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The Make-or-Break Year for Back-to-School Marketing


The pandemic has turned the fitness industry upside down. Membership cancellations and account freezes hit record levels, forcing some gyms to close their doors for good. While this is unfortunate, clubs reopening now have an excellent opportunity to grow their membership base.

Gym owners and managers can capitalize on the fact that people are eager to get out of the house and shed those pandemic pounds. What’s more, summer sports and vacations are on hold, making the gym an ideal go-to place to workout and reconnect with friends.

And with a new school year on the horizon, this is a logical time for gyms to ramp up their marketing. Clubs that work hard to capture market share now will see benefits for months and possibly years to come. 

Here are two strategies that can help gyms power up their back-to-school campaigns at this critical time:

1. Aim to Educate and Reassure

Members want to know what their gym is doing to maintain a healthy environment. While promotions can help drive traffic, marketing should primarily focus on:

  • Health and safety, including:
    • Social distancing strategies, such as holding smaller classes, shutting down some equipment or limiting locker room use. 
    • Sanitation. What steps were taken to make the gym safe for reopening, and how will it be kept clean and disinfected? 
    • Face masks and temperature checks. Will staff wear face masks? Will members have to wear them, and will the gym provide disposable masks? Will temperature checks be required? 
  • Hours of operation. Many gyms will operate on limited hours to allow for deep cleaning and to limit exposure. Google doesn’t always reflect these changes, so they should be posted on social media and the club’s website.
  • The increasing importance of health and fitness. Reiterate the role of physical activity in achieving optimal health.

2. Communicate Often and Everywhere

Reach out to members — both current and those who canceled their membership — and let them know the gym is open for business. To be effective and generate the widest reach, marketing campaigns should:

  • Be omnichannel. People get their news from different sources, including social media, website, print, TV, radio, and email.
  • Be consistent. For example, the hours of operation, whether or not a face mask is required, and any promotional offers should all be the same — whether the message is on Facebook, the radio or an email newsletter.
  • Be real. Rather than using stock images, campaigns can include videos or photos of staff cleaning, or of members enjoying a workout at the actual gym.
  • Be personalized. Use member names in email communications, and tailor an offer to their status — such as a sign-up bonus incentivizing former members to come back.
  • Follow a plan. Set up a schedule for posting on social media, and assign a staff member to oversee it.

2020 is the make-or-break year for the fitness industry. A strong back-to-school marketing campaign can help your gym survive — and thrive — now and in the future.

Nelson Rodenmayer is the SVP of sales and marketing at UpSwell. He can be reached at nrodenmayer@upswellmarketing.com or by visiting fitness.upswellmarketing.com.


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