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Carry on camping

By The Drum | Administrator

August 1, 2006 | 7 min read

Perception is nine tenths of the purchasing law, and if the consumer thinks they won’t like your product, well, they’re not going to buy it then, are they? Just ask Robin Parry, marketing director of Keycamp.

\"The people that actually use us have a positive perception and those that don’t, don’t. Research tells us that over 90 per cent of the people that travel with the company have an ‘excellent’ or a ‘very good’ holiday. Now, I’ve worked in various travel companies and they’re the sort of figures that, to be honest, other operators would die for. So, we need to lift new audiences over the hurdle of their perceptions and show them exactly what we can offer.\"

Without meaning to sound facetious, Parry’s problem is that he’s the MD of a company that has the word ‘camp’ in its name. To some that might invoke images of John Inman, to the rest of us saturated canvas and toilet block miasma, but how many of you out there think of luxury holidays?

Nope, thought so, not a single hand’s been raised. Which, in Keycamp’s case, is highly unfortunate.

Parry joined Keycamp, a subsidiary of the mighty Holidaybreak and sibling to Eurocamp, eighteen months ago. With sixteen years experience of the holiday market, latterly as marketing director of MyTravel’s Airtours and Going Places, he had the seasoned eye to spot what needed to be done.

\"In the first year coming into this job my objectives were to get the fundamentals right and stabilise the business,\" imparted the lively 37-year-old, at Dictaphone dizzying speed. \"It’s a very successful business but for the last few years the profits have been going down as well as up. So there were a number of things we had to get right; the people, the training, the culture, while getting customer insight at the core of everything we do. From then on it’s been about investment and innovation, as well as overhauling the brand, all with the desire to engage new audiences.\"

We’ll get on to the branding in due course, but first it might be useful to clear up Parry’s exasperation over the perception question. How does he expect to convince potential customers that kipping in a tent is a luxury getaway?

\"Well, years and years ago tents were the crux of this business, but these days they’re a very very small percentage of what we sell. Now we’re trying to push innovation and investment and that’s leading to new product types, such as the Keycamp Prestige mobile home.\"

This Prestige affair, from what can be gleaned from the press release, is about as close to camping as Roy Keane is to ballet. It’s got, and I quote, \"all the comfort convenience and style expected from a luxury apartment, including; flat screen TV, DVD player, decking and contemporary furnishings.\" Basically it’s better than my house. But then again so are the tents, or rather ‘Supertents’, that Keycamp that provides for happy campers. Check out the revamped website www.keycamp.co.uk to see for yourself.

This is all well and good for the 200,000 holidaymakers a year that use the firm, but there’s a market out there of tens of millions that need their dented perceptions panel-beaten. So how does Parry hope to work on them?

\"That was one of the main catalysts for tidying up the brand,\" is his swift response. \"We’re now trying to get across that Keycamp offers a great ‘holiday’ experience, shifting the way the business is viewed away from being a camping company to a holiday company. We feel we’ve been relatively successful in doing that so far.\"

The recent ‘tidying up’ Parry’s referencing is the cosmetic surgery performed on the branding by the deft-handed staff over at Manchester’s Connectpoint. Here the team tightened up the look and feel of the corporate ID, re-invigorating the colours and adding the company’s first all-encompassing strapline: ‘this is the life’. Our interviewee, as expected, has been pretty pleased with the results.

\"The reaction has been very positive. We researched it thoroughly before launching and it got the thumbs up from everybody, it just ticked all the boxes.\"

He continued: \"the strapline in particular works very well. It’s just one of those lines that everyone says and everyone can relate to, but it still operates as quite a personal thing as it means different things to different people. It could be the time when you’re sitting down with your first beer of the holiday, or when you’re in the pool with your kids, or just cycling down a country lane. Its strength lies in that resonance.\"

Again, that’s fine and dandy, but if Parry is continually talking about reaching new audiences wouldn’t it have been more expedient to let the scalpel run a little deeper and re-brand entirely? Perhaps drop the name ‘camp’ altogether?

\"It’s something that we did debate at great length,\" he admitted with candour, \"but we believe that the brand equity of Keycamp, the reputation that it’s built over the past 30 years, is too much to sacrifice. I’m not saying it’s something that we’d never do, but at this moment in time I think it’s not the right way to go.\"

And here lies the uneasy balancing act that all voracious marketeers must perform: how to engage new audiences without ostracizing the old ones. It’s a game that Parry appears to have under control.

\"With our branding and marketing, particularly on the website, where we’ve invested heavily, we’re not moving away from our key strengths, just demonstrating the added value that we give. From a positioning perspective, I guess we’d like to be perceived by new audiences as more self catering than camping, but the reality is that our accommodation is on campsites, just not as the majority of people perceive campsites to be. The accommodation is great, the facilities are great, the swimming pools are great and it’s a nice social thing too. It’s a great holiday experience and that’s the main message we’re trying to get across.\"

By tinkering with the emphasis of the marketing and pro-actively pushing existing elements of the packages, such as the activities Parry is effectively dressing up the original benefits for a new audience, thus ensuring that the loyal consumers aren’t alienated. It’s a smart move. As is his embracing of the low cost carriers.

\"I think there was a feeling amongst tour operators that they were more of a threat than an opportunity, but I saw it the other way. It opens up our product so we’re welcoming it and actively promoting the benefits of low cost carriers, which we certainly didn’t do beforehand.\"

He continued: \"Within the brochure it tells you where the nearest airport is, we have a grid of where the low cost carriers fly to, we say which ones are recommended for fly-drive and which ones aren’t. We’re working with Budget Rent a Car now and we’ve got good deals. It’s helping us to again open the door to new audiences and changing the perception that the holidays are just self-drive.\"

Parry is evidently confident that he and his team of ten in-house marketeers can win the fight on the perception front and get this whole ‘camping’ image problem pegged. With his revitalised marketing drive, new product lines and openness to both low cost carriers and a younger, activity minded crowd he’s certainly heading in the right direction. We guess only time will tell if he’s chosen the right pitch.

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