The hardest part of getting started is getting started.
And when it comes to getting a surf school, surf camp or surf house off the ground, you deserve a pat on the back for doing what many only dream of: making a living out of surfing.
But here’s the thing.
The real fun begins after the first 1 to 2 years.
After that, you’ll find yourself wondering…
“What comes next”?
Grow big or go home
Most people will say that your business needs to grow in order to survive, but that’s not always the case.
Some surf schools, surf camps or surf houses are happy to keep things small and personal, catering to only a small group of customers.
That’s great. It can work.
But 9 times out of 10, the reason why these smaller surf experience providers continue chugging along comes down to a lack of competition.
For those of you operating in a high-competition area, you need to be on your game if you want to thrive.
Surfing has grown exponentially in the last 5-8 years.
It absolutely exploded post-pandemic.
According to a study published by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), the number of surfers has increased by more than 35% in less than a decade
More and more surf hospitality and tourism providers have popped up to meet this demand. And the ones killing it have something in common – their branding is well-defined and their marketing strategies are 100% locked down.
EXAMPLE: The small-batch surf school
Imagine you run a small surf school by yourself that only takes 5 people per session, two sessions per day.
This small-batch approach means that you can offer a high-quality of teaching and personal service.
Consequently, your reputation in the local area begins to grow.
After 12 months in the driver’s seat, the reviews trickle in.
You’re now the highest rated surf school in the area.
Word gets out and your bookings start to soar, but because you’re only set up to host 5 people per session, you start to turn away potential customers.
This is where things get real
Do you continue focusing on providing the same experience to a small number of customers or do you expand to cater to more people?
Going down the former means you’ll keep the status quo, but you may miss out on exploring your potential as a business owner (and consequently making more money).
Expanding means you get to shape your business further, but it also means investing more capital.
Extra surf school teachers must be hired, more boards and wetsuits need to be purchased and you might be required to buy a mode of transport.
Then there’s insurance, fuel and running repairs, which all equates to more overhead costs for your business.
See where I’m going here?
Where you were once a hands-on surf coach running a small business, you’re now required to step back and take on a managerial role.
This is an exciting time in your business, but it also comes with great responsibility.
With more overheads, you’ll need to ensure a consistent flow of revenue to keep your business afloat.
And there’s a problem
Now that you’re no longer running small-batch lessons and catering to larger groups, the key point of difference between you and other surf schools (personal service) is no longer there… and customer reviews are slipping.
Gone is the encouraging backlog of people wanting to book with you.
Worse yet, you’re also not attracting new customers at the same rate as before.
This is where marketing comes into play.
It works… and it’ll totally transform your business
It can be daunting if you’ve never marketed your brand before.
In my experience, most “outside agencies” don’t get the surfing lifestyle or culture either.
This means that their copywriting messaging, which is the hook that all other marketing efforts hang on, totally misses the mark with your audience.
They target the wrong type of guest.
They use cheesy surfing terms that haven’t been seen since the 70s.
They don’t understand the nuances between surf culture in Australia, Africa, Europe or the US.
They promise you the world… only to deliver a snow globe.
Then there’s the cost of marketing.
Let’s face it.
The initial quote from a surf marketing consultant might be hard to swallow, especially knowing that a large chunk of your revenue goes towards other business expenses like rent, insurance and wages.
But there’s a saying that while overused is still 100% true — you need to spend money to make money.
Don’t get me wrong. Going down the marketing path isn’t for everyone.
BUT, if you want to grow your brand and worry less about where your next guest or customer will come from, this is what you need to do.
Phase 1 / DISCOVERY
This part of the process involves figuring out what you’ll spend and the scope of your marketing efforts. It’s where you discover for yourself how serious you are about marketing your surf biz.
For any business, this is the first big question.
How much can I afford to invest in marketing my brand?
This is highly dependent on your revenue. After all, you can only spend what you can afford.
Past clients have invested anywhere from €300 per month to €4,000+ per month for ongoing marketing and seen good to phenomenal results.
But it really depends on your specific brand, where you operate and the level of growth you’re chasing.
It’s not always a case of the more you spend, the faster you grow either.
Tight, controlled and highly targeted marketing gets you further than broad, big-budget strategies.
The rule of thumb? Reinvest 5-10% of your revenue into marketing.
Surf-specific marketer or outside agency?
Once you have a rough idea of how much you can invest, you need to decide where you’ll invest it.
There are no shortage of digital marketing agencies in the world.
But finding one that truly understands and specialises in the surf industry can be a challenge.
While some agencies may have experience working with similar outdoor brands, they may not fully comprehend the intricacies of marketing a surf brand.
Do they know the difference between Yamamoto and limestone neoprene? Are they familiar with the local surf culture and the best breaks in your area? Will they blow your budget by targeting the wrong audience?
Ultimately, your decision comes down to credibility.
