Pelland Blog

It’s Okay to Be Antisocial

March 11th, 2021

Let me be the first to admit that I am guilty. It was not that long ago that I was presenting seminars and writing how social media advertising – Facebook, in particular – was the greatest new development since the Internet itself. As recently as four years ago, I was offering suggestions on how to beat Facebook at its own game, using guerilla marketing techniques on the platform. Sure, we all recognized that the intrusions into our personal privacy were a bit creepy, but the ability to reach targeted marketing prospects seemed to be worth the compromise. After all, when I was a child watching television in the 1950’s, Captain Kangaroo would seamlessly segue from visiting with Bunny Rabbit and Mr. Moose to selling Kellogg’s Rice Krispies and Schwinn Bicycles, and what was wrong with that? Actually, there was plenty wrong with it, prior to a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ruling in 1969 that prohibited children’s show hosts from directly promoting commercial products.

In the beginning, Facebook (originally called Facemash) seemed to represent little more than an awkward attempt by nerdy Harvard undergrads with a lack of actual social skills to meet young women at neighboring colleges. When you think about it, even that original concept (an extension of the sexist freshman photo books that had been sold on college campuses for decades) violated the personal privacy of the young women whose photos were being used. From that start, it did not take long for Facebook to reinvent itself into a money making machine that would be built upon ever-increasing exploitations of personal privacy.

On a personal level, I stopped using Facebook in its entirety in early September of 2020. I actually experienced what I would describe as a 7 to 10 day period of withdrawal, missing the ability to stay in daily touch with countless friends both old and new, but my sense of newly discovered freedom afterward was absolutely refreshing. Over the course of the 10 years or so when I remained active on the platform, I would often joke about how Facebook would “coincidentally” show me advertising that was related to one of my recent posts or comments. When I, along with millions of other people, started using ad blockers, Facebook started showing paid posts in lieu of paid advertising. These paid posts represent advertising content that is being disguised as editorial comment, even when that advertising is originating with foreign governments or other unscrupulous characters. The only way this can happen is by Facebook’s algorithms monitoring every word that you type, just as craftily as the National Security Agency (NSA) monitors the telephone conversations of known terrorists.

What made me see the light was when I realized that Facebook’s business model was designed to amass huge profits by intentionally sowing discord among its subscribers. Regardless of where a person falls within an increasingly polarized political spectrum, Facebook will show that person paid content that pours fuel on the fire while demonizing those with opposing viewpoints. By being fed a one-sided diet that is often based upon disinformation, subscribers’ opinions and beliefs are reinforced in a manner that continually enhances the polarization. It should not require an insurrectionist attack upon the U.S. Capitol for reasonable people to understand that this represents a rapidly accelerating downward spiral.

Let us be clear that Facebook advertising is not a bargain. In the early days, businesses would pay to advertise on the platform in order to get users to “like” their page and then see their posts. Soon afterward, advertisers needed to pay Facebook so that even people who had already “liked” their page could actually see their posts. Think about it. This means that you are paying Facebook so you can reach your existing customers. Why would anybody pay to do that when there are countless alternate means of reaching your existing customer base at a far lesser cost? In the campground industry, some of the same people who willingly pour money into Facebook advertising question the rationale for offering Good Sam and similar discounts that they feel cut into thin profit margins. I would rather offer a customer incentive than to take that same money and pour it into Facebook’s coffers.

Yes, Facebook and the other social media may be capable of sending you customers, but at what price and in what environment? If a drug dealer approached you and said, “Yes, my main business is selling heroin, but I can also send you customers”, would you do business with that person? I doubt that many of us would enter into that sort of deal with the devil.

The Federal Trade Commission (yes, the same people who ruled that Captain Kangaroo should not be hawking breakfast cereal) is currently proposing the breakup of Facebook, a process that is long overdue. Facebook has steadily grown – with the acquisition of Instagram, WhatsApp and related platforms – and a breakup of its monopoly would be the first such action since the breakup of AT&T four decades ago. Many of my peers in the advertising industry will disagree with me, and I welcome that debate. I remember the days when tobacco products were extensively advertised on television, a practice that contributed to countless deaths. Today, I believe that many other types of advertising should be banned because they either mislead consumers or actually prey upon vulnerable segments of our population, typically the elderly. These include the advertising of prescription pharmaceuticals, advertising by class-action attorneys (think “mesothelioma”), advertising directed at children (think about Saturday mornings), and advertising directed at senior citizens (think about Medicare supplements and the aforementioned pharmaceuticals). In the meantime, it is your decision as a small business owner to decide whether or not to continue financing a business model that you may agree is inherently wrong.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Website Design Considerations

December 1st, 2020

Part 1
The Basics

I recently presented a webinar titled “Best Practices: Website Design Considerations” before members of several state campground associations. Although my company has been building campground websites since 1998, it was not my intention to promote my company in that webinar, nor is it my intention to do so in this column. What I would like to share is objective advice on how to make the right decisions when it comes to what is almost certainly the single most important tool to market your business both today and in the years ahead.

Let me start with some history. In the early days, websites were built to be viewed on computers, usually with small monitors and slow dial-up modems. Until Apple introduced the first iPhone in 2007, what was a smartphone? Websites were designed to fit narrow computer monitors and limited bandwidth. As time went on, cutting edge sites used Macromedia Flash, later acquired by Adobe. Flash is no longer supported on iOS (meaning any Mac or Apple device), Android devices (in other words, no mobile devices, which are two-thirds of the market), and will see the final nail driven into its coffin at the end of December. Websites now need to be built so that they present full content across all platforms and devices. If you have a narrow website that is not mobile-friendly, and perhaps uses animated GIFs and maybe Flash animation, you are probably wondering what happened to that Blockbuster store where you rented your VHS videotapes.

Mobile-Friendly

Just like we have both lifelong friends and recently made casual acquaintances, there have been many approaches to the presentation of mobile-friendly website content. In the early days (in this case, 2005), as website designers were feeling their way around in the dark, there was a proliferation of separate websites that were intended for smaller displays and limited bandwidth, typically with stripped down content and a .mobi URL. This was sort of like having a car that you drove in the summer and a separate vehicle that you could drive on snowy mountain roads in the winter. When somebody visited a website, they would encounter a link that said “Click here for a mobile version of this site.”

That was inefficient, and the search engines hated it. There were essentially two websites to maintain. Fortunately, these were soon replaced by adaptivewebsites, where the website did its best to detect the device being used and then presented one of two alternate versions of content. There were still two versions of content to maintain. This was sort of like having a big SUV where, when the roads got sloppy, you had to get out and turn the hubs on the front wheels and then engage the transfer case to drive in four-wheel drive.

