Marketing to the Overweight Population

Once upon a time, being overweight meant someone was carrying an extra 20-30 pounds. Nowadays, being 20-30 pounds overweight is considered average. As a fitness professional, I’m sure this trend upsets you, and you want to do everything in your power to stop the epidemic and make a huge impact.

Unfortunately, I have bad news for you. You alone won’t make a huge impact. The only thing you can control is your small sphere of influence of friends, family, members, and prospects in your community. But then again, making a huge impact on a smaller group of people, in my opinion, is even more rewarding than making a small impact on a huge group of people.

As average body fat percentage and weight continues to rise, we are going to have to consider a different way of marketing to this type of prospect. Overweight people are more self-conscious, have more chronic illnesses, and more likely to try to “get in shape BEFORE they join a health club”, and are less likely to respond to a fitness ad covered with people thinner than them

Why Go After the Overweight Population?

We’ve been unable to crack the 15 percent penetration rate in U.S. health clubs for the past three decades. Yet diet pills, infomercial DVD’s and weight loss programs have been purchased by over 50 percent of our population and over 90 percent of overweight people have admitted that they have tried to lose weight in the past through some type of diet. Simply stated, this group of people wants help, and we are doing something wrong in our efforts to attract them.

In the past decade, the number of obese people has doubled. Two-thirds of our population is considered overweight, while nearly half of those people are considered clinically obese. Even our kids are getting fatter; the prevalence of obesity among children aged 6-11 increased from 6.5 percent in 1980, to over 20 percent this past year! And it’s not just “baby fat” — the number of obese teenagers has quadrupled during this same time as well.

Based on those statistics alone, our target market of thin to average-weight people is shrinking and we need to be willing to switch our focus to better ways to target and empower those who are overweight and unhealthy. Otherwise, whether we like it or not, health clubs will be a niche service, catering only to the small percentage who remain of a healthy body weight.

Here are some strategies we’ve found that have worked well to attract this target audience:

The Weight Loss Study

We’ve found that a large number of overweight people are more likely to participate in regular exercise at your facility if you initially propose it as a “study” rather than a membership. You’ll spend time working on baseline measurements, give them a workout guideline and example meal plan, let them spend some time with a personal trainer, and offer a little more guidance than you would with a typical membership. With a 5,000-piece direct mail campaign, we’ve experienced on average a 1 percent response rate, which is quite good compared to a .25 percent response rate we’ve observed on many typical “join today” mailers.

Guaranteed Results

This might seem scary to offer, but it has worked amazingly well for many of our clients — many of whom have even added it to the tagline of their business. You agree to refund all of a new member’s money back if they don’t lose weight during their first month. They in turn agree to exercise three times per week and meet with a personal trainer for a scheduled “checkup” twice during their first month. You and I both know that it would be impossible for someone not to lose weight if they exercise 12 out of 30 days this month. If they don’t hold up their end of the bargain, they won’t be eligible for the money back guarantee.

Social Proof

Telling a story is the most powerful form of marketing we can use to attract the overweight crowd. By using testimonials and success stories of real members of your health club in your advertising, you will find more people thinking, “If they can do it, I can do it.” Feature a person who successfully dropped 40-50 pounds and several clothing sizes. That will get more people to notice your advertising.

These are just three of many ways we’ve discovered to attract this growing market. You should be testing your own marketing strategies to find which work and which don’t and you must be willing to try new ways to attract this group of people. Like it or not, our society will continue to gain weight. It is your job to slow this trend in your sphere of influence.

Curtis Mock is the host of www.FitnessBusinessTelevision.com the TV show for fitness entrepreneurs. He is also the executive director of gymsuccess.com. Curtis can be reached at curtis@clubsolutionsmagazine.com.

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