content.” That claimed statistic (which everybody suspects is steadily falling, but that Facebook has not updated in nearly 4 years) is called into question by third-party analytics that actually calculate a far lower percentage in many if not most instances. We also know that engagement with the chosen few who will actually get to see your posts will be increased if your posts contain video or photos.

How to Beat Facebook at its Own Game

I would not advise businesses to cave in to Facebook’s financial demands. What I will advise is that businesses think smarter in order to gain the greatest benefit from this social media giant. Let’s presume that posts from your page are seen by 16% of the people who have liked your page, as Facebook suggests. Metric studies have also shown that, on average, about 35% of Facebook users see posts from their friends (as opposed to your page.) The actual percentage will vary, following a complex algorithm called EdgeRank that determines to what extent Facebook will filter any specific posted content that users will get to see. The bottom line is that, if over twice as many people are likely to see posts from their friends as they are from your page, you can substantially increase your reach if you offer people incentives to share your posts.

A Case Example

My family was recently involved with hiring the services of one of the leading wedding photographers in the local area. Toward the end of the year, the photographer ran a very clever yet inexpensive promotion on Facebook that was certain to generate a remarkable amount of traffic, exposing many new prospective customers to her services. Here is how it worked:

  1. The photographer confirms in advance that couples are willing to allow their photos to be used for appropriate promotional purposes.
  2. She then created a Facebook album that consisted of 35 photos, one from each of 35 weddings that she had photographed during the recent nuptial season.
  3. She then shared that album with each of the 35 couples, encouraging them to, in turn, share the album on Facebook with their network of friends, asking their friends to vote (with a “like”) for their photo.
  4. The couple whose photo garnered the most “likes” would win a dinner for two (valued at $60.00) at an area restaurant that is located within a frequent wedding venue.
  5. In order to “vote”, each person is also supposed to “like” the photographer’s page and the page of the wedding venue (although this would appear to be an unenforceable rule.)
  6. The dinner certificate was almost certainly provided by the wedding venue at no charge, in exchange for the promotional value.

The total cost to the photographer: Zero. By the end of the contest, there had been a total of 865 “likes” of the various photos in the album, each an indication of a person who most likely viewed what is essentially a portfolio of the photographer’s work. The photographer’s Facebook page currently has about 4,400 “likes”. Based upon the 16% average that Facebook claims, about 700 people would have at least seen the link to this album when it was posted. Adding in the 865 people who interacted with the album in response to the links that were shared by the 35 wedding couples, you can clearly see that this was a very effective promotion.

Using a similar degree of imagination and creativity, there are certainly opportunities for your park to benefit from a similar promotion. An idea that immediately comes to mind would be a contest to choose your campground’s three nicest seasonal sites, with the winners getting $200.00, $150.00, and $100.00 discounts toward their seasonal site renewals fees for the following year. Every person visiting the album will be impressed by the quality of the sites that they see and may be a likely prospect to become a seasonal camper themselves. Another shorter-term promotional idea (and with smaller prizes) might determine the best decorated site (or the best individual costumes) from your Halloween weekend. Get the idea?

With a bit of ingenuity, you can easily multiply the impact of social media like Facebook upon your business, at little or no cost and without paying for the privilege of promoting your posts.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

The Fine Art of Handling Negative Reviews, Reviewed

January 31st, 2016

Recent outdoor hospitality conferences in Daytona Beach presented me with an opportunity to stay at area hotels, dine at area restaurants, and visit area attractions during the course of two stays in town. For nearly 10 years, I have been an active reviewer on the TripAdvisor website, and I have come to rely upon TripAdvisor as a reliable source of peer reviews. I like to think that I write honest reviews, and I appreciate that same honesty in other reviewers. To date, I have written 120 reviews, 49.2% of which have given “excellent” ratings and 27.5% of which have given “good” ratings. My reviews provide business owners with wonderful opportunities to obtain valuable consumer feedback. Occasionally, business owners are incapable of accepting constructive criticism, and that is their loss. When they react with an over-the-top, non-objective management response, they are truly missing the point of the entire process.

