Between email, text messaging, social media, website traffic and direct mail there are a plethora of ways to get in touch with your members and reach potential new members. You can email newsletters, post videos to Facebook, send postcards in the mail, publish blogs on your website, and the list goes on and on. But the question remains, what is the most effective marketing medium today?
The Sports Center at Chelsea Piers relies on third-party websites for marketing support. According to Dana Thayer, the director of marketing at Chelsea Piers, Yelp is their No. 1 source of referral traffic to the Sports Center website. “The Sports Center at Chelsea Piers receives extraordinarily positive reviews on Yelp,” said Thayer. “With Yelp we can drive [interest], which usually leads to a call, an email, a visit — and often a sale. However, you have to have great reviews to sustain this approach. That means internally we constantly strive to deliver 5-star customer service.”
After realizing it was receiving such glowing reviews on Yelp, The Sports Center at Chelsea Piers decided to embrace those reviews and make them the centerpiece of its advertising. “Our tag line is that we’re ‘NYC’s most inspiring gym,’” explained Thayer. “By using Yelp reviews in our ads, we’re providing the proof. The competitive landscape for gym memberships is brutal — by quoting from positive reviews and actually encouraging prospects to read about our gym on a trusted third-party site, we show that we’ve actually earned our tag line.”
With the birth of the internet and continuous developments in technology, customer habits are constantly shifting. While in the past the most effective way to engage with members was through mail or phone calls, now social media and websites have become a dominant marketing tool.
“The way that we live, work and do research has changed,” said Phil Thompson, an inbound marketing specialist at HubSpot. “Instead of going to a sales rep and trying to learn about a product, now folks are just doing that research on their own. I think before making a purchase, people do about 70 to 75 percent of that research on the internet. That is completely changing the way people are purchasing, and their digital trends and habits on the internet.”
Thayer agreed that there has been a total shift to digital over the past decade. When the Sports Center opened in 1996, 100 percent of its advertising budget was spent on print, including the Yellow Pages. “Over time, we have shifted heavily toward digital,” added Thayer. “Having started the process more than 10 years ago, I’m proud to say that we were an earlier adopter when it came to using social media like Facebook, Twitter and other sites as advertising platforms. That said, I strongly believe in a marketing mix that includes select print and targeted out-of-home [marketing].”
When it comes to successfully marketing in the digital age, Thompson said the first step is to be found and find a way to drive users to your website — like the Sports Center does with Yelp. Once you begin to grow website traffic, it is important to engage with users so eventually they become customers or subscribers of the business. “If there is any type of blog or blogging strategy, that is the backbone,” said Thompson. “Businesses should think like a publisher, so they are producing content, and then [they are able to have that content] rank on search engines. Then from there, try to better convert those individuals once they are landing on your website and interacting with that content.”
When it comes to increasing engagement, Thayer suggested giving video a try. “Adding 15-second videos to our advertisements has significantly boosted engagement and click-through rates,” she said. “We produce the spots in-house. However, you need to commit to producing multiple versions in order to ensure your content doesn’t get stale.”
While digital marketing is now the name of the game, it also requires a larger commitment. You must produce more content for your website and social media and monitor the accounts on a continuous basis. “Commit to staffing that supports active engagement and responsiveness on these platforms,” advised Thayer. “We have a 100 percent response rate on most of our platforms — in fact, I’m often checking notifications on weekends. Our customers are looking for information 24/7, so you need to be prepared to respond consistently and promptly.”
Finally, don’t be afraid to try something different. Test out new platforms. Because the digital landscape is ever evolving, you never know what will speak to your members. “We experiment a lot and try to see what works best for our specific objective versus jumping on the newest digital ‘toy,’” explained Thayer. “My final word of advice would be to proofread your marketing materials. I received an email from a competitor club the other day and there were at least a dozen spelling and grammatical errors. It seems like a small thing, but it speaks volumes.”