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It’s no secret that January is the busiest time of year for health clubs. New Year’s Eve is the day when millions of Americans all simultaneously swear they’ll be sporting a six-pack at next year’s ball drop.
A frantic scramble to get in shape leads those millions of Americans to join the first gym they believe can help them reach their goals.
In fact, new gym memberships in January reportedly account for roughly 12 percent of the annual total, on average. New Year’s resolutions push more people through gym doors than during any other time of year.
However, with around 36,540 health clubs open in the U.S. as recently as 2016 (an all-time high), there are a lot of options for consumers to pick from. They are also eager to see what your club is all about.
“Because consumers are motivated and ready to get healthy following the holiday season, they’ve basically already made the decision to buy a fitness solution,” said Kari Bedgood, the vice president of marketing and public relations for Active Wellness. “But will they choose your club? As the fitness industry landscape continues to evolve, providing consumers with more solutions than ever, it’s important to stand out and break through the clutter.”
This is where your club’s marketing efforts come into play. But differentiating yourself from the competition is as difficult as it is crucial. There are countless marketing strategies you could employ to drive traffic to your club. Knowing which ones do and don’t work will make a huge difference in your 2018 growth.
“The great football coach Vince Lombardi once said, ‘Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all-the-time thing,’” said Neil Doherty, the executive vice president of local marketing at Epsilon. “I see marketing for clubs the same way — it’s not a sometime thing, it needs to be an all-the-time thing for maximum effectiveness.”
While it’s imperative to intensify your marketing efforts ahead of the January rush, it’s equally important to consistently keep marketing campaigns running throughout the whole year. Blasting potential customers with your message one month out of the year won’t amount to much if they haven’t heard of you in the other 11.
According to Bill Konstand, the president and founder of TAG Digital Marketing, no strategy is more effective for getting noticed by your target market than search engines. “It is estimated that over 90 percent of prospects will use search engines [to find a health club] at the peak of the buying cycle,” said Konstand. “They are now the only form of on demand and up-to-date local business information. It’s much like the Yellow Pages were for decades.”
As Konstand explained, traditional forms of advertising are taking a backseat to the digital age. With endless amounts of information at their fingertips, he argues consumers are becoming increasingly less responsive to non-digital messages.
“There is a reason this industry was built on direct mail marketing, but most owners report that direct mail has failed in the past 24 months,” said Konstand. “Consumers pay no attention to broadcast advertising because they carry smartphones and have business information available 24/7.”
In the information consumers find about your gym, what makes it different? According to Bedgood, your key differentiators are what you should include in your marketing message. “Maybe share member testimonials highlighting ways the club has helped customers in unexpected ways. Most people join gyms to lose weight, but they don’t realize how much they gain: a tight-knit fitness community and confidence.”
It’s always important to ask yourself: “Why my gym?” Putting yourself in the shoes of a consumer and taking an objective look at why someone would walk through your doors can help lend the right perspective on your club’s appeal.
Whether it’s a brand-new facility, special amenities, engaging fitness classes with proven results, or any other appealing characteristics, identifying your club’s strengths allows you to compose a marketing strategy that highlights what makes it special.
In addition to what your message conveys, how you present your message is equally important. “Tell your story visually,” said Bedgood. “Video is an effective marketing tool that can be more impactful in sharing an experience, program or product than text or print. It also happens to have the highest click-through rate of any digital ad formats.”
However, with video marketing there are a few keys to success to keep in mind. A person might see your video ad on their computer and think your club looks fantastic, but without a clear call to action, there’s no telling whether or not they’ll act on the message.
Special promotions usually do the trick. “We like to offer guest passes or paid trials as opposed to deep discounts on enrollment fees or dues,” said Bedgood. “This allows prospects to walk through our doors and experience all that our clubs have to offer. Let their exceptional experience close the sale.”
Be sure to avoid focusing on just your club’s prices. Consumers are looking for experiences, and will favor them over slightly cheaper club fees.
Again, the focus should be on what makes your club exceptional. “No two companies are the exact same,” said Doherty. “And, as such, they should develop unique promotions and creative strategies based on intelligent insights and best practices.”
Once you have your plan together, it’s time to execute it. And in a marketing strategy, timing is everything.
“It’s always best to get out ahead and plan,” said Doherty. “Clubs that have annual plans are usually the best positioned to execute on time and see positive results … Optimally, having your [first quarter] plan dialed in by mid-October assures proper preparedness and provides some flexibility.”
If you’ve been marketing around the clock this year, this won’t be a problem. But if you’re just now considering more assertive marketing, don’t put it off. Shouting your message from the rooftops in just January won’t produce the results you’re looking for. You have to get potential customers used to seeing your club’s name on a regular basis before increasing the frequency and reach of your message at the end of December.
“Unlike traditional campaigns, digital campaigns take time to ramp up,” said Konstand. “Your club should start its campaign at least 90 days ahead of time … to make sure it can establish a proper rank under prospect keywords by the time the peak season rolls around.”
However, no matter how insightful, well-timed, targeted and compelling your marketing campaign is, everything falls apart if your club isn’t what you advertise.
The consumers you really want, the ones who make a goal on New Year’s Eve and stick with it, are also the ones seeking a community and a fulfilling experience.
So be sure your club is relatable. Engage your audience on social media. Share testimonial videos. Send out creative promotions via email. Do everything you can to make sure that when people are looking for the best gym to accomplish their goals, you can’t help but be noticed.