My son is a busy kid. In his 10 years on earth he’s been enrolled in baseball, basketball, tennis, ice hockey, karate, dance, pottery, chess, piano, architecture, Lego robotics, archery, music, and traditional summer day camp. Each program has had a lot to offer, but the one thing they could all benefit from is learning how to stand out to avid online researchers like me.
Close your eyes and imagine for a moment that the parent of a child you teach is recommending your enrichment program to another parent, telling them how absolutely wonderful, nurturing and inviting it is for their entire family.
Unable to resist the nirvana described by this parent, the friend registers their own child for a class, and they have the same incredible experience, finding it unlike anything offered by other programs in the community. So they tell a friend or relative and they can’t resist trying it either, so they register their child. And on and on it goes.
Of course it’s not as simple as that, right? Exceptional experiences with businesses are so rare that nobody tells just one person; they tell anyone who will listen, including strangers on social networks. What could this free marketing mean for your business? What financial milestones could you hit?
Open another location? Hire more teachers? Retain a marketing agency? Invest in better marketing technology?
It’s all within reach, and it’s as easy as delighting the families in your database right now — the ones that come through your doors every day with their precious cargo in tow. A little business savvy plus a dash of personalized automation, and you’ll have an army of community evangelists on your hands so unstoppable, that your biggest problem will be hiring fast enough to keep up with the waiting list.
We’re All Just Looking for a Tribe That Wants Us
When a parent searches for an art, music or other type of enrichment program for their child, a lot of things go into the decision, but the most important is the feeling that you really want their child to be in your class.
As your business grows, it can be easy to lose touch with the families that come and go with each week’s classes, and the only contact families may have for months at a time could be just a few minutes here and there with their child’s teacher. If you’re looking to make an impact on parent’s emotions, they need to feel connected to you, your teachers and your entire brand, and not like they’re just a “faceless mom with a credit card.”
How to Nurture Your Tribe
So how can you make parents know you like them, really really like them (as Sally Field would say)? It starts at the beginning, with how you register families for classes. Website signups should be easy, and email confirmations should be quick, fun and full of helpful information, like links to course-relevant blog posts written by your teachers. Right off the bat this positions your school as an expert in the field, making parents feel like members of an exclusive club, and lucky to be part of it.
Email Automation is a Tribe Builder’s Best Friend
Remember that parents are busier than ever, so send email reminders a couple days before classes start. If the child is attending an art class, include an introduction from the teacher and mention that art is messy business, so they might want to leave the Burberry pants at home. Tell a funny or embarrassing story. Engage them, make them laugh. If they’re starting a music class, embed a video of the teacher introducing him/herself with a silly song!
A few weeks into classes, consider doing what traditional schools do, and have a “back to school night” (or morning/afternoon). An informal reception is a great way for parents to get to know the teacher and director, meet other teachers at the school, see their child’s work, and ask questions about what they’ll do for the rest of the course. It also provides an opportunity to meet the parents of their children’s new friends and set up playdates.
About three quarters of the way through courses, an email should come from the director checking in with parents. The following can easily be accomplished with marketing automation software and workflows that use personalization tokens (in bold below):
I just wanted to check in with you about Matthew‘s painting class. Teacher Jessica tells me he is doing great, so I’d love your feedback about the program. We’re always looking for ways to improve our curriculum and keep our kids and families happy.
By the way, we have a few new blog posts on our website with easy at-home painting projects (the Farmer’s Almanac is predicting another rough winter, so maybe they’ll come in handy!):
If there’s anything we can do to make Matthew‘s last few weeks of class extra special, don’t hesitate to email or call.
Of course, those blog posts we just sent to Momma Jane are going to have calls-to-action advertising next season’s classes, winter camp programs, and how to book a birthday party (smart, eh?).
Remember, Kids Suck at Details
This is how a typical after school conversation goes in my house:
Owen, what did you do at school today?
Played with my friends.
Thankfully, his kindergarten teacher a few years ago was on to this, and the first day of school she sent a lovely personal email describing how “content” he was, how eagerly he contributed to class discussions, and that he tried to finish his lunch (because mom said he had to). It was a special email to receive on a special day for our family, and she did that for every parent in the class.
Keep Parents Updated With Weekly Newsletters
A personal email to each family after each class would be a lot of work, so consider sending a weekly newsletter. It will help them feel connected to your school and what their child is doing in the classroom, because I can assure you, they’re getting the “I played with my friends” response at home.