Finally, responsivewebsite design came along, where one website was designed to detect the device being used and then present content that was scaled to the size of the display, whether it was a phone, a tablet, a laptop computer, or a big monitor. This is essentially the all-wheel drive of websites and could have been the brainchild of Subaru. This is the standard today, and Google and Bing love it.

There are no simple fixes or upgrades to turn an old website into a new responsive site. It is an entirely different framework, and it requires the construction of an all-new site. When a responsive site is being built, there are different approaches: Some website designers tend to first design for mobile devices then let the chips fall where they may on larger displays. Others tend to first design for larger displays, and then optimize the fluid content for smaller displays. Others yet, with no real design experience, rely on templates to do the job for them. In my opinion, due to the small display, almost any responsive website is going to look fine on a phone. Looking really impressive on a larger display, on the other hand, requires a more sophisticated level of design skills that go far beyond just making a bigger version of the content that appears on a phone.

The End User Experience

When you want a customer to get from point A (your site’s point of entry, usually its Home page) to point B (the call to action, the reservation request), you do not want to send them through a maze. This is the same reason that there is a consistent clockwise traffic pattern in almost every major supermarket, where you enter into the produce, fresh bakery, and prepared foods departments; proceed to the deli, meats, dairy and frozen foods; then find the impulse items like candy bars and the National Enquirer at the checkout stands.

Navigating the supermarket aisles is an intuitive process that has been carefully crafted and fine-tuned to maximize sales. The same sort of formulas should apply to your website. People expect to find the navigation either at the top of the page or the left-hand column, floating so they do not have to scroll back up for access. The content should be presented intuitively, organized in a logical fashion that translates into page structure, and nobody should have to search or click to access essential contact information.

The Easiest Approaches

Most small business owners have been convinced in recent years that a content management system (CMS) is essential, giving them the ability to directly maintain their website content. Most have been persuaded that CMS is their key to escaping dependence upon webmasters who charge exorbitant fees and take forever to make changes, a situation which may be far from truthful. Another temptation is to use one of the many “free” website building tools that can be found online. One claims that you will “make a website in minutes … (with) zero code or design skills required”. If you do not quite want to do-it-yourself, another company claims that it will “build you a stunning website in 48 hours” for only $400 per year, including hosting and a domain name. In both instances, try to find a “contact” link on their websites with an address in the United States (or anywhere, for that matter). Then, before getting burned, do a Google search with one of those companies’ names followed by the word “complaints”.

There isn’t a single larger-sized business in America where the owner pretends to be his own webmaster. Can you imagine Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk working on his own website? Recognize the value of having professional guidance and valid marketing advice incorporated into your website. Probably the most important factor is hiring one of the many reputable companies with both an extensive and an intimate understanding of the campground industry. Your business depends upon making the right decision.

Part 2
The Acronyms

Continuing on the theme, allow me to address some of the acronyms that you will want to implement either on your existing website or its successor. These ideas apply whether your site has been built by a company that understands your business and industry, a computer-savvy kid down the road, or that person who you see in your mirror every morning.

CTA

No, not the Chicago Transit Authority, CTA in this instance stands for call to action, a marketing term that references the next step that you want your website visitors to take in order to finalize the intended transaction. Typically, this means guiding people from their point of entry on your site’s Home page to your reservation process. Without smooth navigation and an intuitive end user experience, there can be a disconnection that breaks that intended path from point A to point B. A call to action tends to present an incentive, whether real or perceptual, that keeps people on track and focused.

In an e-commerce environment, that incentive often takes the form of a limited-time discount, a purchase bonus, or free shipping. Another e-commerce incentive that applies to campgrounds takes the form of limited inventory. When somebody wants to camp on the Fourth of July, it is a safe assumption that the demand for campsites will far exceed the available supply. Subtly stress how people should “avoid disappointment” by making their reservations early, with an accompanying “click here to reserve now” link. If they need more information or would like to communicate with you first, be sure that every means of direct contact is immediately accessible, whether they would like to call, email, or send you a private message on a social media site. Both on your website and in any direct communication help them to visualize the difference between everything that your park has to offer versus staying home and dipping their toes in the inflatable kiddie pool in their back yard.

SEO

Whether or not they really understand how it works or what it means, every website owner is at least vaguely familiar with the concept of search engine optimization. Although SEO is treated as a profit opportunity by many website development companies, it is essential if you want your website to be found and highly indexed in online searches. Beware of companies (often contacting you via spam email or telemarketing calls) who promise you #1 search engine placement on Google. 99% of those are scams. You know those telemarketing calls. The caller ID probably shows a local phone number, you answer the phone, wait a second, then hear a “bloop” sound, followed by somebody from a boiler room in Bangalore who tells you his name is Michael. The same people might be calling you another day, pretending that they are from the “Windows Help Desk” or “Apple Care”, telling you that your Windows computer or iCloud account has been compromised and that they are coming to your rescue.

There are no magic wands or shortcuts to effective SEO. Some people try to automate the process, typically using website plug-ins, but there is nothing like carefully incorporating it into the construction of the site. Important components are a carefully written page title, description, proper alt tags behind photos and graphics, open graph content, and a data feed for search engine robots. Most importantly, carefully written text where keywords are king. Many people comment that few people read text these days. Well, my answer is that the 10% of people who still care to read will appreciate the text on your site, and search engine robots devour every word. Make them count!

GMB

Another very important SEO factor is your listing on Google My Business. Your Google My Business profile is extremely important and under your full control. Start by claiming your Business Profile if you have not done so already. Then check that all of the contact information is correct. This includes the name of your business; your correct address, phone number, and website address; and your hours. Your campground is open 24 hours a day, so don’t let potential guests see the word “Closed”. Of course, update these hours in your off-season.

Choose the most appropriate category for your business, if it is not already showing, then choose appropriate secondary categories. There are over 3,000 categories to choose from, so be specific. The most obvious choices are “campground” and “RV park”. You have little control over the description that Google shows; however, you can write a “from the business” description. Select attributes (such as “free Wi-Fi” or LP gas) listing any of the full range of your park’s amenities. Be sure to add (and update!) photos on a regular basis, showcasing only the best available images. You can even add videos and Google 360 videos, all of which help to create greater engagement. Speaking of engagement, ask your best customers to write reviews; post questions and answers; and set up messaging.