One recent experience illustrates my point. When my wife and I stayed in Daytona Beach for a few days at the end of the KOA Expo, we visited an attraction that TripAdvisor rates as #1 out of 71 “things to do” in the nearby city of DeLand. We were disappointed in this historic house tour, felt that the tour was overcrowded, and considered it overpriced. What particularly bothered me – and aroused my suspicions regarding the validity of the attraction’s rating – was the way that the tour guide came right out and asked people to submit TripAdvisor reviews, followed two days later by an e-mail from one of the owners, again asking for a TripAdvisor review. I definitely had the impression that a ballot box was being stuffed.

Of course, I felt compelled to share my experience with others on TripAdvisor, particularly since I thought that the attraction’s #1 rating was highly misleading. I went out of my way to be objective and sensitive to the idiosyncrasies of the owners, quite generously giving it a three-star (“fair”) rating that I carefully documented. Prior to writing my review, I noticed how the owners of the attraction responded to every review on TripAdvisor, and how any reviewer who did not give the attraction an “excellent” rating was essentially attacked in one way or another. I was prepared for an assault but would not be intimidated. In my case, I was told that I had “baffled” and “insulted” them with my “false claims”, and that I was obviously an “angry” person.

Other reviews received management responses that were far more offensive. Here are some samples culled from various management responses: “Your comments are unsubstantiated and more importantly not true.” “Your comments are completely false and hurtful.” “I have contacted TA to handle your harassment, (and) your hateful attempt to try and discredit us is sad at best. You should be ashamed of yourself.” “Your ‘Poor’ rating is suspicious at best.” “For someone to go out of there (sic) way to give false feedback with the intent to hurt a small business owner is sad and actually difficult for me to comprehend.”

As you can see, some small business owners cannot be objective when handling criticisms of the businesses which are often extensions of themselves. That is understandable, but it is important to put subjectivity aside and recognize that, in the vast majority of instances, a negative review is providing valuable input regarding improvements that you should consider making.

When you have the opportunity to respond to a negative review, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Listen to what the reviewer has to say. Try to be as subjective as possible, putting your ego aside. The review is not a personal attack upon your reputation (even if you think that it is.)
  2. Empathize, introduce a positive factor into the conversation, and apologize if necessary. An apology is not an admission of guilt but simply a polite acknowledgement that the reviewer had less than a perfect experience involving your business.
  3. Try to take the conversation offline. Not long ago, I posted on Facebook how I was dissatisfied when an energy audit contractor failed to show up for a scheduled appointment. The organization saw that it had been mentioned on Facebook, responding by asking me to contact them privately with my telephone number. Offline, they apologized and re-scheduled the appointment for the following day. Any damage was under control.
  4. Despite the urgency of responding quickly, before posting a response to an online review, always run it by another set of eyes. Too often, in the absence of body language and tone of voice, a response with the best of intentions might sound condescending or even sarcastic. Remember that you are trying to rectify a situation, not make it worse.

It is important to separate yourself from your business, to keep your cool, and to try to treat every review as a learning experience. If you do not like what you are reading, avoid the temptation to take things personally and as an opportunity for retaliation. Respond following the guidelines above, and then move on. Put on your big boy pants and get on with the responsibilities of running your business to succeed within the best of your capabilities.

Note: Since originally writing this post, I have continued to receive e-mails from one of the owners of the attraction in DeLand, again asking me to write a positive review on TripAdvisor. (Apparently, they do not mind spamming their customers in their pursuit of TripAdvisor reviews.) Another e-mail arrived more recently, urging its recipients to e-mail the producers of CBS Sunday Morning to ask them to do a feature story on the attraction.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Caller ID: Correcting How Your Business Name Displays

December 16th, 2015

I do not know about you, but I pre-screen my calls before answering the phone, trying my best to avoid telemarketers, robo-calls, and other unwanted phone calls. Even though Caller ID readouts can easily be spoofed by aggressive telemarketers, a caller name that I know will always lead to a call that I will answer.

The problem comes into play if, for any of a variety of reasons, the name that is displayed when you call another phone is not the correct representation of your business name. In some instances, your business name may have changed, but the Caller ID still shows the name of the previous business … perhaps a business with a less than stellar reputation that you have been working vigilantly to overcome. In other instances, your business name may be spelled wrong, due to a careless database entry somewhere along the way.

