Camping: a user's experience

Camping is a great way to see places, to meet people and to be in the great outdoors. But not all campsites are made equal.

I began to wonder - having recently spent a couple of weeks in campsites that ranged from terrible to terrific - whether my user experience there could apply to brands, and if so, how.

One thing at a time.

The product:
Campsites provide space for campers to set up tents, park their cars or RVs, and provide additional features like electricity, water, toilets and play structures for kids. Beyond this, campgrounds provide access to sites, activities and scenery.

The differentiators:
If I could bring it down to one thing that differentiates one campsite from another, it's probably the resources available to start and maintain them. Public campsites tend to be infinitely better than private campsites. The differentiator leads to the success of the public camping "brand."

This differentiator has a huge impact on the brand promise. Before even getting in the car to go on a camping trip, I plan my itinerary around the accessibility of public campsites. I'm not the only one. While in the Gaspé on a family vacation, I spoke with countless people who had stopped at
Parc au Bic (A provincial park about three hours east of Quebec City), then at Parc de la Gaspésie (Another provincial park about 3 hours further on) to finally end up at the majestic Forillon National Park.

In the case of camping, then, the brand promise gains something significant through association. And the user gains something through trusting the importance of this association, sight unseen.

User experience:
The user's experience at a campground almost completely determines the success of that campsite's brand.

How do provincial and national parks do such a good job of delivering on the brand promise? Obviously they cover the basics very well. They provide clean, well-maintained and campsites that aren't jammed up against each other. They provide excellent facilities. Forillon Park has a band of roving "naturalists" who describe natural phenomena in a way that kids and adults can understand. Beyond this, national parks offer consistent graphical references - even the roads are paved in a way you'll see nowhere else. You know you're in a national campground whether you're in The Pacific Rim, Banff or Forillon.

The parks are a holistic example of branding done across a wide spectrum.

What does all this mean for your company's branding? Too many times it seems companies believe a brand is a logo, a wordmark, and an attitude. A good brand is much more than that: it resides in the experiences of end users.

A brand in a crowded marketplace must differentiate itself through consistency across channels, relevancy and quality. Associations can be valuable to boost credibility. Consistency of graphic designs (like the brown and off-yellow signs in national park). Consistency of user experience (think of your website the way a national park architects its campsites). The quality of service. The relevancy of the offer. And nice added touches, like those nice narrow two-lane roads that meander through wooded areas leading to beaches, mountains, and other sights. If you look at your brands the way our national parks look at their layout, you're on your way.

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