KISS

Far from being unique to website, the acronym for “Keep it simple, stupid” should influence most aspects of marketing. Some people seem to think that, when it comes to websites, the more pages the merrier. Not true. Keep it simple and as concise as possible, with navigation that is consistent from page to page, that is located at the top of the page or the left-hand column, and is highly intuitive. Don’t make people guess because there is a chance they will guess wrong, and that is a source of frustration. For example, if the navigation says “Map”, does that mean your park’s Site Map, travel directions on Google Maps, or the “sitemap” of your website. Don’t waste clicks and your visitors’ time. Put your contact information on every page, without forcing people to click on a “Contact Us” link to access that information. Instead of just linking to your social media content, embed it into your Home page. Understand your target market, and ensure that your website is designed to appeal to those demographics – rather than missing the mark. Think smart!

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Gimme Some Truth

November 15th, 2020

“Gimme Some Truth” is one of my all-time favorite John Lennon songs, originally released in 1971 as “Give Me Some Truth” on the Imagine album. It is a song of frustration that addresses the nearly ever-present deception that was running rampant at the time. The song was produced by Phil Spector and featured a slide guitar solo by John’s fellow former Beatle, George Harrison. The song later became the subject of a 2000 documentary film Gimme Some Truth: The Making of John Lennon’s Imagine Album. Perhaps even more relevant today than it was in 1971, Gimme Some Truth is the title of a new deluxe box set of 36 remastered recordings that was released on October 9, 2000 – what would have been John Lennon’s 80th birthday.

I have been thinking the words “Gimme Some Truth” to myself quite a bit lately, not only when I watch the news or when I am presented with online or television advertising, but when I read press releases right here within the campground industry. I have always been a believer in the glass being half full, rather than half empty, and there is certainly nothing wrong with presenting things in a positive light. The problem is when the positive light crosses the spectrum into the realm of absolute deception. Having spent my career in advertising, I know the importance of putting a positive spin on things, but there is a chasm – not a fine line – between a positive spin and alternative facts. Keep this in mind when promoting your own business.

It has always been my belief that with the exception of an occasional run-down park with owners who are overdue for retirement, there are very few undesirable campgrounds, despite what might be suggested by sometimes negative reviews. There are simply instances where, perhaps due to the way that a park has been marketed, the wrong campers choose to book a stay at the wrong campground. Every campground has its ideal clientele, and it is important that your park is not marketed in a way that presents itself as something that it is not, encouraging reservations by the “wrong” campers. It is far better to be booked at less than full capacity than to book even a single guest who will spell trouble.

There is a long list of characteristics that determine the types of campers to which any particular park will appeal. Determine where your park fits within these parameters, then formulate how to positively but accurately portray your park to the masses of campers who are seeking out a park exactly like yours.

  • Is your park considered large, or is it small?
  • Is your park located near major attractions, or is it in a remote setting?
  • Does your park offer non-stop activities, or does it offer guests an opportunity to relax and “get away from it all”?
  • If your park is next to a busy highway, you may want to promote easy access but not peace and quiet. You should also not promote a peaceful setting if your park is down the road from a shooting range, a kennel, or other source of frequent noise.
  • On the same token, do not promote dark skies at your park if the sky actually glows with the light from a nearby shopping center parking lot.
  • Does your park cater to seasonal campers? If so, do your transient campers find it difficult to feel welcome?
  • Does your park cater to big rigs? If so, if tents and pop-ups are allowed, do their owners feel out of place?
  • If your park caters to an older, retired clientele, are families still welcome? Will visiting grandchildren feel like they are in a reform school rather than a campground?
  • Is your campground at the upper scale of predominant rates in your area, or is it highly affordable?

Then there is a set of questions where the answers are not quite black and white, but where the wrong expectations can lead to serious misunderstandings and the ever-dreaded negative reviews:

  • If you say that pets are welcome, do you have a list of breeds that are not allowed? Telling a pet owner that his dog is part of a “vicious breed” is comparable to telling a parent that his child is ugly.
  • If Wi-Fi is provided at your park, are you describing its coverage, bandwidth and reliability without exaggeration?
  • If you say that your park is “handicapped accessible”, is your park truly making an effort toward ADA compliance?

Finally, in the midst of a pandemic, are you making everything as clear as possible prior to your guests’ arrivals?

  • Are you flexible in instances of cancellations and refund requests, particularly during a pandemic?
  • If activities and nearby events are either cancelled or subject to cancellation, and if nearby attractions are closed or operating under limited capacities, are you informing your guests to the best of your ability at the time of reservation?
  • If your guests are required due to either state regulations or simple common sense, to wear facemasks, practice social distancing or avoid assembling into groups, are those policies disclosed at the time of reservation?
  • If your store, snack bar, swimming pool, or other facilities are closed, operating with restrictions or require reservations for use, are your guests aware of those limitations prior to their arrival?

As you can see, many if not most problems arise from a lack of careful and honest communications, and those communications start well in advance of the time of registration. Try not to present your park with the words that you might think your potential guests might like to hear rather than an accurate and thorough description of what the park offers, what it doesn’t offer, and why the majority of your guests like it for exactly what it is. Life is too complicated, and running your business profitably is more challenging now than ever. Help yourself to succeed in that endeavor by treating your prospective guests to the truth that they deserve.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

The Reservation Software Decision

September 4th, 2020

I am probably asked which reservation software I recommend more frequently than any other question. My answer is generally the same each time, responding that I do not recommend any particular reservation software package over another. They all appear to have their advantages and disadvantages, and one that is right for one business may not be right for another. In the 2020 edition of the Woodall’s Campground Management Business Directory, there are 45 businesses listed under the “Reservation Management Systems & Software” category. Essentially, those are too many choices. What I invariably end up doing is to provide a list of questions to ask when comparing the various products on the market.

As with any business investment, you should select software based upon its ability to streamline your workload and increase your profitability. Reservation software is a long-term investment, which is why software is likely depreciated in your accounting and on your tax returns. Consistency is good, particularly when it means that you do not need to learn new processes and your customers are not required to adapt to something unfamiliar. As with anything online, the ultimate determination of success is a highly intuitive end-user experience.

Most reservation systems are part of a broader back office software suite, not simply standalone reservation engines, allowing you to manage your available inventory in real time. They might include customer relationship management and property management system functions. The more robust the package, the more useful the software will be as you manage not only your inventory of campsites and rental units but your overall customer base.

When people tell me that they would like to make a change from an existing software suite, I generally ask them why they are thinking about making a change. Are they contemplating the costs and the learning curve, which also applies to employees? What is it in particular that they dislike about their existing software? I then generally advise them to talk to their existing account representative to see if they can address the new concerns (that may, in fact, not have existed at the time of the original set up.) More often than not, the “problem” is a lack of communication with the existing supplier.