One of my clients, Shir-Roy Camping Area, recently called me, but my Caller ID displayed the name as “CAMPIN S”. Another of my clients, Holiday Park Campground, always displays as “HOLDAY PARK” when they call. Worse yet is if your business appears as “Unknown Caller”, a situation that can be damaging to your business in its ability to contact its customers. Getting these corrected can be an exercise in frustration; however, I will attempt to offer some assistance.

Caller-ID-device

First, it helps to understand how all this works. The phone number and the name that will appear on your Caller ID readout represent two entirely different pieces of information. The Caller ID represents the phone number of the originating call, and it originates with that person or company’s phone carrier. It is the CNAM that represents the name that is associated with that number, and it is delivered by the local phone carrier of the person on the receiving end of the call, doing what is called a “database dip.” The two pieces of information are alternately displayed on the same device that is broadly (and confusingly) referred to as your Caller ID.

Next, for the purposes of this article, I am referring to the Caller ID information that is displayed for calls made from landline telephones. These telephone carriers include AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink, Fairpoint, Frontier and Windstream, as well as cable companies like Comcast, Cox and others. Regardless of your carrier, it will access the Caller ID and CNAM databases from one of a couple dozen companies: most typically Neustar (formerly Targus), VeriSign, or Syniverse. The most dominant of these appears to be Neustar. Your phone carrier might subscribe to one or two databases, but any problems will persist unless all of the databases have been corrected.

Further complicating matters, some of these companies only update their databases annually, when new phone directories are published. As you might imagine, it is important for your business name to be listed correctly in your directory listing and on your phone bill. Presuming that you are tired of waiting, there are companies that offer to fix your Caller ID listing in these databases for a fee. One such company is called FixCallerID.com, and it charges a fee of $295.00 per phone number. However, I want to help you to do this on your own, without paying any fees.

To start, my recommendation is to call Neustar at 1 800 682-7487. Tell the operator that you are seeking to make a correction in your CNAM database listing, and you will be transferred over to an automated system where you will begin that process at no charge. The corrections are said to take “as long as 24 hours”, which is far better than waiting up to a year or paying a fee to expedite the process.

If this has not corrected the error within a few days, it is time to call your telephone carrier (either landline or cellular). Tell them that your outbound caller ID information is incorrect (or, in the case of an “Unknown Caller” situation, missing) and that you are requesting that it be corrected. They will first check for any possible errors at their end, along with any errors in the settings on your cellular device (if applicable), then check their internal CNAM database for potential errors. Any such errors will be corrected while you are on the call.

If your Caller ID information still does not display correctly, ask the representative from your telephone carrier to file a CNAM inquiry on your behalf. They will ask you to provide the same information that you provided to Neustar, but they will also have a direct route to get the information corrected with all of the other database service providers. At this point, it should only be a matter of a few days before your Caller ID information will begin to display correctly.

Yes, this process will require the investment of a bit of time on your part; however, anything that helps to enhance your business’s ability to communicate effectively with its customers is well worth the effort.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Advertising Specialties: Are They Really Special?

May 28th, 2015

I am often asked about advertising specialties, long considered somewhat of a neglected stepchild of conventional advertising. Also known as promotional advertising, ad specialties are products that are imprinted or labelled with a company’s logo, tagline or other promotional message. The intention is to either create or expand upon brand awareness. We are all familiar with these items that we find at trade events – everything from pens and calendars to mugs and koozies to mouse pads and thumb drives, as well as the imprinted bags that hold our collections of loot. Sometimes referred to as swag, baubles or , promotional products are intended to be useful to the recipient, carrying some degree of intrinsic value that will enhance the reputation of the sponsoring company.

Well, sometimes the concept is well-executed and works effectively, sometimes it is a waste of money, and sometimes it can do more harm than good.

PromotionalItems_247183102_600x600_90

When done properly, advertising specialties can enhance your image, particularly if your company is new in its field. An eye-catching item can build brand awareness, and we all know that everybody loves both gifts and freebies. Particularly if the item is useful enough to be retained for more than a day, it can be an ongoing reminder of your company and the services that it offers.

