By Sarah Kollmorgen Summer is the season for family vacations, catching fireflies ... and making memories away from home at summer camp.
In South Carolina, Clemson University’s Youth Learning Institute (YLI) has been a part of this summer camp tradition since 1934. Some of its first initiatives were 4-H summer camps, which also featured activities you'd typically associate with summer camp, such as water sports, archery, hiking, arts and crafts and talent shows.
Over the years, the YLI has grown and so have its camp offerings. It now boasts five different camps: 4-H Summer Camp; Camp Wildlife; Camp Hannon Adventures; Camp Sewee; and Camp Voyager.
So what makes each of these five camps unique?
Answering this for prospective campers (and parents) is where the YLI got crafty with its marketing.
“In the past, we were very heavy in print,” says Jason Eichelberger, the director of finance and information systems at the YLI. This involved sending out hundreds of flyers and posters to schools throughout the Carolinas and Georgia in order to reach new campers.
Organizers recognized that practices that might have worked in 1934 -- such as printing out physical fliers -- weren't the most efficient in today's digitally-connected world. Not to mention, when the YLI budget was cut a few years ago, they were forced to find new, cheaper ways to market these camps.
So they looked online.
Their first step was to move the camp websites off Clemson’s 'dot-edu' (.edu) corporate page and create individualized websites for each camp, thereby giving each camp its own digital brand.
Eichelberger says giving each camp its own 'dot-cam' (.camp) domain name provided specificity -- while reinforcing that each camp is unique yet still connected under the YLI.
The 'dot-camp' (.camp ) domain extension is part of a bigger transformation taking place online, where businesses and brands can craft a URL that better defines who they are and what they do. The YLI is among those pioneering this new online trend, but they are doing it in a unique way by applying it to sub-brands under the main YLI main website.
While switching to individual 'dot-camp' websites meant the YLI would be an online pioneer of sorts, the 80-year-old camp was up for blazing the trail. Eichelberger says organizers were confident parents would still be able to navigate to the individual camp websites. And this hypothesis has proved true.
“When we looked at analytics, we found most people were finding us through Google search or links,” Eichelberger says. “We’ve seen an upturn in analytics as far as customer acquisition through these websites.”
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Today, families can visit each camp’s website to find the camp dates, potential activities, parent testimonials and more. It's a clean user experience, with easy navigation, that spells out the themes and activities associated with each camp.
4-H Summer Camp: www.4hsummer.camp
Camp Sewee: www.seweesummer.camp
Camp Hannon: www.adventuresummer.camp
Camp Wildlife: www.wildlifesummer.camp
Camp Voyage: www.voyagersummer.camp
Eichelberger hopes the online experience inspires campers before they even arrive.
“I think we’re unique in that we provide a life changing experience to kids, and we’re also a doorway to their future,” he says.
Eichelberger adds that camp organizers are constantly looking for new technologies and ways to keep the YLI summer camps relevant, especially since one of their camps -- Camp Voyage -- combines outdoor adventure with technology. Time will tell which other technological tools the camp will use to attract campers to its summer programs.
“We’re kind of South Carolina’s best kept secret,” Eichelberger says. “We’re trying to not be a secret anymore. We’re very passionate about serving the youth in the state of South Carolina, and really all over the U.S.”