The Important Questions

First and foremost, what are the costs involved? Nothing of value in the business world is free of charge. Is there an initial purchase price, plus a fixed monthly fee or a per-transaction fee? If there are transaction fees, are you expected to pass those along to your customers or are you expected to absorb them into your pricing as a cost of business? Customers will balk at a hefty fee, and absorbing that same fee could seriously impact your profit margins.

Do you have to pay fees on ALL reservations, keeping in mind that most of your customers are finding you from your own website, not the reservation engine? Generally speaking, nobody likes to loosen the lid on a pickle jar, only to pay someone else to actually remove the lid. If you are going to be paying a fee only on stays that are booked through the reservation engine, is the reservation engine competing against your website in search results?

Beyond the pricing issue, here are what I consider to be a few essential questions to ask:

  1. Will you have an account representative assigned to your business to offer support during the setup process, the learning curve, and beyond? Are there limitations or costs to that technical support, or are you simply expected to watch (and understand) video tutorials?
  2. Does it support dynamic pricing? How flexible is your control of that pricing? Keep in mind that you are looking into a long-term investment. Even if you are not engaged in the use of dynamic pricing today, you are highly likely to do so within the foreseeable future.
  3. Does it allow you to determine either a flat or percentage reservation deposit?
  4. Does it allow users to reserve add-ons at the time the reservation is made? For example, can a guest reserve a golf cart, or perhaps linen service in a rental unit?
  5. Of course you expect the reservation process to be responsive, working on both computers and the full spectrum of mobile devices. Do they have a responsive widget that can be embedded into your website? If not, who is responsible for making your landing page look like your website?
  6. Does the reservation engine support languages other than English, not simply using Google Translate?
  7. Is the reservation process ADA compliant? PCI compliant? GDPR compliant (important for any reservations originating from the European Union.)
  8. Can the reservation engine integrate with Facebook, where many of your customers may be ready to book?
  9. If the landing page URL changes, will the old link redirect to the new destination page?

Also important, is the reservation software doing more than passively processing reservations? Does it allow you to follow up with users who do not actually complete the reservation process? E-commerce companies have long utilized “abandoned shopping cart” tracking software, with the understanding that somebody who went through 90% of the buying process is one of your best candidates to turn into a paying customer. Perhaps a person was sidetracked by a phone call, the needs of another family member, or it was simply time to call it a night. A little reminder will not hurt and can often resuscitate the otherwise uncompleted transaction. Choosing a real-time reservation services provider is a very important consideration, which is one of the primary reasons that so many park owners choose to go with a franchise system such as KOA. If you are the more typical unaffiliated “mom and pop” campground owner, you need to make this decision carefully. Too many people have been forced into making a hasty decision because their reservation services provider suddenly ceased operation. Do your homework and make your decision when you are not under duress, choosing a company that you expect to be a key player ten or more years down the road.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Adapt to Changing Times

August 27th, 2020

If there is one thing that is certain with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that it has almost universally inflicted a negative impact upon small businesses, campgrounds included. It has been a wild and bumpy ride that is far from over as I pen this column in late June of 2020. In most instances, the timing of the pandemic could not have been worse, delaying openings and leading to a wave of cancellations at the start of the season.

Campgrounds that were forced to delay their openings longer than those in most other states, understandably upset that their ability to generate income had been severely hindered, may end up faring better in the long run compared to parks in states that jumped the gun at reopening. With several Northeastern states – particularly New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts – representing early hot spots for the virus, some of the less densely populated states may be hitting their peaks at the height of the summer camping season – a situation that could end up being far worse than a delayed opening.

Wherever you fit in the continually evolving map, there is no question that you are going to have to get creative in order to at least partially offset an overall loss of anticipated income.

Reach Out to Non-Campers

Despite the fact that the airlines and the hotel industry are making serious attempts to persuade the public that they have made changes to safeguard the health and well-being of their passengers and guests, some of the last things that most people want to do at this time would be to take a non-essential flight and stay in a big hotel. There is even less desire to take a cruise (if the cruise lines were open) or to be a part of a large indoor event (if most of them were not cancelled out of respect for both common sense and the public welfare.) The hotel industry is adapting what are called enhanced cleaning protocols to sanitize guest rooms, common areas, and key touch points. For the time being, guests should not expect breakfast buffets, welcome drinks or mini bars, and nobody wants to ride on a crowded elevator with a man who is not wearing a mask and who just sneezed.

With all of the hesitancies that are challenging the hotel industry, campgrounds are rightly perceived as a much safer lodging alternative, particularly those that offer full-service cabins and other accommodations that appeal to people who have been non-campers. Of course, you need to practice those same enhanced cleaning protocols that apply to hotel rooms; however, you should embrace the opportunity to be able to reach out to a new category of guests who are new to the camping experience. This might mean stepping up your offerings of services and amenities that might have been expected in a more conventional setting, many of which offer new opportunities for added income. For example, just as hotel guests might rely on room service to order meals, you might offer deliveries of things like ice, firewood, and even pizza. You might also want to consider advance check-ins, express check-outs, escorting new guests to their sites, and adding branded face masks and sanitizer products to your store inventory.

Consider Extending Your Season

Although experts within the medical and infectious disease communities are currently predicting a 75% likelihood of a second wave of outbreaks in the fall (based upon previous pandemics in 1918 and 1957), should this not occur, you might want to consider extending your camping season beyond its usual closing date. This represents another means of compensating for some of your likely losses both at the start and at the height of your season. The interest in camping is less likely to wane at the end of the summer as may have been the case in past years. Schools may or may not be reopening, and spectator sports like NCAA and NFL football are likely to either be cancelled or have restricted attendance. In normal years, unless your park was located in close proximity to an NCAA college campus or sports stadium, the seasonal interest in these events tended to divert a portion of your guests away from camping. Those guests might now be quite willing to continue their camping seasons, particularly after getting off to a late start.

Recruit Seasonal Campers

There has always been somewhat of a quandary between whether a park should have a greater number of seasonal or transient campers. When occupancy rates are high, there is no question that transient sites generate more income than seasonal sites. On the other hand, seasonal sites represent stable income that is as safe and secure as money in the bank. In 2020, with phased business re-openings in most states, there is no question that predominantly seasonal or all-seasonal parks fared far better than parks that cater primarily to overnight guests. In particular, parks that rely upon their proximity to major nearby attractions have been hurt badly while many of those attractions have remained closed. Hurt even worse have been parks that cater to a highly mobile clientele, located midway along a highway connecting two major attractions.