Who will create marketing material, whether it be blog articles, social media posts or ad campaigns, that portray your brand as the leader in your chosen field or location?
Check out this article before you go any further.
Now that you have your budget and team in place, you must figure out where your audience is and how to best reach them.
There’s a significant amount of crossover in audience types with surf schools, camps and surf houses, but still enough difference that you’ll need to really define your target customer in order to develop a marketing strategy.
Fortunately, you already know exactly what your ideal customer type looks like.
However, this will be the first time you define them using words.
It’ll also be the first time you clarify what makes your brand does better than its competitors.
As for the different marketing channels and how they relate to your audience, different platforms will speak to different customers.
Surf schools might have more success with Instagram, while surf camps may better connect with their target audience through newsletters. Surf houses may benefit from collaborating with influencers on YouTube.
It’s important to know your audience and understand how they consume information in order to effectively market your surf brand.
So take the time to define your target audience before diving into your marketing efforts.
Why do you want to market your surf camp, surf house or surf school?
Or, simply put, what is driving you to invest your hard earned money into marketing efforts?
Having a clear, achievable and measureable goal in place will not only help keep your marketing strategy on track, but it will also give you a benchmark to compare your results against.
Common goals for marketing a surf brand may include increasing brand awareness, driving more bookings or sales, expanding into new markets or regions and establishing the brand as an industry leader.
Some of these are easy to track, such as increased website traffic or social media engagement, while others may require more in-depth analysis.
Regardless of your goal, make sure it aligns with your overall business objectives and contributes to the growth of your surf brand.
Phase 2 / SET UP
If the DISCOVERY phase was all about laying the foundations, the SETUP phase is where you make decisions. For many, this is the first time you’ll define what your brand looks like, what you stand for and which marketing channels you’ll focus on.
With the foundation for your marketing efforts laid, it’s time to figure out which channels work best for your goals.
Do you need credibility-boosting blog articles? Or are you ready to experiment with paid advertising? Perhaps you need help managing your social media channels?
Your marketer, whether they’re from the surf industry or an outside agency, will know what works and what doesn’t for your specific brand.
Here are a few examples of marketing channels:
- SEO blog articles
- Social media management
- Paid advertising (Google and Meta)
- Influencer marketing
- Email marketing campaigns
- Sponsored posts
Given the visual, sensorial nature of surfing, Instagram and YouTube seem like obvious channels for marketing a surf school.
But don’t underestimate the power of SEO — especially local SEO for targeting potential customers in your area.
For surf hospitality business, Meta advertising may be more effective in reaching a broader audience.
Influencer marketing also builds credibility and allows you to reach specific niches within the surfing community.
The trick is not to select one channel and stick to it, but rather have a multi-channel approach that allows you to reach a wider audience while also targeting niche markets.
This ensures you’re not wasting money on marketing avenues that don’t generate results.
Content marketing plan
With a variety of different marketing channels in play, it’s difficult to keep track of what’s being released when and the results.
A content marketing plan is essential for staying organised.
At this point, you’ll need to brainstorm content ideas. Having all these ideas in one centralised location then ensures your brand consistently puts out quality content (AND continues to do so).
This plan should include a schedule of when and where each piece of content will be published, as well as the goal or purpose behind each piece.
For example, a blog article may have the goal of increasing website traffic, while a social media post may aim to engage with followers and build brand awareness.
By having a centralised spreadsheet where you can track everything, both you and your marketer or agency can stay on top of your efforts.
Remember, you don’t rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.
When peak season comes and things are crazy, having a plan to fall back on is invaluable for keeping the ship steady.
Brand playbooks and visual guides
A tone of voice (TOV) and brand style guide are foundational tools for defining your brand identity.
They ensure consistency across all your communication channels, which is vital for establishing trust with your audience.
A clear and unique TOV can differentiate your surf brand in a crowded marketplace, showing potential customers what you stand for and why they should choose you.
Similarly, a well-designed brand style guide lays out the visual elements of your brand, such as colours, typography and logos, which helps your brand to be immediately recognisable and memorable in the minds of consumers.
Brands like Finisterre, Patagonia and Rip Curl all have unique TOVs and strong brand guides that have helped solidify their place in the surf industry.
Unique Selling Points (USPs)
What makes your surf house different to the surf house two doors down?
Why do guests or customers book with you year after year when they could potentially try out a new surf house every time they travel?
These are the questions you need to answer in order to define your Unique Selling Points (USPs).
Every surf biz has USPs, but in my experience they all unfortunately sound the same.
Every surf school has “experienced instructors”. Every surf house has “stylish rooms”. Every surf camp is located nearby “quality waves”.
These may all be true for your brand too, but you need to be super specific in order to stand out in your audience’s mind and capture their attention.
Instead of just saying your instructors are experienced, mention the types of waves they’ve surfed.
