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Marketing – “it doesn’t work . . .”
Originally Posted: 03/18/09

Marketing questions are still come up frequently in any discussions with a fitness facility owner. Most of these questions, however, are usually preceded by the comments, "Marketing doesn't work in our area” or "That may work back East (or up North, down south or out West, really anywhere but here) but it just doesn't work here.”

Most marketing in clubs fails because the owners don't have any type of plan in place over time or any set expected outcome. There is also an issue for most that the expected results are so unreasonable that the marketing is doomed to fail no matter what it might bring through the door.

The key thing to remember with marketing is that even mediocre marketing will work if you practice two basic rules. First of all, you must market weekly for the rest of your life. Secondly, you must send a consistent message to the consumers in your target market over time.

Mike Grondahl, one of the founders of Planet Fitness, is probably one of the best marketing guys to ever work in the industry and even he gets frustrated with the guys in his franchise because they simply won't stick to the plan of getting a large number of economical images in front of your target market each month.

During one of my past chats with Mike, he stressed that he taught the new franchisees to get out about 35,000 low cost, oversized post cards per month, every month, and to run the same offer, with a strong call to action (expiration date) on every card, until you simply wore the market out over time. After you wore out that offer, you chose another and then repeated the process.

The concept to learn here is to get out a large number of images (cards, flyers, door hangers) each month until you develop a strong recognition factor in your target market. The sad part is that for most owners in this industry, 35,000 postcards represents about two years worth of mailings, not one month.
The majority of owners will cut marketing before they cut any other expense and marketing should be the last thing you cut back on if times are tough. Cut your staff, sell your car, work more hours but without consistent marketing there is no hope for your business.

Marketing done correctly should accomplish a list of things to help your business grow:

• Marketing should be based upon an offer that gets you the biggest capture over the longest period of time

• Marketing should strangle your competition

• Marketing should lower or eliminate the perceived risk of trying the club for the consumer

• Marketing should develop new markets rather than constantly tapping into the existing fitness member pools. For example, only 16% of the people in this country have ever set foot in a fitness center. Market to the 84% that haven't been in clubs; because the 16%, or consistent fitness people, have already been in your club because they check out all the clubs near their home before they join any of them

The offer we have been recommending, based upon the clubs we tested it in last year, is the 30-day for $19 risk free trial membership. If you have a training club, we have been offering 30 days for $89 or if you are in a competitive, low priced market, we tweak it to 30 days for $9.95.

Many of the clubs running this offer have had a great deal of success although we did discover an odd result in certain markets. A small percentage of our clients who have been running the risk free 14-day trial over the last several years switched to the 30-day for $19 offer and it didn't work. They then switched back to the 14-day and it brought a lot of leads through the door again. We don't know why this happens but it has happened for a significant number of units and it is worth keeping an eye on when your try this offer.

Risk free trials also draw the biggest capture over the longest period of time. This concept also accomplished the second major expectation, which is to strangle your competition. If you are taking leads out of the market for 30 days at a time, you are hurting your competition over time by keeping qualified leads out of their clubs and in yours. After 30 days, either you get them or no one does because the potential member either joins or walks away, which also means he seldom joins another club because of his 30 days of experience with you.

Risk is still the biggest barrier to entry for most potential members. What if I join and then don't like it? What if I lose my job? Am I going to be stuck? All these rattle around a potential member's head and cost you new sales over time.

The words, "risk free trial” softens the first level of entry for most people, if you clearly explain how the trial works, which most owners miss when they put together their marketing pieces. Most just list the trial and then assume the marketplace understands what it means and how to take advantage of it. If a potential member takes the 30 days for $19, the most he would risk is just the $19. He can try it and then walk away at the end of 30 days losing just a few bucks.

The current economy, along with the endless stream of media fear mongering, has also made the consumer much more cautious. The risk free trial softens this too but many clubs need to do additional steps to cover the person who is afraid of joining the club and then losing their job. You can cover these folks by simply adding an addendum to your membership agreement that states with proof of loss of job you will cancel the membership immediately. Make sure you run this by your third-party financial service company before you launch this but it will help you make more sales if done properly.

I have talked to a number of owners in recent weeks that are still hesitant to commit to a full marketing program this year. What are you waiting for? You still own the business and still have bills to pay. Start now and start aggressively.

Another important point here is to find a consistent image you can live with over time. Perhaps one of the biggest rookie mistakes is to change your look, or delivery system, every time a new ad comes out. Find a series of ads you really like and then commit to that look in your ads for the next five years. Yes, you will get bored, your members will get bored and your spouse will get bored but consistency builds brand recognition and that is what you're really after in your market. I am sure that the management team sits around Pillsbury going, "Are we still running those damn ads with the doughboy?” The doughboy, one of the most recognized symbols in the world, was built one ad at a time over a 40-year time span. Be patient and be bored but build a name in your community over time.

The last point is that sometimes ads work immediately, and sometimes they don't, but almost all ads work over time. This means that the longer you run ads the more they will draw if you are using a consistent theme, market every week, and use a risk free offer. Couple these things with a valid testimonial and you have a complete ad campaign.

Words of Caution: Attack now, attack often and make business happen. Clubs are making money but if you sit and wait you will fail. If there is less business coming through the door this year, you can at least get out 500 door hangers within a mile of your club every Saturday. If you need new members, run a solid membership referral program (call us if you need help) but do something now to make the business grow.

If you need help: We have consulting available by phone and can help you manage your business and train your staff. The NFBA has solutions ranging from a single phone call to weekly set phone time if you need guidance to keep you focused. Call us if you need 800-726-3506

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