Now might be the right time to consider converting a number of your park’s overnight sites into seasonal sites. With that same desire for safety and security, many campers are showing a first-time interest in becoming seasonals. Promote the availability of these new sites on your website and social media, not only for 2021 but offering pro-rated opportunities for the current season to your existing guests. If you have transient guests who are returning for multiple stays, reach out to them personally to offer them one or more incentives to become seasonals. Sometimes it is simply a matter of asking them what it would take on your part to persuade them to make the decision.

When it is necessary to adapt to changing times, it is important to be flexible and to think of innovative ways to safeguard your income, profitability, and your ultimate business survival.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

What Is Normal?

July 27th, 2020

We hear a lot of talk about the “new normal” and a “return to normal”, but what exactly is normal? I will admit to being a lover of language and linguistics. The dictionary defines normal as “conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.” We can also get into some more statistical definitions involving standard deviation from the mean, along with more technical definitions in fields such as geometry, medicine and sociology. Allow me to offer a general definition for normalcy or normality (two synonyms with identical meanings as the more awkward and far less frequently used word “normalness”) as a condition that meets currently conventional cultural expectations. “Current” because what is normal changes over time, and “cultural” because what is normal varies among different social environments. Cricket is fairly unique to the British, bullfighting is fairly unique to the Spanish and football only begins to make sense to Americans, but they are all considered normal in their own environments.

In general, humans are not that interested in what is average, more likely considering it to be either boring or mundane. What we want is something that appeals to us individually and that falls within our own comfort zones. That is part of the big appeal of camping, and that is the reason for such a wide range of choices when it comes to campgrounds. Unless a person suffers from agoraphobia, there is a campground and its accompanying social experience that represents a perfect and easily accessible escape to the comfort of what constitutes that person’s “normal”.

A “Comfort Zone” or a “Twilight Zone”?

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly thrown us all for a loop. Travel restrictions, social distancing, and the wearing of masks have certainly erected barriers to normal social experiences. As we cautiously evolve toward a state of normalcy – either old or new – comfort zones will vary from one person to another. In the opening narration of the first season of The Twilight Zone, host Rod Serling defined what he called that fifth dimension: “It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge.” We are in that Twilight Zone right now!

For example, as I am writing in early June of 2020, there is no way that I am ready to sit in a movie theater, attend a music festival, sit in a sports stadium, join a peaceful demonstration, take a seat on an airliner, and even think about attending a convention. I have written more than once in the past about my concerns over the lack of sanitation and cleanliness in hotels, and I am not yet assured that the hotel industry is up to meeting the new challenges. I already had no intention of ever taking a cruise again in my lifetime. Maybe I have always been more aware of sanitary standards than the average person, and a compromised immune system makes me ever more cautious; however, until each business category and individual businesses within each of those categories can put me into my comfort zone, those businesses will remain in their own twilight zones.

Campgrounds are in a much more persuasive position when it comes to meeting people in their comfort zones, as well as not worrying about contributing toward a spike in infections. Once interstate travel restrictions are eased, most people realize that staying in their own RV is just as safe as staying at home. Whether under state mandate or an abundance of precaution, it is up to individual campgrounds to offer the assurances that they have implemented measures to ensure the safety of their guests and employees. Some things will need to change, at least for the time being.

Shared Facilities and Group Activities

It is unfortunate that it sometimes takes a pandemic to open our eyes, but change is nothing new, especially when it comes to public health concerns. Two generations ago, who would have thought twice about people sitting around a swimming pool or involved in a group activity while smoking cigarettes? Even a decade ago, nobody would have given any thought to picking up their dog’s waste at the side of a roadway or trail. I am willing to venture a guess that there is nobody who yearns for the days when they could take a leisurely walk and accidentally step in a pile of dog waste.

As we exit from the current crisis, just as important as it is to outline your expectations for your guests’ behavior, it is necessary for you to outline what you are doing to alter your own business practices in the interest of your guests’ wellbeing. These are the assurances that will take those guests – both new and returning – from their twilight zones into their comfort zones, helping your business to recover from what has most assuredly been an economic disaster.

You will want to reassess standards in your shared facilities. This might include spacing out seating areas in pavilions, ensuring that separate employees in your store or snack bar are handling food and financial transactions, actively maintaining a housekeeping checklist in your rental units and restrooms, installing soap dispensers and hand dryers if they are lacking in your restrooms, and installing and maintaining hand sanitizer stations in frequent use areas. You will also want to reassess some of your planned activities and events. This might not be the best time to engage in shared food events such as potluck dinners, barbecues, or make-your-own sundaes. It is probably also not a good time to schedule events that involve close personal contact such as arm-wrestling contests or three-legged races. Your playground should be cleaned on a regular basis, and the clubs and balls on your mini-golf course should be sanitized when returned at the end of a game. A lot of this can be thought of as more of the “new common sense” rather than the new normal. We will get over this. Thinking over the concept of what is normal will help you to financially recover all that much sooner.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

COVID-19: Your Response

March 21st, 2020

There is no question that our world has been turned upside down within the last few weeks. Just when some people were concerned that the spring allergy season was about to begin, we have been faced with a worldwide pandemic of an entirely new and highly deadly virus called COVID-19. One impacted state after another has responded in rather serious fashion, starting with the states that were hit with the earliest concentrations of outbreaks, eventually leading to a nationwide response at the federal level.

Here where I live, in Massachusetts, we have been one of the most highly impacted states after Washington, New York and California. As I am writing, most of our schools and colleges are closed, restaurants and bars are closed, state and municipal offices are closed, shopping malls and most retail stores are closed, and hospitals and nursing homes are closed to visitors. Gatherings of 25 or more people have been prohibited, including concerts, sporting events, theaters, conferences (including at least one campground conference), and even church services and faith-based gatherings. The terms “social distancing”, “self-quarantine”, and “sheltering in place” have been added to our everyday vocabularies.

The Campground Industry

The impacts upon private campgrounds are evolving on a daily basis. Let us start by looking at the positive side of the situation. First of all, Americans are coming together like we have not in years, sharing a common determination to overcome the current crisis. Secondly, we will continue to find a healthy refuge in outdoor environments. If nearby public parks and campgrounds are closed as a result of the pandemic, you may be able to fill a new demand. Thirdly, campgrounds are not being hit nearly as hard as businesses in many other industries, including airlines, cruise lines, travel agencies, hotels, tourist attractions, and restaurants. In that sense, we can count our blessings. On the other hand, many campground owners have told me that their cancellations have exceeded their reservations in recent weeks. Fear and uncertainty do not drive consumer confidence and spending, and families who are facing layoffs at work no longer have discretionary income to spend on vacations.