To produce a successful newsletter, simply ask your teacher to write a letter to parents each week describing what happened in class. Any specific anecdotes or clever “overheard in class” quotes that will make them laugh or go “awww” are great things to include.
If you run an art program, for example, consider having your teachers take photos each week of the students artwork, even if it’s a photo of a wall gallery (although it would be cooler if it were an online gallery!). If possible, include each week’s lesson plan recreating how parents can do a project at home with their child. It will give them something familiar to do on a snow day or during a school break, some of the longest days of the year for parents!
If you run a music program, consider filming a short video of the end-of-class song. It doesn’t take much effort to make parents’ eyes water and love you for loving their child so much that you would do that for them. They’ll send the video to friends, grandparents, anyone who will watch it. If you use HubSpot for your marketing platform, this is simple to film, upload and password-protect. You’ll even get detailed reporting on how many people watched it. All you need is an iPhone, free Wistia, a tripod and these lighting tips.
The newsletter should also include a “From the Director’s Office” section with any notable updates on programming — people love feeling like they have the inside scoop on an organization. If you’ve signed to open a new location for example, announce it first in your newsletter so that families have an opportunity to spread the word in the community. Free publicity is a great thing.
Turn Your Clients Into Your Muses
As often as possible I use real conversations with potential clients as inspiration for blog posts. The reason is twofold:
- If the topics are real, you know they’ll be relatable to at least the person you had that conversation with, but probably many more
- It makes people think you’re magically on the same page as them, when really you were just listening carefully (maybe that’s the same thing?)
When you run a children’s enrichment program, you’re uniquely positioned to do this on a massive scale, because you have so many questions coming at you. Let’s say you have an open house or “back to school” type of event mentioned above. You could expect to field at least 25 unique questions per program that you offer. That’s 25 blog posts, which in most cases can be split into 50.
Take the most intriguing questions — the ones that require the most thought to research and turn into blog posts — and after they go live, reach out to the parents that asked them. Send them the posts and thank them for inspiring such thoughtful material to include on your website.
Remember, great blog ideas don’t just come from parents! You’ll really wow mom and dad if you blog a great answer to one of their kid’s trickiest questions. Consider putting a special “question chalk board” in each class, where the best child queries can be recorded throughout the week. At the end, consider which ones can be turned into blog posts, and run with it. Make a point of giving credit to the child that asked the question (first name only) and add it to your weekly newsletter.
Big Bucks, Fragile Egos
Remember, parents have the money and they need nurturing as much as children do. If they don’t feel connected to your whole brand, one negative experience with a staff member could be all it takes to sour them from returning. And heaven forbid they tell a friend or vent on Facebook, and it turns into an ugly telephone game slandering your business. That would be the opposite of how this post started.
So go now … take these ideas and delight a parent:
In my day job I receive lots of offers to buy lists of email addresses. “Do people really fall for this stuff?” I think to myself. Buying email lists is so … 1997. But email marketing is still extremely effective when done the right way: permission-based, educational, helpful, and entertaining.
It’s the end of summer camp season. Thousands of children are saying their goodbyes and embarking on a new school year, and maybe you’re thinking this is a good time to finally take a vacation.
Well don’t go anywhere yet … not until you’ve surveyed every family and counselor.
“But we already send a survey to our families!”
And that’s nice, but I have a feeling you’re not gathering nearly as much data as you could. Simply asking “on a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your child’s summer camp experience?” yields nothing in terms of marketing intelligence.
When done right, your survey will trigger a marketing chain reaction that creates dozens of opportunities to delight families over the coming year:
- a better website user experience
- content creation ideas for lead generation
- improved search engine results
- micro-targeted email campaigns
- loyalty and referral programs
- word-of-mouth evangelism
- packed open houses
- an improved camp experience, and …
- fewer marketing dollars spent on new camper acquisition.
Why You Should Survey Families
Which kids will return next summer? Which families will send a younger sibling for the first time? Which will refer a friend or relative? What are they really saying about you to the community? How easy is it for them to find information on your website? You’ll never have the answers to these questions if you don’t do a comprehensive survey.
Repeat customers are your most valuable marketing asset, because you’ve already spent the energy and ad dollars upfront to get their attention. If you’ve gained their trust so much they return each year, there’s a good chance they’re telling others about you. In fact, when a B2C business grows retention just 5%, they can expect profits to grow 25-95%, because they’re decreasing marketing dollars spent on cold outreach.
