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Building a web presence for your facility

This is an excerpt from Aquatic Center Marketing by Judith Josephs.

Some will say it has never been easier, faster, and more effective to reach customers since the creation of the World Wide Web. On the other hand, I feel it has also never been more time consuming, challenging, and cumbersome. This chapter will help you maneuver through this rapidly changing environment and get the most out of your investment of money and time.

Photos and videos have never been more important than in this electronic world in which we now live. When competing for the attention of the public, fast-paced, heartwarming, and exciting photos and videos will grab interest. If you are working with an electronic newsletter, photos are essential to getting the reader's attention. Although posters, signs, and fliers are now considered less effective, photos can still play an important role in paper promotional pieces. Our phones now serve as our computers and our televisions. You can watch a full-length movie on a cell phone while in an airplane flying thousands of feet in the air. With two feet on the ground, your potential customers are looking for entertainment. Photos and videos are the key to getting and keeping that attention.

Whether you believe that the Internet was invented by Al Gore or that it was a conspiracy by the federal government to communicate things without the public knowing, you have to agree that it changes faster than the weather. Each day there is a new app or web format that appears and ultimately disappears again just as fast.

Those of us with limited marketing budgets or no marketing budget at all see the Internet as a solution to our marketing and promotional needs. For some in the parks and recreation world, getting those in leadership positions to understand our website needs, as well as the time and energy involved in establishing a website, is a monumental task. Having crashed a few municipal websites with pictures, videos, and animation, I know a thing or two about what to do and what not to do. I'm happy to share what I've learned to help you to avoid the same pitfalls.

Your Website

If you have to cohabitate within an organizational website, try your best to negotiate your own site that is seamlessly linked to the main site. This will enable you to be more creative; work with photos, videos, and animation; and not be limited to static or outdated sites.

I am not a technology whiz, but I do know what people need and want to get from the Web. For many of us, our first attempt at a website is to tell people everything we know, not just what they need to know. There is nothing more frustrating than going to a website to find something simple like a phone number or a weather alert for a concert cancellation and having to scroll through an electronic version of a brochure or program booklet. Until you ditch that mentality, you will invest hundreds of staff hours on a website that needs constant attention and bores the audience. It also doesn't translate well into mobile applications. Today's busy families don't have lots of time to search the Internet for details such as program cancellations. If they can't find it quickly, they will give up and just not attend.

People go to websites to take away something. That may be information, a call to action, a coupon, or a special offer. Basically, the Internet is a research tool. With the right presentation and approach, the researcher can become your customer. All the rest is window dressing and an attempt to send visitors down the rabbit hole to learn more about your agency and its offerings. Your site needs to be intuitive and fun by incorporating all the work you have done on building your brand.

In the world of parks, recreation, aquatics, and leisure pursuits, the head of the household or key decision maker is usually Mom. Remember that as you design your website. Sure, there are other, smaller target markets for your program offerings, but you can't successfully cater to them all. Quick access to information, photos, and an emotional connection to the brand is what matters most with the mommy market. I dig deeper into what drives that market in chapter 5.

Why Will People Come to Your Website?

It seems like a no-brainer, but asking why people come to your website is a question you must ask yourself. Even if you currently have a website up and running, keep asking yourself, “Why do we have one?”

To Buy

One answer is to convince people to buy from you. For those of us in public life, or operators of small aquatic centers, we want to sell our product, mission, or vision.

The process of selling something is multilayered. You have to have a product. You have to let people know about your product and then persuade them they need it, want it, and should buy it. Once they are ready to purchase your product, you have to close the deal. I can't teach you how to establish an e-commerce site, but you should at least create a simple link from your website to your registration or an e-commerce site for program registration or purchasing tickets. Don't make your customers leave your site to make a purchase. Once they leave, they may not come back.

To Research

Consider this: Someone drives by your beautiful aquatic center and sees a sign. Even though you may have your phone number or address boldly on the outside of the building or on a billboard, the driver will not write down that number. However, he will go online to research your facility. Or, if he overhears a conversation where someone is bragging about your facility or services, rather than ask that person, he will look online to find you. Be ready with the information in an easily digestible format, and he will become a customer.

To Compare

When making a decision about how to spend their leisure budget, people will visit your website to do some comparison shopping. How do you stack up dollar for dollar with schedule, amenities, cleanliness, and more? They will judge your brand and look for a place that earns their trust. First, they will compare your website against those for similar facilities, and then they will head to Facebook, Yelp, and other sources. The content, photos, and design elements are there to seal the deal. Again, it's about research and making an emotional decision.

Understanding what matters to your target market is essential for your success in most areas of operation but particularly on the Web. Safety, cleanliness, and affordability are the top reasons a consumer considers your aquatic facility over others. Does that come across on your website?

To Win or Be Recognized

When developing a marketing strategy for your website, understand that you may have to drive activity to your site. Are visitors in search of a coupon or special offer? Are they entering a contest? Are they looking for the results from an event that can only be retrieved by going to your site? Keep this in mind as you develop your site. Following are a few ideas I have found to be effective.

More Excerpts From Aquatic Center Marketing