Your Response

Keeping in mind that we are all in this together, it is time to waive your usual cancellation policies for the time being. Do not even ask questions. The tide will turn, and people will return to the businesses that treated them honorably and respectfully. Next, go out of your way to let your customer base know that you care about their health and well-being and that you are introducing new measures to ensure their safety. It is time for every business to introduce a personalized Coronavirus Statement. This statement should be thoughtfully written and personalized for your own unique situation. Outline any of your recreational amenities or services that will be temporarily closed, curtailed or limited, stressing how those actions have been taken in the interest of your guests and employees. Outline the measures that you have taken to maintain cleanliness in your facilities that remain open, including your store, restrooms, snack bar, playground, fitness room, and rental accommodations.

When you have carefully drafted your statement (and run it by other sets of eyes for proofreading!), share it on social media and post it to the Home page of your website, updating the statement as necessary, as the crisis evolves and hopefully subsides. To post this statement to your website, you can include it as text near the top of your Home page; however, you may want to consider the alternative of providing a prominent link to a PDF file that people may download, particularly if your statement is somewhat lengthy. Another advantage to the PDF option is that it will avoid having text related to the Coronavirus be what search engine robots are indexing, rather than text that outlines the features of your park. One word of caution is to ensure that your PDF file is tagged and ADA compliant. (Remember when ADA compliance was one of your biggest concerns a few months ago?)

The Impact Varies

Some campgrounds will be impacted more than others. If your park’s primary selling point is that it offers a remote natural setting, you might be offering the type of escape that will be sought by an even wider group of people. If your campground has proximity to local, state or federal parks that remain open and offer recreational opportunities, try to capitalize upon that positive situation. On the other hand, if your guests primarily stay at your park due to its proximity to one or more major tourist attractions that have been closed as a result of the pandemic, you will need to improvise a more creative approach. Similarly, if people have historically flocked to your campground to partake in a well-organized activity program, you may need to find alternatives that will involve smaller gatherings and greater opportunities for social distancing. You may want to even rethink or rename certain events. Just this morning, I found myself updating the activity schedule on a campground website, and the annual “Hooray! School’s Out for the Summer” weekend suddenly took on a different and less jovial connotation, at a time when most schools are closed for either the next two weeks or the entire semester. Prepare to adapt and modify your schedule.

Another impact will involve international travelers who would normally vacation in the United States. Many campgrounds have seen a steadily increasing volume of traffic from overseas, and many campgrounds in the Northeast rely upon an annual influx of guests from Canada. Travel from Europe is currently banned, as is traffic in both directions at the border crossings between the United States and Canada. It almost makes one long for the days when the greatest impediment to Canadian visitors was an unfavorable currency exchange rate! On the flip side, gasoline prices are currently at historic lows, which will help to encourage domestic travel.

The bottom line, as I sit here in mid-March, is that we have no idea where the chips will have fallen come Memorial Day and beyond. This may be the summer when people more than anything need to escape to the outdoors and experience a natural setting. It could even be that simply sitting around a campfire could be exactly the cure that the doctor has ordered.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Revisiting Lessons from the Wine Trail

January 20th, 2020

Five years ago I encouraged campground owners to take a close look at the tasting events at wineries. I wrote how wineries – and small wine producers in particular – rely upon tastings as they seek new and expanded markets, and how many campgrounds share the same marketing objectives.

I wrote how tastings meet one of several objectives:

  • To introduce wine enthusiasts who are familiar with a brand, have previously purchased its wines, or who are likely to purchase (often in case quantities) new vintages that they might enjoy.
  • To introduce a winery to connoisseurs who might be unfamiliar with its offerings.
  • To welcome casual wine consumers who are still refining their tastes and who will appreciate the time that is spent to help them to broaden their palates.

As opposed to the free tastings that were commonplace a generation ago, most tastings today are fee-based. Nonetheless, wineries know that their costs of running tastings are roughly twice the actual cost of the wines that they pour. As is usually the case, smaller wine producers have far greater costs and competitive challenges; however, what they also understand is the old adage about having to spend money to make money.

My wife and I recently spent a week touring wineries and attending a variety of mostly private reserved tasting experiences in the Sonoma Valley of California. Fortunately, we were there about two weeks prior to the Kincaid Fire that essentially shut down the county for several harrowing days, when the fires and destruction from the 2017 Tubbs Fire were still in the forefront of most people’s memories and far too evident in Santa Rosa and other parts of the county.

The key to wine events these days – whether in Northern California or at small local wineries that might be closer to your place of business – is to provide visitors with a variety of options. Yes, you can still belly up to the bar with ten or twenty other people for a $20.00 flight of tastings consisting of two ounce pours, usually on a walk-in basis. There are also wineries that schedule weekend entertainers, with outdoor seating to accommodate several hundred people who will buy their wines by the glass or the bottle. Many wineries will also offer pairing options with charcuterie, cheese, or fruit plates, an ancillary source of income.

Regardless of the level of tasting, an important component is the conversation between a knowledgeable person pouring the wine and his guests. People are asked for their thoughts and opinions regarding the taste, flavors that come to mind, and initial impressions. The discussions are always friendly, never condescending, and encourage a sense of discovery.

Our favorite events from our recent vacation week were private 2-3 hour tours and tastings that were reserved weeks in advance. These included a black glass tasting at Matanzas Creek Winery; a Meritage Blending Experience at Dry Creek Vineyard, where we carefully tasted, blended, and bottled our own bottles to take home; a truly behind the scenes tour at Francis Ford Coppola Winery; a private tour and lunch at Benziger Family Winery, led by Jill Benziger; a private tasting of reserve wines at Ledson Winery & Vineyards; and a Pinzgauer Excursion (on a six-wheel European military vehicle) at Gundlach Bundschu Winery and Vineyards, guided by Rob Bundschu. Some of these remind me of my visit to Robert Mondavi Winery back in the mid-1970’s, when Michael Mondavi was pouring the wines at the tasting.

Not everyone who attends a wine tasting makes a purchase of even a bottle of wine, let alone a case or more. That said, most of these pricey private events are tailored toward selling either wine club memberships or cases of reserve wines that are only available at the winery itself but that can currently be shipped directly to consumers in 43 states. Although there is no pressure to purchase (because your tasting fee will already cover all costs), the hosts are earning commissions on sales.

