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Is Confusion in Your Brand an Economic Liability?

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As we recover from times of economic difficulty, we are learning to run our businesses smarter in order to keep our clubs profitable. Some solutions, such as “expense control,” are directly economic making them more obvious. Others, however, require solutions that are more broad and fundamental in order to prevent financial losses. One such fundamental contributor to the financial failure of a club is an inconsistent or confusing marketing brand that can lead to lost revenue and reduced market shares.

Your brand is your club’s identity and the vision that you give to potential members — as well as a commitment to deliver upon for your current members. If your brand is one that potential members do not associate, makes promises that are unfulfilled or simply gives a mixed or confusing message, your club has developed a critical identity crisis that will negatively affect your new member sales, as well as your member retention, quickly leading to financial failure.

Your brand is much more than simply the color scheme and logo used in your marketing pieces, but rather a positive snapshot of your business and how you are different from your competitors.

Think of your brand as your company’s distinct personality that communicates a clear message to your market. Ask yourself the question: “Who are we and what do we stand for?” Ultimately, this is the basis for determining your brand. Now, determine if who you are is marketable; is it considered valuable? Support your message with complementary pricing and extend this message of your brand consistently throughout all marketing literature and on your website.

Also, the aspect of branding that often is undervalued is ensuring your brand is an accurate representation of your business, and not merely what you wish your business was. This sometimes means that your old business must be adjusted to fit your new brand. If you determine that your role in the marketplace is to be the least expensive, then you must reconsider your expenses to counter less dues revenue per member. If you are to be the best facility in the market, that would expect the highest dues, then the quality of your product must be consistent with that claim — that may require a capital or operational upgrade. If you are branding yourself as the most knowledgeable or the most service-oriented you must hire and train a staff that is truly noteworthy of such a distinction. You cannot define yourself with a brand that you do not fulfill, as your members will experience the shortcomings and will, at best, see you as conflicted in your identity. An inconsistent brand will have the appearance of an unstable business resulting in a negative perception in the marketplace, which will ultimately result in lost revenue.

The most common marketing mistake being made recently is with clubs that brand themselves as “High Quality” or “Elite,” and charge the higher dues and service prices that are consistent with that brand. These clubs have taken to marketing big discounts and sales in an attempt to increase revenue during these leaner economic times. If a club’s clientele is willing to pay for a better product, instead of buying the cheapest, they are receiving a mixed message when this same group is told by their club that they should buy discounted memberships or services. This not only gives a confusing brand message about the club, but the club is simultaneously suggesting that they should buy from the less expensive competitor. These elite clubs need to focus on selling value, not “cheap.”

Your brand is how you identify yourself to your potential and current clientele and must be viewed as your most important marketing element. Your brand must also be true and consistent within your operations. Develop a positive and marketable brand that is desired by your community. Maintain it as a reality, so that confusion in your brand never becomes an economic liability.

John Oei is an operations and strategy consultant and columnist for Club Solutions Magazine. He can be reached through our editor via e-mail at tyler@clubsolutionsmagazine.com.

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