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Reader Asks: To Market Smart Where Do I Start?

As an industry marketer and consultant I’m often asked advice on the most effective methods to digitally market an outdoor recreation business. While over the years we’ve seen platform changes, adopter uptake, and lots of lingo, smart park marketers continue to strive to deliver relevant content and customer engagement while keeping a sharp eye on their budget.

I recently heard from a park owner trying to find the right advertising/marketing mix. She asked:

“We have owned our campground going on four years and are still having trouble sifting through the quagmire of social media, print advertising, and the number of new camper-centric website “invitations” that keep popping up in our inbox. We are only human and certainly not made of money. We can’t do everything. What strategies are there for narrowing down the most effective media to focus our marketing dollars?” – Looking for Answers

Here’s my advice…

Reaching consumers, targeted consumers, in today’s marketing environment can present a real challenge for even the most seasoned marketers. Careful consideration must be given to maximize every single dollar spent. A high ROI is the goal. Keep in mind that dollars spent aren’t always a fee for service. Social media, email marketing, visual marketing may not have a hard dollar layout but certainly have a cost in time, learning curve, and effort.

Begin by identifying your target market. What are their age groups and do they respond better to tech (social, email, blogs, etc.) or touch (magazines, directories, flyers, etc.)? Do your guests travel many miles to visit your park or are they “just around the corner”? What type of camping do they prefer – pampered or rustic? Do you engage a more seasonal crowd or is your guest roster more transient? Do you offer/host special events or activities?

Each of these answers will bring you one step closer to discovering the most effective manner of reaching your target market. Add to your market research with this no-brainer: “the ask”. Any time a customer or prospect calls your reservations line or comes in to register for the evening ask them how they heard about you. Add this as a required field in your online reservations page. In a few short weeks a pattern will begin to emerge. If a particular camper-centric website or blog begins to come up in several mentions I’d advise looking into participating, especially if the cost is only your time, or with a bit more scrutiny on ROI if there’s a fee associated with it.

To help cut back on the last-seen media reply, you might consider using unique “coupon codes” in targeted communications. For example, “mention coupon code XYZ at check-in and receive a free (fill in the blank)”. Make the reward something your guest will value enough to remember to mention the code – say an ice cream cone or a discount on firewood. Use a different coupon code in each advertisement or platform and track the response. This will help you determine where your business is coming from. While there’s a small dollar cost associated with this technique it does work and will guide you when making next year’s marketing decisions.

Track the effectiveness of your online efforts via website analytics. If you are unsure of how to do this, work with your website developer or your web host. Google Analytics (GA) is an Enterprise-level (and free) tool to consider if you do not currently have analytics. Access GA reports via your private and personalized dashboard to discover how visitors found your website, referring websites, device usage, and even those coveted demographics including age and gender.

Digital Spending

Coming under the heading of time is money, you’ll want to spend some of your marketing budget online. Your website, email communications, and time (yours or a staff members) spent in the social media marketplace all have a cost associated with them. Determine those real costs, the revenue they return, and an acceptable ROI.

You don’t need to conquer the entire digital media universe in one fell swoop. Instead choose a few areas to focus upon based on your research results. In my experience working with parks of all sizes and economic situations, I’d recommend having a presence on Facebook, squeezing out every single drop of Google My Business juice possible, and developing some type of visual presence either via YouTube or Instagram.

While it’s not the preferred method, you can link social media accounts to post an update from one platform to all. But remember, posting is just part of the picture. You must respond and engage. That’s the “social” part of social media. Smart content planning can help but you’ll still need to put in the time to make it happen.

In addition to participating on networks, pay close attention to review sites. You can see what’s being said about you, your park, and the industry via Google Alerts or other similar tools. Use the great reviews on your website. Professionally respond to less than stellar reviews online if possible as well as with the individual if you feel that’s necessary.

Consider hiring an experienced SEO master to spend some quality time with your website, maximizing your content and backend site components for search engines. In conjunction with strong SEO, look into adding a Google AdWords expert to your team. They’ll examine your site and your analytics, offering strategic pay-per-click advertising recommendations to increase your website’s visibility and click-thrus.

If I had a little extra money left over, I’d hire a community manager to manage my content, cross-platform posts, and customer engagement. I might even hire them to writing a brief email blast or newsletter to be released on a regular basis. The consideration here is what the real cost of your time is to manage your social presence. Are you more valuable, could you be amping up your bottom-line elsewhere in your operation?

Real World

Set aside a piece of your budget to participate in trade shows. Working in tandem with your association is especially cost-effective. Many offer a brochure distribution service if you can’t be there in person. Consider sending brochures to visitor centers. Take part in a brochure distribution service such as the well-known and highly effective Anderson’s Brochure Distribution Service.

Directory ads are big bucks. Talk with your peers and ask them if they work with the directories do they see measurable results from their paid advertisements. Support your state association with an ad in the state campground directory, often circulated to visitor centers in your state as well as distributed through your state association’s marketing channels.

Consider print ads in a local rag if you are hosting a special event and are looking to bring in a day crowd in addition to overnight guests.

Be True to Thine Self

In a nutshell, LAF, understand your customers – who they are and where you can reach them. Deliver content they enjoy that matters in their world be it a short video, an informative brochure, or a simple ad. Make it measurable and don’t forget “the ask”.

Set specific goals for your time and money spent, track your results quarter over quarter, and don’t be afraid to shift course as the data dictates. After all, the one thing we can count on in our marketing efforts is the change that comes along with continuous improvement. And that’s advice you can take to the bank.