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Why Most of Your Marketing Fails
Originally Posted 10/14/09

Most of your marketing is a waste of money because many of you forget what marketing is actually supposed to do.

Marketing, done correctly, is supposed to drive someone to take action. This action might be to buy your product directly or to respond through a call or visit to the business where a waiting sales person who has the skill will get you to part with your money.

This urge to respond can only happen if there is an emotional response to the advertising. We buy because we become emotionally connected to the story or ad content and we don't buy if there is no tapping of our emotional keys.

We buy Volvos because we want our kids to be safe. We buy Pillsbury products because they remind us of life we might have never even had. We buy expensive alcohol products because we want to be beautiful and successful like the people drinking them on television. Every good ad has reached our soul yet in our industry we are still years and years behind.

Most club marketing fails because it is void of an emotional content. If you look at a typical ad in our industry, you find almost the direct opposite of emotion. Most ads are boring, lame and a pathetic waste of money because the owner left the design of the ad up to the sales person that sold him the ad. The goal was to get something out quickly, throw in a few stock photos and add a price discount of some type and let it go.

This is why you find ads with headlines such as, "Fitness for everybody!” or "Where fit happens!” These generic masterpieces are then followed by a standard stock photo of an impossibly fit person leading to bullet points listing everything the club offers. For example, here are the bullet points from a club I just visited that are listed in their brochure and in their local ad in the paper. The headline read, "You will see and feel the difference.”

• Marble counter tops in the locker rooms
• Super clean
• State-of-the-art equipment
• Granite steam rooms
• Over fifty treadmills
• Lots of free weights
• Tile entryways
• High ceilings
• Trainers on staff at all times

You can't make stuff like this up and I would have never listed marble as a point even if I owned the business. What purpose does a list like this serve? Doesn't every fitness center have fitness equipment? Is marble going to make me run to the club for the deal of the day? What a waste of money and energy to produce such worthless advertising that does nothing but devalue your brand.

The question is who is the target of this ad and what is the expected response? Marketing theory is as old as marketing itself but we forget the basic tenets. Rule one is always remember that features don't sell; benefits do. This ad lists all the features of the club, or the things that you will see if you visit the business.

Rule two is what is in it for me the consumer. I don't care what kind of equipment you have as long as you can get my fat ass in shape. It's not the tools (or features) it is what you do with them that is important to the consumer. But every owner breaks this rule because if I paid for marble and high ceilings I am going to tell someone about how much I spent even if it doesn't bring anyone in to my business. This guy paid big bucks for the marble and someone is going to hear about it.

The emotion here is loaded on the wrong side. The owner is emotional about what he owns because of pride and cost but the potential member just sees it as another fitness facility with another long list of fitness stuff that is really no different from any other of the large number of clubs in the same town that by the way, just list all of their stuff too.

There is no response without an emotional driver and without answering what is in if for me as the consumer. Fitness marketing fails because it is always unemotional centering on lists of stuff rather than trying to touch the consumer's soul.

But what about running price in our ads? Doesn't a deal or discount answer the question of what is in it for the consumer?

Price is based upon a wrong assumption. When you run price you are assuming that everyone in the community has already made up their mind to join a fitness facility (prior interest) but they are hanging at home anxiously waiting for the local club to drop their pants, and price, low enough to move them off the proverbial couch.

The fallacy is that only about 16% of the people in this country belong, or have ever been in, a fitness facility. The ones that have experience and are fitness practitioners know where the clubs are in their towns and have already tried most of them. Price ads do burn up the folks with previous experience when first introduced into a market but after a while these ads become more and more ineffective because price ads do nothing to create new business merely drawing from a base that already had experience.

The logical thing to do here of course if you own a fitness business would be to chase the other 84% that have never set foot in a club. Why fight for crumbs when you can eat cakes. The ad copy above, for example, only chases people with some type of preexisting fitness experience. They are the ones who do have basic expectations about a club and who might be looking for specific equipment or services. But the bad news is that fitness people are already in the club so why are we constantly advertising to people who already get what we do?