Done poorly, the money spent can cheapen the image of your company. It is essential that your logo and branding be consistent with their application in your conventional advertising. Never settle for a modified version of your logo, simply because it will reduce the cost. If your logo is in full color, it is not going to be as effective in promoting your business if it is displayed in one or two standard colors, although those are sometimes your only options.

Be sure that the item(s) that you choose are appropriate for your business and the market that you are targeting. There should be some connection that will be immediately recognizable. Although lots of people think they are hilarious, you probably do not want your company’s logo on a whoopee cushion or dribble glass. In addition, a poorly made product (think of a pen that almost immediately breaks and leaks ink on the recipient’s clothing!) is not going to promote your business in a positive light. You are not going to connect with your market with a product that screams out the words “cheap” or “Made in China”.

Your goal should not be to produce an item so inexpensively that you are able to hand it out to thousands of people, most of whom have no interest in your business or the services that you offer. You want to produce an item that is clearly of value that can be somewhat selectively distributed to people who are not simply looking to add another free item to their bags. It is estimated that there are over 15,000 different types of advertising specialty products. According to Wikipedia, 30% of those items are t-shirts, baseball caps, or other wearable apparel. You need not try to compete with the companies that fill celebrity gift bags with expensive samples at film festivals and award ceremonies. Simply try to find one or more items that have a direct connection to your business and that will portray your business in a positive light.

The largest supplier of advertising specialties is the Promo Products division of Staples, but there are also many small suppliers who specialize in working with your particular industry. You should probably turn to them first for their special expertise. There are 5 primary categories for these products: Wearable items (that 30% share that I already mentioned), Calendars, Writing Instruments, Business Gifts, and “Everything Else”. That last category includes mugs, rulers and tape measures, luggage tags, key fobs, toys, sporting goods, and more.

For a campground, what might be some useful promotional items that you can hand out at camping shows and probably even sell in your store? Here is an abbreviated list of items that might have a connection with camping:

  • Tire Pressure Gauge – There are a lot of tires on the typical camper and tow vehicle!
  • Backpacks – It would be nice to at least encourage campers to get out and take a hike.
  • Blankets – Particularly if you have a music festival or another event where people will be sitting on lawns.
  • Caps – More and more people are concerned with shading themselves from sun exposure.
  • Coolers – Also go well with outdoor events.
  • First Aid Kits – You could help save somebody’s life!
  • Flashlights – Perfect for those after-dark scavenger hunts.
  • Hand Sanitizers – Of course, a larger size will have greater longevity.
  • Jar Openers – These get handier the older we get!
  • Keychains – Most of us see these on a daily basis, if you choose one that people will use.
  • Pedometers – Another item to encourage exercise in the outdoors.
  • Pet Products – Collapsible bowls for people taking their dogs hiking, or leashes for people who forgot to bring this required item.
  • Stadium Cushions – Everybody likes a little extra padding!
  • Sunscreen – Another sun protection item for outdoorspeople.
  • Tape Measures – An item that always comes in handy.

As you can tell, most of these suggestions come from the “Everything Else” category. If you are looking for other ideas, talk to your screen printed or embroidered apparel supplier for their suggestions. Try to choose items that people do not already have more of than they need, and try to find items that will hold up and stand the test of time. These are the keys to keeping your business in the forefront of your customers’ minds.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Make it Personal

October 17th, 2014

The more that we get caught up in believing that mass marketing and technology are the sole keys to bringing in new business, the more that we might miss out on basic, time-proven principles that work. When a campground is looking to expand its customer base and occupancy rates, it is fine to put effort into growing your sphere of influence within the social media or building your website’s SEO; however, don’t obsess over these at the expense of the more personal approaches that are more reliable today than ever.

Even the world’s biggest brands are realizing the advantages of personalizing their marketing campaigns. A perfect example is Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign. Introduced in Australia in 2012, this campaign has been expanded around the globe. In the summer of 2014, some of the iconic Coca-Cola logos on 20-ounce bottles have been replaced by 250 of the most popular first names among the young people in the brand’s core demographic.

