Most advertising is intended to build long-term brand awareness and customer loyalty, factors that are not measurable in immediate sales numbers. At other times, advertising is intended to generate a more immediate short-term response. This is the kind of advertising that is typified by the weekly department store or supermarket circular, with a list of specific items and prices. For a campground owner, both types of advertising will work, although short-term offers are generally far more effective after long-term brand awareness has already kicked in.
Let’s say it’s a Thursday morning, and you have 8 vacant campsites and 2 rentals available for the upcoming weekend. Leaving them unoccupied is lost income, and it is time to spring into action. If your average camping fee is $40.00 per night and your cabin rentals are $80.00 per night, just those vacancies on a Friday and Saturday night represent $960.00 in income, prior to any residual sales in your store, snack bar, game room, and elsewhere.
There are many cost-effective ways to reach people who are likely to respond to your offers, including newsletters, Tweets, and Facebook posts. The prerequisite is that you need a significant number of newsletter subscribers or followers on social media like Twitter or Facebook. If few people see your message, even an extraordinarily high response rate will generate little in terms of actual results. For a small business, that magic minimum number is generally in the 800 – 1,000 person range. With those 8 sites and 2 rentals to book, if your message reaches 1,000 people, you only need to attain a very realistic 1% rate of response. Building a significant number of people who will be likely to respond to your offers takes a combination of time and ingenuity, with ingenuity speeding up the process.
Building Your Numbers
Your first step is to grow the numbers of people who are subscribing to your newsletter or following your social media posts. Build your newsletter base by asking people to opt in during the online reservation process, asking them to “join your list” when they visit your booth at camping shows (preferably in real time, providing them with a laptop or tablet with Internet access), and including a sign-up form on your website. On Facebook, give people an incentive to “like” your page (but do not use “fangating” to force them to like the page in order to obtain the incentive). Encourage your followers to “share” and “retweet” your posts, helping to spread your message. Facebook Advertising is a highly effective and fairly inexpensive way to expand your reach. Just be sure to choose your demographics very carefully and always pay per click, not per impression. Of course, links to your social media pages should always be prominently featured on your website.
Very importantly, once you have gotten people to agree to receive your newsletter or to follow your posts, you must not abuse nor squander that privilege. Always provide timely and useful information that answers the reader’s question, “What’s in it for me?” Engage your followers, and get them excited about what you have to say. That generally means that you are providing them with some sort of offer that makes them feel like an “insider” who is receiving special treatment. Ideally, they will like what they read so much that they will look forward to hearing from you on a regular basis. Incidentally, that “regular basis” should usually not exceed once or twice a month for newsletters, three times a week for Facebook posts, and once or twice a day for Tweets. On one hand, you want to keep in touch, in order to avoid being forgotten. On the other hand, you do not want to become like an elderly uncle who seems to visit so often that he wears out his welcome. You work too hard to build a base of followers to see them unsubscribe or “unlike” your page.
Crafting Messages with a Sense of Urgency
Once you have the numbers of people within reach, it is time to present your followers with messages that will generate the desired response. There are generally three ways to accomplish this:
- “Use it or lose it” limited time offers.
- Limited availability.
- Special bonus incentives.
Vacancies “this weekend” definitely constitute limited time offers, and “only three sites available” represents limited availability. Limited time offers have been a staple of price/item advertising for decades. Retail sales always have expiration dates, with occasional exceptions such as JC Penney’s disastrous attempt at giving itself a makeover and “retraining” its customers back in 2012. Even auctions on eBay generally show last-minute surges in bidding in the closing minutes (and seconds) of the sale of a popular item. On the other hand, if you have purchased airline tickets recently, you may have noticed that the airlines will often indicate countdown numbers such as the “last 2 seats” (true or untrue) for a given flight. That is an example of generating sales based upon limited availability.
Perhaps even more effective are special bonus incentives. In fact, special bonus incentives can be remarkably effective when combined with either a limited time offer or limited availability. What kind of incentive could help to persuade people to reserve those vacant sites? Experiment with different offers to find ones that fit. Examples might include free early check-in (which costs you nothing), a free bundle of firewood (particularly popular with tent sites), waiving the fee for additional family members (within limits), or a free one-hour boat rental (during certain times when you know that your boats would likely be tied to a dock). Maybe list three bonus options, and let people choose the one that they want. It has been proven that there is always magic in giving people a choice of three.
Rich or poor, from all walks of life, every human being likes to get a deal … or at least be given that impression. Once again, your ingenuity comes into play to make your advertising message both compelling and successful. Give it a try!
This post was written by Peter Pelland