branding lessons

Branding Lessons From Summer Camp

Now that I am a grown-up, one of the things I miss most during summer is being a camper. I loved summer camp. I went for several years to the same wonderful co-ed, sleep-away camp deep in the woods of New Hampshire on a beautiful lake. In fact, all these years later, I am still so attached to this camp that I send my kids there. So I still get to enjoy the experience of camp (albeit vicariously) through their eyes and their weekly letters home.

Lately, while reading these letters I've been thinking about what a truly magical experience camp is. In the words of one camper, "It's why we live 10 months, for just two."

As I often do in my brand consulting firm, BrandTwist, I am always looking to forge new connections or "twists" between different life experiences and branding.

So lately, as I reminisce about my own positive camp memories and I hear the enthusiasm in my children's letters, I've been thinking, what branding lessons can we learn from summer camp? After all, camps are branded experiences, and if they are engaging and delighting their targets... maybe there are some business lessons to be gleamed. Right?

So here' s my list of Top 5 Branding Lessons From Summer Camp. While these are based on my experience of a particular camp, I think they are universal.

1) Don't Underestimate The Power of a Campfire Song - My camp has a pretty amazing alumni network. And even though my friends and I were at camp together in the late '70s, we still get together today for alumni reunions. And all it takes is someone with a guitar and the few first chords or our camp song, "Deep in the Hills of New Hampshire", and the room is instantly transformed from a group of middle aged grown-ups trying to make small talk to one body of people holding hands and swaying to our old theme song.

What does this have to do with business? Well, I think we forget how powerful a song can be to bring people together, and how lyrics help us remember messages in a way that is often stronger than straight text. Ask yourself if your brand is taking advantage of sound and music in your communications. Maybe a short jingle, a brand video set to music, or a proprietary sound can be associated with your brand. Intel, T-Mobile, and Air France are all great examples of sonic branding.

A signature sound could be just the thing to help your brand stand out from competition and connect with your target.

2) At Camp You Can Be Anyone You Want - Another benefit of camp is that you have the opportunity to re-invent yourself. At school you might be labeled as the athlete, Math Olympian or theatre buff. But at camp, with a new group of people, you can choose to be who you want to be.

This is a great branding lesson for your personal brand as well. Many times we feel that we are already boxed in as a certain type of person. Maybe our friends or colleagues consider us the "analytical one". Over time we have become comfortable with that cloak and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. But it can be fun and empowering to try on different personalities.

Next time you go to a conference where you don't know anyone, try on a new personality. I don't mean wear a moustache and go by an alias. I mean just give yourself the permission to dial up another side of your personality. Perhaps you want to explore and embrace your more creative side for one day.

3) A Rainy Day Can Be An Opportunity - Most people associate camp with blue skies and warm weather, but inevitably the summer brings serious storms. I remember some of the best times at camp happened when we were actually stuck indoors and had to invent new ways to have fun.

Marathon sing-alongs, epic games of jacks, and some unstructured hang time getting to know our bunkmates helped to forge our lifelong friendships.

Is your business taking advantage of "rainy days"? When things don't go exactly as planned, do you have a Plan B ready? For example, if you show up to a meeting and the projector doesn't work or your client only has 30 minutes instead of the 60 minutes you had planned for – are you able to switch gears and deliver something with impact in a different way? Some of my best presentations have been when I have walked into a room, read the energy and signals of the crowd and decided to go off script.

4) S'mores Are An Essential Food Group - Melt a marshmallow on a stick, smush it on a slab of melted chocolate and encase it with a graham cracker on each side. Who invented this wild creation? Well, thankfully someone did and now we all enjoy S'mores as an essential part of camp.

At my kids' camp they are also treated to a breakfast for dinner (a crowd pleaser), grilled cheese with sugar (a camper creation and now a tradition) and "bug juice" (sweet red liquid). This "anything goes" and "wackier is better" approach is part of what makes camp so much fun.

What can your brand learn from an unconventional food like S'mores? Sometimes you need to let yourself go. Forget the constraints of business and approach you brand with the open- minded creativity of a kid at summer camp. I've written extensively about innovation on my blog and frequently teach inspiration techniques such as eat with your left hand or try to get fired, which are designed to stimulate new ideas.

The important take-away is to make sure you mix it up and try some ideas that might not automatically fit with the norms in your category, but could actually inspire some fresh thinking.

5) (Colour) War Builds Team Spirit - Most camps have some sort of intra-camp competition or colour war where the camp is divided into different teams and they compete against each other. Some might think this would lead to a divisive atmosphere. But a little healthly and fun competition can be a great motivator and actually bring people together.

Are you using healthy competition to motivate your internal and external teams? A Brand Safari is a great way to do this. A Brand Safari is basically a scavenger hunt where you visit real world locations for brand inspiration. We believe the best way to get inspired about brand is to step away from the computer and go out and learn from the amazing world around us.

Brand Safaris are organized inspirational outings. Participants are broken up in to teams and given specific itineraries and tasks to complete, and there are prizes for creativity. Participants visit inspirational places, like museums and leading brand locations (ex. Apple Store, Samsung Experience Store etc). You can read more about Brand Safaris here.

So while you might not be able to take a twomonth vacation from work to frolic at a summer camp this year, you can definitely benefit from the fun – and the branding lessons. And who knows, maybe if you apply all of these to your business you will make enough to take the whole summer off next year.

Last one in the lake is a rotten egg!

Julie Cottineau  |
Julie Cottineau, founder of the brand consultancy BrandTwist, has been an executive at Interbrand and VP of Brand for Virgin, and regularly posts free, actionable branding advice like this on the BrandTwist blog and newsletter. To learn even more about brand building, check out her new 8-week online course, Brand School, that gives you all the knowledge and hands-on exercises you’ll need to build a profitable brand