Share a Coke.

What Coca-Cola is recognizing in this campaign, which also tested successfully in the United Kingdom in 2013, is the power of personal appeal in growing brand loyalty. In addition to the bottles than can be purchased, the program is touring major colleges and universities across the country when students are returning to campus for the start of the fall semester. At these events, students are given an opportunity to personalize two Coca-Cola cans – as the promotional materials say, “one to keep and one to share”. That sharing part is essential. The campaign also allows people to create a customized virtual bottle that they can share online, encourages people to upload photos of themselves consuming their customized Coke via Twitter, and makes it easy for you to determine whether or not your name is one of the 250 that may be found at retail outlets. The costs of this campaign are probably enormous, but the return on investment was proven through two years of testing.

Your Campground Is Not Coca-Cola

Without spending a fortune, your business can capitalize upon the same concept of using personal appeal to expand your markets. I remember visiting a campground a few years ago where each campsite was graced with a carved wooden sign with the camper’s family name. An employee at the campground had a router and was skilled at quickly making these signs using pre-cut cedar slabs. Imagine the lasting, positive impression this created, when first-time campers arrived at their site and saw their name right below the site number! At the end of their stay, they took the customized sign home, as a continuing reminder of their camping weekend.

The most effective marketing and promotional campaigns succeed because they capitalize upon the element of surprise that comes from providing the unexpected. More and more these days, simply reaching out to your customers on a personal level will elicit a sense of surprise that will differentiate your business in a very positive manner. When reaching out to your customers, one of your key objectives should be to subtly recruit them to assist in your attempts at bringing in new business. Here are a few ideas that might work for you:

  • Encourage your customers to post online reviews that share their positive experiences at your park. In addition to TripAdvisor and Yelp, there are a number of review sites that are specific to campgrounds. Concentrate on the key players, but be careful not to offer incentives for positive reviews.
  • One of our campground clients runs a “refer a friend” program, in which they provide coupons where campers may enter the contact information of a friend who has not previously camped at the park. If they make a reservation, both the new camper and the camper who provided the referral receive a $20.00 credit.
  • Explore referral opportunities with complementary service providers. These might include local RV dealers, restaurants and other businesses in town, and campgrounds in other regions of the country. You may also want to include your vendors in these opportunities. Let the people who fill your propane tank, deliver your groceries, and service your equipment know that you are always looking for new campers. Printed literature – with or without a coupon incentive – works best in these instances.
  • If you post something newsworthy (such as an upcoming event) on the social media, encourage people to share your post and spread the words with their friends.
  • Consider adding a referral form to your website. This would also work more effectively if it included some sort of incentive (usually in the form of a discount) for both parties.
  • Giving a referral yourself is sometimes the best way to get somebody else to return the favor. You know your seasonal campers, and many of them are likely to be small business owners. If somebody is looking for an electrician, an auto body repair expert, a computer geek, or even a new car, one of your campers is probably in that line of work. Refer them!

As always, the bottom line is that surprising people by doing something unique is the best way to get them to take notice. Then carry that personal relationship to the next level so that both parties will benefit.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

E-Mail: Making the Most of It

September 1st, 2014

E-Mail is often taken for granted these days, with the result being that many of us fail to realize its true potential. Everybody knows that e-mail is essentially free and immediate, as opposed to a letter which currently costs 49 cents to mail and may take days to deliver. E-mail always arrives at the right time because it is the recipient’s prerogative to determine when it will be opened or read. Unlike a phone call, the timing of which may be inopportune at the other end, the recipient alone determines when – and if – it is going to be read.

With a phone call, you know when you have reached the person you are calling, even though Caller ID may allow them to avoid your call, and – in extreme instances – call blocking may prevent a call from your number from even getting through. Then, of course, we have all experienced the unpleasantly rude experience of having somebody hang up on us.

With conventional mail, nobody discards an unopened birthday card, bank statement, or tax bill. These are immediately identified as either friendly or important communications. The decision whether or not to open a conventional piece of mail is typically made within 3-5 seconds. For e-mail to be opened with any reasonable frequency, it is necessary for it to convey that same type of urgency. The rates with which conventional e-mail is opened and read are difficult to measure, but it is safe to assume that they are remarkably low. The longer we have been online and the more e-mail that we receive, the more selective we become about what we will take the time to read. In my own instance, with excellent filters removing spam from the equation, I would estimate that I delete 90-95% of my incoming e-mail before it is read.