So this isn’t a time to stick your head in the sand. The best companies ask for brutally honest critique, and innovate their products and services accordingly.
When to Send Summer Camp Surveys
Try to send surveys within a week or two of camp ending, while the summer is still fresh in the minds of parents, kids and counselors. This will also ensure you grab their attention before they get busy with back-to-school stuff.
When sending the survey, let them know approximately how long it will take (you should test this first), and you may have to send a few follow-ups to remind them how important their feedback is. It’s good to set an expiration date and a tone of urgency.
What to Ask in Family Surveys
Your survey should hit on every topic possible, and encourage parents to complete a large portion of it with their child(ren). The questions you ask will depend on whether you’re running a day camp, sleep-away camp or specialized camp (e.g., religious, special needs, activity-specific), but here are some general areas to include:
- Usability of your website
- What they think of your social media channels
- How they originally learned of your camp
- Registration process
- Costs and contracts
- Length of the camp season // hours of operation
- Pre-camp prep
- Communication between camp and family
- Off campus trips
- Activity options
- Safety procedures
- Meal options
- Counselor quality
- Counselor tipping
- How likely they are to refer your camp
- How likely they are to return next year
- Would they take advantage of a “very early enrollment” option to make monthly payments throughout the year?
The possibilities are almost endless, and no topic is off limits. Make an exhaustive list of every single thing your camp offers, every step of your process, features you’re considering adding, and put it all in a survey. Ask open ended questions too, like “is there anything you want us to improve upon for next summer?”
If you don’t ask, you’ll never know. And you won’t be able to hyper-segment your email lists, which is what I’ll be writing about in the next installment of this summer camp marketing series.
Why You Need to Survey Counselors
You can’t have happy kids without dedicated counselors, so getting their feedback is just as important as that of families. You can hit on many of the same topics listed above, and throw in:
- Do they feel they were trained correctly?
- Do they think they were paid fairly?
- Did they feel like you cared about their experience?
- Would they return next year?
- Would they recommend counselorship to an age-ready relative or classmate?
- What did they like/dislike most about their experience as a camp counselor?
Remember, these young adults are your workforce and brand advocates. As in any other workplace, keeping them happy and involved in your business can reap positive benefits for years to come.
How to Send Your Camp Survey
By now you might be thinking, “alright, this sounds like a good idea, but how the heck do I execute on it?!”
If you’re just getting started with surveys, I suggest SurveyMonkey because it’s very easy to use. Depending on how many families and counselors you need to survey, create a “Select” (monthly includes 1000 responders, but annual will get you unlimited) or “Gold” account.
Once you’ve got your account set up, create two separate surveys — one for families and one for counselors. Before you can send them, you’ll set up “collectors” in order to capture results. Do not use the general survey link collectors because they won’t give you the ability to segment your lists later.
Instead, gather all of your family email addresses, and upload them to a list in SurveyMonkey. Repeat for the counselor list. This will allow you to send customized survey links to each respondent, and export feedback to their CRM profiles later.
If you’re using an all-in-one marketing automation suite, like HubSpot, this will all be done a bit more efficiently. To learn more about that, email me and I’ll be happy to explain. In fact, I’m available if you want to hire me to do the whole survey thing for you.
What to Do After the Survey
I’m a big believer in unexpected customer delightion. Use this opportunity to surprise survey responders with some nicely packaged swag and a handwritten note. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or expensive, just something that shows you care and reminds them of you throughout the year:
- Camp banner for the child(ren)’s bedroom wall
- Baseball cap
- Wall calendar (better yet, a desk calendar with daily camp trivia!)
- Car magnet
What You’re Going to Do With the Data
You’re going to take all this amazing feedback and use it to educate and delight those families so much they’ll definitely return next year, and/or tell everyone within earshot about your program. You’ll also turn the survey data into actionable business intelligence, so you spend the next year innovating on camp offerings.
Last summer I started an LLC in New York State, where new businesses are required to announce themselves in a newspaper for 6 weeks. A print paper. I stuck my head in the sand for a month, then started Googling how to get it done: which newspapers were acceptable, how much it would cost, etc.
Not only was the information hard to find, it turns out that in NYC this is an especially stupid and expensive process. A rude Kings County clerk told me I needed to go downtown for the details, because he’s not allowed to provide them over the phone or through email (“I don’t make the laws, lady”).
Confused about what century I was living in, I went back to Google looking for ways to get out of the publishing obligation. Surely this was just a silly technicality that wouldn’t really affect my business, right?