Instead of saying you have stylish rooms, describe in details the comfiness of the beds and any cool artwork.
Instead of saying there are epic waves nearby, mention the number of breaks nearby and which ones are best for beginners or advanced surfers.
Think about what truly sets your brand apart from the rest and make sure to highlight these USPs in all your marketing efforts.
Oh… MASSIVE tip: learn the difference between features and benefits when writing your USPs.
FUC+D (Functional, Unique, Clean + Dynamic)
FUC+D is a nifty little acronym I use when evaluating a website.
It’s how I determine the well-built sites from the not so well-built.
I don’t know what it is about the surf industry – perhaps us surfers would prefer to spend money on boards and surf travel than a decent website – but there’s no shortage of poorly designed websites in our industry.
The good news?
What’s broken can also be fixed.
All you need is a website that ticks all my FUC+D boxes.
If it doesn’t, it won’t matter how slick your Instagram game is, how commendable your TripAdvisor reviews are or how well your Google ads are performing.
Without a functional, unique, clean and dynamic website, all of your other marketing efforts will be for nought.
- Functional: Your website should be easy to navigate and use, with clear calls to action (CTAs) that guide users towards booking or making a purchase. Booking systems should be flawless and all links should work properly. Functional also refers to how mobile-friendly your website is
- Unique: Your surf brand is unique, so your website should reflect this. Use custom images and videos, showcase your brand’s personality and highlight what makes you different from competitors. Look back at your USPs and ensure they’re clearly communicated (see, repeated) in your copy
- Clean: A cluttered website is a turn-off for users. And while it might be tempting to put as much information on your website as possible, less is definitely more. If a potential guest or customer is overwhelmed by too much information, they may leave your site without taking any action. Stick to clear and concise messaging and make use of negative space for a clean and visually appealing design. Remember… you can always build out blogs to house vital information
- Dynamic: A dynamic website is one that is constantly being updated with fresh content. This not only helps with SEO, but it also keeps visitors coming back for more. Consider adding a blog section or news page to your site. This is where you share updates about your brand, important info and any upcoming events or promotions. Updating your website regularly helps keep your it relevant and engaging for users
Phase 3 / EXECUTION & TRACKING
This phase sees you putting all that information and all those brand updates into practice. It’s both the most exciting and most highly-anticipated phase because you get to see your results.
A/B testing is a testing technique that allows you to compare two versions of something – be it an email subject line, the length of newsletter copy or a landing page – to see which performs better.
For surf brands, this can be especially useful for testing different offers and promotions.
For example, if you’re running a special discount on surf lessons, you could test two versions of the same ad: one that highlights the monetary savings and one that focuses on the experience of learning to surf.
By running an A/B test, you can see which ad resonates more with your audience and adjust your marketing efforts accordingly.
Metrics refer to the data and statistics that help you measure the success of your marketing efforts.
For surf brands, tracking metrics such as website traffic, bookings or purchases made and engagement on social media can give valuable insights into what’s working and what needs improvement.
This data also allows you to set goals and track progress over time.
Let’s say your goal is to increase website traffic by 10% in the next month.
By tracking website traffic on a weekly basis and assessing the impact of your marketing efforts, you can adjust strategies and tactics accordingly to achieve your goal.
Trim the fat
Discovered that certain Google keywords or long-form blog articles aren’t working? Figure out why and if it can’t be fixed, don’t be afraid to cut it out of your marketing plan.
It’s important to focus on what’s bringing in the most results and not waste time and resources on tactics that aren’t effective.
Double down on what works
Conversely, if a marketing channel is showing huge results and you’re receiving tangible benefits, double down.
This means investing more time and resources into that particular channel or tactic, whether it’s social media advertising, influencer partnerships or email marketing.
It’s all about finding the balance and investing where you see the most returns.
And remember, tracking metrics and regularly reviewing your budget and tactics can help optimise your marketing efforts for maximum impact.
Keep your foot on the pedal
Last but not least, remember hat no matter whether you work with a surf marketing consultant or an outside agency, you’ll be dealing with human beings.
Make sure nobody gets complacent and that your marketing efforts stay fresh and effective.
There’s always another competitor looking to go one better than you, so make sure your brand stays at the forefront of people’s minds by keeping your foot on the pedal.
Take the time to sit down or schedule a call with your surf marketing consultant after a month.
You can then analyse the results of your campaigns, see how well they’re performing and identify any areas for improvement.
The surf industry is always changing and evolving, so it’s important to stay on top of trends and adapt your marketing strategies accordingly.
Sharing your posts, taking advantage of free PR (surf mags, travel blogs) and being part of the online/offline surf community will also help grow your brand… but I’ll leave those for another article.
For now, I hope its clear what you have to do to spread the good word about your brand.
Now, all that’s left is for you to do it!
Reach out for more information about marketing your surf school, surf camp or surf house.