There are third-party services which will allow a degree of tracking of conventional e-mail messages. Some of these services are free, others paid, and they can tell you when somebody has opened your message, how long they spent reading the message, where they were located, whether or not they forwarded the message, and much more. These services generally work by embedding an invisible graphic file into your message, monitoring when that graphic has been downloaded. Unfortunately, if the recipient’s e-mail client or mobile device is not set to display graphics, that invisible graphic will not be downloaded and tracked. If you would like to look into this type of tracking, some of the services that you will find online include WhoReadMe, GetNotify, ContactMonkey, and BananaTag.

Conventional E-Mail Tips

Whether or not you use an e-mail tacking service, to increase your open and read rates, follow a few basic tips:

  • Clearly identify yourself. In your e-mail settings, be sure that either your full personal name or business name is entered. I am amazed at how many e-mails I receive from senders named “office” or “info”. If you enter nothing in this setting, most e-mail clients will by default simply show your e-mail address. Having your recipients clearly recognize you will increase the likelihood of your e-mail getting read, and it will also tremendously help them to search for one of your messages to reference in the future.
  • Write a subject line that asks to be opened. Ideally, it will start with your company name, both for name recognition and ease of sorting. Make it compelling and specific. I have an amazing number of e-mails in my inbox with the subject lines reading “hi”, “hello”, and “question”. Worse yet are the e-mails that are send with NO subject line whatsoever. Some people use special characters (also known as glyphs) to draw attention to their subject lined, converted to more graphical emoji on some devices. These might include symbols such as arrows ►, musical notes ♫, and hearts ♥ – not all of which are appropriate for most businesses. I believe that, in most instances, symbols such as these get an e-mail subject line noticed but have no impact whatsoever on read and open rates. In addition, they might flag a message as spam. Use a subject line that the recipient will identify as something of interest.
  • Do not request read receipts. Except in specific instances, read receipts are perceived as an annoyance by recipients, and a recipient can choose whether or not to confirm receipt of your message. This last factor renders read receipts pretty pointless. I find that some people have their e-mail client configured to request a read receipt for every message sent. They are often the same people who send messages without a subject line!

When and Why to Use E-Mail Marketing

If you are thinking about sending a message to multiple recipients using an e-mail client’s ‘cc’ (carbon copy) or ‘bcc’ (blind carbon copy) features, do not do it! This practice is impersonal, can flag you as a spammer, and (using the ‘cc’ feature) discloses the e-mail addresses and violates the privacy of every recipient. To avoid these issues, use an e-mail marketing service such as Constant Contact, iContact, Vertical Response, MailChimp, or Campaigner. These services are all reasonably priced, have higher deliverability rates than conventional e-mail, and provide templates that make it easy for your messages to stand out. More importantly, they provide a wealth of tracking data which goes far beyond simply who has opened your e-mail.

When mailing using an e-mail marketing service, you know exactly which recipients open your e-mail, when they open it, what links they click, if they forward it, if they unsubscribe, if their address is undeliverable, and if anybody reports your e-mail as spam. Let’s say that you run a campground and your newsletter includes articles on seasonal site availabilities, a special event that you have scheduled, and a limited-time discount – each including a link for more information. By checking the click-thrus for any of these article links, you have identified key prospects that are likely to be more than receptive to a follow-up phone call … if they have not contacted your first!

The most ineffective e-mail is the one that is not read. Make your e-mail work smarter, and your business will truly benefit!

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Build Your Campground Website’s Traffic in 10 Easy Steps

August 6th, 2014

The best website in the world is ineffective if nobody sees it. It is a fact today that too many people obsess over search engine optimization (SEO) and the employment of a wide variety of tricks in an effort to outsmart Google’s search ranking algorithms. The bottom line is that nothing is more effective or easier to implement than links to your site from established websites with related, relevant content. Referring sites will send you direct traffic. More importantly, the presence of your links on those sites will also enhance the ranking of your own site, due to its direct association with sites that are already deemed to be “important” by Google.