It's kind of like advertising giant burgers to fat people. They have already bought and are proudly displaying your product over the top of their pants. These people have tried all of the burgers, selected the one they deem best, and eat there a number of times a week, hence the problem but you don't have to advertise to this group to get them to buy. The real money here is in chasing the casual diner or perhaps one who doesn't have experience with your product.

The opposite is to focus on developing new interest in the 84% who have not yet made a leap into fitness and not cater to people who already have fitness experience. In other words, all your marketing should be centered on developing interest and future business. If you get this, then the types of ads you would run would be totally different than a typical naked model/bullet point hell ad.

Developing interest is a completely different mindset than trying to attract fitness experience people. Instead of price as your main attraction, you would first have to create a new awareness and need in someone who has no experience or any reference point about what you offer.

Keeping this in mind, most of what we do won't work. Hard body fitness models become the enemy and entry barriers to that deconditioned female, rather than a role model. Price discounts and specials are meaningless since those in the 84% have no reference point to compare against since they don't have club fitness experience. Bullet points are also ineffective because they list items and services that are assumed to be part of any fitness facility. I have said it before too many times, but you never see an ad for a hotel that states: Stay in our Sheraton, we have beds. Beds, and fitness equipment, are nothing more than presumptive things any good hotel or club would offer.

Again, if we want to tap the 84% we need to tap the emotion. The only way to do this is through the use of testimonial ads.

Emotion is the last, great, unexplored region in fitness business marketing. We sometimes allude to emotion, such as an ad that gives reasons to workout. Feeling better about yourself, or looking better in your clothes, are the by product of fitness, however, and not the direct reason someone goes to a club.
It's what drove the person to join in the first place that is the source of the emotion. Feeling better about who you are is a noble ambition, but it is not what makes people get off their butts and change behavior. Sitting in the dark crying about your weight because of fear and loneliness is the driving emotion and that is the one that needs to be tapped if we want to develop future business. This person joins a gym because of the avoidance of pain and not just to look better in a mirror.

Emotion is often dark and intrusive, which is why we haven't yet used it as a tool in our industry marketing. But the rules are changing, especially when we are faced with 63% of the people in this county either obese or just plain fat. When you're in a fight with a tougher opponent, why fight fair? If you're losing hit him with a car jack, run over him with your truck, or in the worse case, force him to watch a Sarah Palin speech. You're losing the battle so fight dirty to win.

I wrote in my latest book, Naked Woman at My Door, that many people would rather die than change. Smokers know it is killing them yet they can't stop. Obese people in their 30's who already have medical issues know the weight is going to kill them but it is harder to admit your dying and change than it is to order a double cheese burger with a diet Coke™.

Testimonials are the only tool we have at our disposal that can begin to reach this level of emotionalism needed to get someone to try fitness. Testimonials done correctly are your tool to place the prospective member into your business and associated with the struggles and success of the member you highlighted. "If he can lose 20 pounds so can.” "If she can come back after three kids and look that good then I can do it because she is just like me.” "Wow, I know that guy and if he can do it then I can too.” All of these are responses that should be elicited by a strong testimonial.

Good testimonials are about normal people making change. They give people hope and a role model for success. Testimonials also prove that you have normal people in your club and that you are not filled with just fitness freaks that were born and will die in outrageous shape.

The Susan K. Bailey Company, based in Canada and which is the largest full service ad agency in the industry, developed the attached testimonial. The "Find Your Reason” idea was something we trademarked through the NFBA several years ago with the hope of someday doing a supportive web site and national campaign. The idea behind this campaign was to force the person to admit that you may not want to exercise for yourself but there might be others, such as your children, who may be the driver that finally gets you moving.

I believe it represents the first generation of ads that targets the 84%. It was carefully aimed at people who have never been in a club before and who haven't yet realized fitness is going to be in their life. Start your thinking now for next year's ads and realize that lists of fitness crap is really just that and isn't the tool you need to attract people to your business. Tap the emotion and you will find more members and for most of you testimonials are the only ads you should ever run.


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