When it comes to promoting your business, there is always a challenge in choosing between taking a conventional or a more original approach. The choices are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and it is more likely that you need to find a balance between the two. For most small businesses, the bulk of their advertising budgets are split among online resources, broadcast media, and to an ever-declining degree, print. Campgrounds are somewhat unique in that, unlike other typical small businesses, their customer base is generally regional, national (and even international) rather than local. While the local automobile dealership, law firm or home improvement contractor will spend a significant amount of money on local radio, television and newspaper, these outlets would almost totally miss the mark in attempting to reach a campground’s less localized customer base. With campgrounds, the primary means of marketing will be a mix of online (which will likely include their own websites, third-party websites, social media, and a supplement of online advertising) and print (which will likely include collateral advertising such as brochures or rack cards, directory advertising, and occasionally direct mail.) Many campgrounds will also participate in off-season RV and travel shows.
The objective will always be the same, and that is to reach a base of both new and repeat customers in a manner where the messaging is consistent, distinctive, and cost-effective in terms of return on investment. There are decisions to be made, and one of your key decisions will be whether to take a familiar marketing posture or a more original approach. An original approach will catch attention and likely allow your business to stand out from its competition, but it must be done in a manner that nonetheless clearly identifies your business as an outdoor hospitality offering. It must work within the usual distribution channels and fit within your budget. Taking collateral advertising as an example, a rack card or brochure with an unconventional format might stand out on its own; however, a taller, wider, or die-cut piece might fail to fit within literature distribution racks, as well as being more costly to produce. The nicest piece of literature that will not work within the usual distribution channels will amount to a total failure, as will a piece of literature that leaves prospective customers confused regarding the actual identity of your business.
The online components of your marketing campaign can be even more challenging. Not only does your message need to appeal and be clear in the eyes of prospective customers, but it needs to be equally clear to search engine robots or it will never reach its intended audience – unless you want to throw a significant sum of money against the wind in online advertising. With digital marketing – websites in particular – there is that choice between the tried and true and going out on a creative limb. Let me point out that there is a difference – a big difference – between proven familiarity and a humdrum approach that comes with template-driven content and do-it-yourself website builders from companies such as Wix and GoDaddy. Unless you have the knowledge and capability to customize that content, templates provide a “one size fits all” approach at best. Yes, a template can be chosen that broadly applies to any general business classification, but just think how many diverse types of businesses all fall within the “travel” or “leisure” categories.
A proven layout and design will be both user-friendly and highly intuitive, where the key to customization lies much more within its content than the basic layout itself. Your message needs to “wow” people with high quality photography (where image quality is far more important than the quantity of images thrown onto a page), professionally produced video (that is ADA compliant and not in violation of any creative copyrights) if it is available, outstanding graphic design (that includes a distinctive logo and a coordinated color palette and carefully selected fonts that are based upon that logo), and text that is written like a Hallmark® greeting card. When everything works together, your website should be designed to fulfill a need or desire – in this case to get away from it all and spend a weekend or longer, not only in the outdoors, but at your particular park. Your website should provide your prospective guests with the type of validation that assures them that they are in the process of making the right decision by choosing your park. Elements such as those quality photos or videos and credible testimonials help to provide that validation, while spelling mistakes and unanswered questions can encourage the same guest to seek out alternative options. There may be only a single opportunity to reach that first-time guest or to persuade a return guest to look no further, and you need to make that opportunity as persuasive as possible.
Human beings are highly social creatures, and therein lies much of the appeal of the camping and outdoor hospitality experience. Just think of all of the social environments that we have created for ourselves over time. These range from the communes of the 1960s to the gated communities that might be populated today by those same people in their retirement years. Other examples include fraternal organizations, veterans’ groups, alumni clubs, church congregations, social media groups on sites such as Facebook and Meetup, and even the local tavern. We have all seen automobile rallies and cruises that are populated by proud Corvette® owners or drivers of Mazda® Miatas®, and how often have you seen a single Harley-Davidson® motorcycle riding down the highway? Familiarity ensures that we will be within our own comfort zones whenever we leave the ultimate comfort zone – home. HINT: Particularly if your campground offers pavilions and a group camping area, why not reach out directly to these types of groups and rallies? If carefully executed, your tightly coordinated marketing campaign should present your campground as just such a community, where new members feel welcome and a desire to belong. Are you meeting that objective?
This post was written by Peter Pelland