The most important referring sites will be travel-related sites like TripAdvisor, and industry-related sites like Go Camping America. Once you have the big players covered, it is time to get your website listed on the “B list” of referral sites, and I will save you some work by presenting the following list of 10 websites that include online directories of campgrounds. Nine of the ten offer free listings. Check each site to see if your park is already listed, or if an existing listing might require corrections or updates. If your park is not listed, follow the links to get your site added.

Although every valid link is helpful, links from highly ranked sites with heavy traffic are the most valuable. For that reason, I am including the Alexa ranking and the StatShow traffic estimate for each site. The Alexa ranking is a metric that presents the site’s overall ranking against all other websites. The lower the Alexa ranking number, the better. StatShow indicates the average number of users and page views per month, where the higher the numbers, the better. As an example, the Alexa ranking of Amazon.com is 10, with a StatShow ranking of 220,280,520 visitors and 3,150,011,700 page views per month.

  1. RV Points. This is a relatively new site, launched in early 2012, that looks like it is trying to be the Groupon of campgrounds. Listings are free, although there is a fee to be listed as a featured park. You do not have to present a special offer to participate. Go to http://rvpoints.com, then follow the signup link. Alexa ranking: 10,821,800. StatShow ranking: 1,320 / 2,940.
  2. Leisure and Sport Review. This site provides a state-by-state listing of events and lodging, including both campgrounds and cabins. Find it at http://www.lasr.net, with a signup form at http://www.lasr.net/addBusiness.php. Alexa ranking: 222,547. StatShow ranking: 64,350 / 141,570.
  3. Mile By Mile. Nothing fancy in this directory of resources, including campgrounds, that is designed to help families plan road trips across the United States and Canada. http://www.milebymile.com, with edit listing / add listing form at http://www.milebymile.com/update.php. Alexa ranking: 477,532. StatShow ranking: 29,970 / 65,970.
  4. RV Resources. Nearly 15 years old, this site presents everything that has to do with RVing, including a directory of campgrounds. http://www.rvresources.com, with a listing form at http://www.rvresources.com/addsitenew.php. Alexa ranking: 530,214. StatShow ranking: 27,000 / 59,430.
  5. RV Zone. One of the oldest RV-related sites on the Internet, this site offers listings that are quick and easy to submit. http://www.rvzone.com, with the “suggest a site” link at http://www.rvzone.com/SuggestASite.cfm. (No stats currently available.)
  6. WorldWeb.com. This is an international travel directory that includes both the United States and campground listings, representing a useful resource for international travelers to find your park. Go to http://www.worldweb.com, then follow the Add > Business link in the upper right of the page. Alexa ranking: 26,275. StatShow ranking: 544,920 / 1,198,860.
  7. The Modern Outback Adventure Travel Guide. Based in British Columbia, Canada, this site presents comprehensive listings of campgrounds, resorts, wilderness lodges and destinations in the United States and Canada. Find it at http://www.modernoutback.com, then add your listing at http://www.modernoutback.com/addlisting.html. (No stats currently available.)
  8. RVNetLinx.com. This site lists campgrounds, campground associations, RV repair services, employment ads, and more. http://www.rvnetlinx.com, with a “submit your site” form at http://www.rvnetlinx.com/wpsubmitsite.php. Alexa ranking: 3,080,156. StatShow ranking: 4,620 / 10,200.
  9. RV Mechanic. This is an online directory of everything that relates to RV repairs. It also includes a directory of campgrounds, with an easy form to add your listing. Find the site at http://www.rvmechanic.com, then, to add your listing, go to http://www.rvmechanic.com/company_register.html. Alexa ranking: 560,380. StatShow ranking: 25,560 / 56,250.
  10. RV Park Hunter. This one is not free, but costs $25.00 per year on the 1 year plan, or $10.00 per year on the 5 year plan. http://www.rvparkhunter.com, with a listing form at http://www.rvparkhunter.com/listing.asp. Alexa ranking: 2,883,568. StatShow ranking: 4,950 / 10,950.