A Campground’s Perspective

Campgrounds can also explore new ways of reaching out to their customers, generally translating into three groups of people who are very similar to the people who attend wine tastings:

  • Your existing campers, who have stayed with you through the years (and sometimes generations!) but who still need to be reminded that you care, that you continue to offer new activities or amenities, and that there is no reason for them to consider camping elsewhere.
  • Campers who have never stayed at your park and who need to meet you and learn about what you have to offer.
  • Non-campers who are just exploring and getting introduced to the concept and need some assurance that they will enjoy the experience.

Either in your early or late shoulder seasons, how about holding a Camper Appreciation weekend, open house, or another special event? How about a private event for your seasonal campers, possibly even being held off-site, where they will be given the opportunity to renew their seasonal contracts for the following year? Make any such events significant and special, with genuine costs incurred on your part. If possible, make it a free event; otherwise, keep the cost to a bare minimum. I am not talking about a potluck dinner, where the people attending are asked to provide the food and you simply provide soft drinks and snacks! This should be a truly memorable marketing opportunity for your park. You may want to consider requiring reservations or capping the total number of people who attend at the number that you can comfortably accommodate.

Keep in mind that not everybody staying at your park is looking for the lowest cost experience. Many are willing to pay for a special and somewhat exclusive experience that has value added. What can you offer that is equivalent to the access to reserve wines that are exclusively available at a winery?

Whether or not you offer a loyalty card, you know the people who are your frequent and most profitable guests. Try to reward them and take them to the next level! Can they be encouraged to become seasonal campers or to stay even more frequently with a simple incentive or two?There are many ways to expand your reach as you seek to introduce new people to your park and to encourage existing campers to become even more profitable. Take some examples from the wine industry and use them to your advantage!

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Is Your Customer Service Succeeding or Failing?

May 2nd, 2019

I attended a trade show in Florida late last year, flying into and out of Daytona Beach International Airport, a smaller airport that is serviced by only three airlines (Delta, American, and JetBlue) with a limited number of arrivals and departures. During the event, we stayed at the Hilton Hotel that was the designated host hotel for the conference. At the close of the conference, we were anxious to return home to Bradley International Airport. We had a connecting flight in Charlotte, where the airlines were already cancelling flights in advance of a large storm that had a bullseye on the Carolinas. Timing was critical.

Our flight out of Daytona Beach was on a plane that arrived with a mechanical issue that needed to be addressed, delaying departure on this, the last flight out of the airport for the evening. The delays were extended, due to the fact that there are no technicians available in Daytona Beach to sign off on a safety report. The plane was not moving until after a technician could drive in from Orlando. The gate counter had a line of people who were trying to explore their alternatives, essentially the choice between spending another night in Daytona Beach or waiting for the plane to be approved for its late departure. Unless your final destination was Charlotte, you were going to be stranded there for at least another day.

Some of the passengers were more irate than others, taking out their frustrations on the gate agents, seemingly without understanding that the situation was beyond the control of those airline employees.  In our instance, treating them with due respect, one of the gate agents and her supervisor went well out of their way to find alternate arrangements to get us home with the least delay possible. Flying to another airport, such as Boston or Providence, was not an option because our car was parked at our home airport outside of Hartford. American Airlines departures from Daytona Beach only fly to Charlotte, so our workaround involved getting us to another airport with alternate destinations.

The airline pulled our checked bags (refunding our baggage fees), paid for a taxi to take us to the airport in Jacksonville, arranged for a ticket agent to work overtime to meet us at the ticket counter in Jacksonville (that was otherwise closed by the time of our arrival), and paid for us to spend the night at a Hilton Hotel near the airport so we could catch an early morning flight that would connect in Philadelphia rather than Charlotte – ahead of the coming storm. This was customer service above and beyond anything that could be reasonably expected. Let me add that we were not flying first class but in economy seats.

If you have been following the news recently, you probably recall that several airlines have suffered some widely reported public relations disasters. There was the United Airlines incident where a passenger’s puppy died after they were forced to stow it in the overhead bin and another incident where a passenger was dragged from an overbooked United Airlines flight when he refused to voluntarily surrender his seat to another passenger. Recovering from bad press can be a slow and difficult process. Fortunately for most small businesses, customer relations incidents generally occur on a one-on-one basis. As long as you do the right thing, reasonable people will appreciate your efforts. These are example of successful customer service. The customer service failures in this story begin with Hilton Hotels.

The ticket agent working overtime at the American Airlines counter in Jacksonville was tasked with making our hotel arrangements at the nearby DoubleTree by Hilton airport hotel. When he called both Hilton reservations and the local hotel’s front desk, he was told that no rooms were available. I fired up my laptop, went to my Hilton Honors account, and saw that there were plenty or rooms available at the hotel. What Hilton would not do – after 10:00 PM on a night where they had dozens of vacant rooms that would otherwise generate zero income – was honor the so called “distressed passenger” discounted rate that is the usual arrangement between hotels and the airlines. We had to pay for the room ourselves, and then provide a receipt to the airline for reimbursement (which was processed and paid quite promptly.) Think of this from a campground’s perspective. If you have unsold inventory at the last minute on the day before the start of a summer weekend, you are likely to offer space at a discount rather than leave a site vacant. For a hotel, 10:00 PM on the night of arrival is definitely the last minute to sell an otherwise vacant room.

Also if you have been following the news, you know that both Hilton Hotels and its DoubleTree brand have suffered some public relations disasters over the past year, not the least of which was the incident in December of 2018 where a registered guest (who happened to be African American) was evicted from the DoubleTree Hotel in Portland, Oregon for using his cell phone in the lobby. With bad press like that, you would think that DoubleTree by Hilton Hotels would be going out of its way to try to cater to its customers. Public relations disasters are almost always preventable, and public relations success stories almost always result from employees who have been empowered to do the right thing, every time and under all circumstances. Of course, this does not mean that every Hilton or DoubleTree Hotel is problematic, but bad press for any member of a franchise casts a shadow of doubt over the entire chain.

Some might argue that providing exceptional customer service is too costly and time-consuming or that the good deeds are rarely recognized beyond the direct recipient. I would argue that consistently positive customer relations can serve as the foundation of a company’s success. In the long run, it is a winning strategy.