As you can see from the statistics, some of these sites might actually send some significant traffic to your site, which you can track and verify if you are running Google Analytics. In other instances, the greater value will be in simply having the search engine robots visiting the sites and catching the outbound link to your site.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

The Fine Art of Handling Negative Reviews

July 16th, 2014

Not all reviews are negative. The negative reviews are simply the ones that most deserve your attention. Some negative reviews are worse than others, but the worst negative review is the one that was left unanswered.

In most instances, I find that small business owners cannot be objective when handling criticisms of the businesses which are often extensions of themselves. That is understandable, but it is important to put subjectivity aside and recognize that, in the vast majority of instances, a negative review is providing valuable input regarding improvements that you should consider making.

In other instances, a negative review might provide insight into a situation that requires urgent action; however, if you are unaware of the review, the situation is likely to continue and the viral power of the online review will only multiply. Let me share an example.

I recently did a search of Google for the name of a business, hoping to find its correct mailing address. At the absolute top of the search results (#1 on page #1) was the following review that has been online since January of 2012. I have changed the names and any other identifying information, but the point is clear.

“While driving on Eastern Avenue (near Spring Street) today (01-11-12) at 2:05 PM I was tailgated by someone driving a truck (license plate RVJ-524) from Acme Enterprises. I was forced to pull over because the driver was driving too close. When I pulled over I was given the finger and when I continued driving the driver doubled-back to actually chase me! I’m a member of the [a local business association] and I will certainly be sending an email blast to my fellow members to ensure they avoid this organization. I took a picture of the driver and have it on file.”

Wow! Can you imagine this being at the top of the search results for your business for 2½ years, and not knowing about it? Can you imagine having an employee acting in this manner while driving a clearly identified company vehicle? I presume that any business owner would take immediate corrective measures if he knew about this situation. Without any such knowledge, this type of behavior on the part of an employee is only likely to continue.

Yes, this is an extreme example, but it is totally true. How about the employee who is short with one of your guests, or the employee who did not perform a maintenance task up to the expected standards? Those are often the foundation of a negative review. Even if a review site does not give you, as the business owner, an opportunity to directly respond online, it is still providing you with valuable information that should probably be incorporated into your next company meeting, job description, or employee performance review. The reputation of your business is at stake.

When you do have the opportunity to respond to a negative review, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Listen to what the reviewer has to say. Try to be as subjective as possible, putting your ego aside. The review is not a personal attack upon your reputation (even if you think that it is.)
  2. Empathize, introduce a positive factor into the conversation, and apologize if necessary. An apology is not an admission of guilt but simply a polite acknowledgement that the reviewer had less than a perfect experience involving your business.
  3. Try to take the conversation offline. I recently posted on Facebook how dissatisfied I was when an energy audit contractor failed to show up for a scheduled appointment. The organization saw that it had been mentioned on Facebook, responding by asking me to contact them privately with my telephone number. Offline, they apologized and re-scheduled the appointment for the following day. Any damage was under control.
  4. Despite the urgency of responding quickly, before posting a response to an online review, always run it by another set of eyes. Too often, in the absence of body language and tone of voice, a response with the best of intentions might sound condescending or even sarcastic. Remember that you are trying to rectify a situation, not make it worse.

There are literally dozens of online review sites, the most important which impact the travel and tourism industry being TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Foursquare. Other types of businesses are reviewed on sites like Angie’s List, MerchantCircle, Manta, Buzzillions, Epinions, and Insider Pages. Then don’t forget the BBB (Better Business Bureau) Online, where any consumer can file a complaint against a business.

Just as important, any comment on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ is a de-facto review within the writer’s network. In fact, those can often do the most harm because they come from somebody whose opinion is trusted within his or her network of friends.

There are also more than a dozen of which are specific to the campground industry. These include RV Park Reviews, CampRate, Campground Report, Campsite Reports, RVparking.com, RVcampReviews.com, RV Park Finder, and of course GuestRated. Some of these sites get much more traffic than others, but keep in mind that only one person reading one negative review can translate into lost business. Do your best to try to keep that from happening.

This post was written by Peter Pelland