Wait, There’s More …

Did I mention how pleased I was with American Airlines? Well, it did not take long for this enthusiasm that American Airlines had generated to get flushed totally down the drain. Allow me to explain …

Three months later, I happily returned to American Airlines to book a flight from Hartford to Colorado Springs, paying $463.00 for my round-trip fare. My return flight was one of 40 flights that were cancelled on March 7, 2019 when 14 of American Airlines’ Boeing 737-800s were taken out of service due to mechanical issues with overhead bins.

Upon notification of the flight cancellation, I called and spoke with an American Airlines ticketing agent who, over the course of a lengthy telephone conversation, assured me that my ticket had been transferred to United Airlines for a return to Hartford via United. On the basis of this assurance, I checked out of my hotel, returned my rental car, and proceeded to the United Airlines ticket counter in Colorado Springs, where I was told that I did not have a ticket.

Going back and forth between the United and American ticket agents in Colorado Springs, I was told that American Airlines would not transfer my ticket because I had purchased a basic economy fare. I understood that this fare meant that I would board in the last group, not have pre-assigned seating, would not be eligible for upgrades, and that I would not qualify for flight changes or refunds due to changes in my plans. I was there to fulfill my end of the agreement and was not of the understanding that this fare would disqualify me for the transfer of my ticket to another airline in an instance of a mechanical failure on the part of American Airlines.

Without any viable options, I paid United Airlines $1,312.00 (plus a $30.00 baggage fee) for economy seating on my return flight. The American Airlines ticketing agent in Colorado Springs told me that I could contact American Airlines for reimbursement for the unused portion of my fare. I requested not only that reimbursement but reimbursement for the full amount that I paid to United Airlines after I had been told that American had transferred my ticket.

While I understood that American Airlines was under no obligation to offer me this compensation, I would hope that under consideration of my past loyalty and future travels, it would choose to do the right thing. It did not. It has been over 6 weeks since I wrote to American Airlines, and they have not even responded to my letter, let alone issue a refund. I know that, like several other airlines, American has been taking a hit with the grounding of its Boeing 737 Max 8 fleet. On the other hand, they have not been too preoccupied to prevent them from spamming me on a daily basis, promoting dubious travel deals and a variety of ways to earn AAdvantage miles. I will pass.

The lesson I have learned, in addition to NEVER again buying a basic economy airfare ticket, is that big companies like American Airlines can never be trusted to do the right thing in the long run. My enthusiasm has been crushed, and my loyalty has been obliterated. Thanks for nothing, American Airlines!

This post was written by Peter Pelland

The Basics of Branding

January 1st, 2019

If somebody asked you the name of the font used on your latest brochure or directory ad, would you be able to answer that question? In fact, if you paid somebody to design that advertising for your business, how long would it take that designer to identify the font? I actually encountered a situation about a year ago where a campground owner asked her website designer for the name of the font that was used as a substitute for a logo on her website. The website designer responded that she did not know, and that it was “just something that she thought looked nice.”

According to Thomas Phinney, the CEO of FontLab, there are perhaps 300,000 fonts in the world today, contained within about 60,000 font families (representing variations of a single font.) Those 300,000 fonts are not your biggest concern; however, the fonts that are used in your own advertising – from your website to print to signage to apparel – should all be singularly consistent. Fonts are one of the key components of branding, where “close enough” or “looking nice” is just not good enough to protect the integrity of your business.

There is only one font that represents such universally recognized brand names as Ford, Coca-Cola, AT&T, and Kleenex. For example, the font used in the Coca-Cola logo is called Spencerian script, a popular font in the United States from about 1850 to 1925, adapted by Coca-Cola in 1885 with special alternate character ligatures for the capital letters “C”. Needless to say, that font has shown some staying power! Also script based, the Kleenex logo is based upon the Montauk Pro Bold font, with proper kerning to connect the letters as if they were written with one continuous swipe of a marker.

Fonts such as these were not chosen randomly, even though we years later think of them as everyday acquaintances. The characteristics of various fonts trigger a series of predictable emotions – from strength and reliability and trustworthiness to modernity and cutting edge and fun. These fonts then go hand in hand with color, which is also anything but random. I still own sets of the old Pantone® Process Color System swatch books that were the color reference standard in the days before the personal computer came into everyday usage. Those color values allowed designers to communicate color values with a consistency from one project to another, allowing for the matching of very specific colors on press. In theory, computers and monitors today can reproduce as many as 16.7 million colors, described as various combinations of red, green, and blue (RGB) color pixels. In practice, those colors are often difficult to share from one computer to another because identical colors may appear with considerable differences when viewed on two uncalibrated monitors.

Then there is the issue of the differences between the RGB (monitors) and CMYK (print) color spaces, which do not even come close to perfectly overlapping and translating from one to the other. Generally speaking, if colors are to be reproduced both online and in print, it is necessary to work in the CMYK color space, where the differences will be less pronounced when converting to RGB than when converting in the opposite direction. None of this is particularly easy, which is part of the rationalization for turning to experts for assistance. When you thought Kodak®, you thought yellow and red, and when you think UPS®, you think brown, but the world has gotten more complex. Fonts and colors are only two components that come into play in the design of an effective logo that will stand the test of time. (Keep Coca-Cola in mind as your long-term goal!)

You can design your own logo, use clipart, buy one online for $79.00, or find thousands of graphic design hobbyists who will design you a logo, of sorts, for $5.00 on fiverr.com. You will get what you pay for. Work with a single designer (it is not a competition!), expect multiple concepts and revisions, reject clip art, expect multiple formats including a vector file, and expect to pay a fair price. Ask yourself if that designer in Bangladesh or the Philippines has any understanding of the concept of camping.

Along with a logo, try to develop a tagline, something that is clever, not a cliché. It is almost not necessary to identify the companies associated with the following taglines, but I will disclose them at the end of this article if you happen to get stumped on one:

  • Can You Hear Me Now?
  • Where’s the Beef?
  • When You Care Enough to Send the Very Best.
  • Think Small.
  • Just Do It.
  • We Try Harder.
  • You Deserve a Break Today.

Franchises from McDonald’s to Kampgrounds of America (KOA) recognize the importance of consistency in everything from fonts to colors to taglines, but you do not need to run a franchise business in order to think smart like one. Once you have established your branding, it needs to be used everywhere, without exception. This includes your signage, your building exteriors and interiors, and your apparel and branded merchandise. Branding is inherently not “generic” in any sense of the word. When there is a range full of cattle that all looks alike, you need to make your cattle stand out from the rest. It’s all about branding.

(Need help with matching the taglines with their corporate parents? Here you go: Verizon, Wendy’s, Hallmark, Volkswagen, Nike, Avis, and McDonald’s.)

This post was written by Peter Pelland