On-Target Advertising

by Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES on Sep 18, 2008

Best Practices

Flex your marketing muscle to produce effective, inspired advertising results.

Fancy television ads, colorful magazine spreads, eye-catching direct mail pieces. What do we truly hope to achieve with our ongoing marketing efforts? The answer: satisfied paying customers. However, with tremendous competition in the fitness industry today, traditional forms of advertising are no longer enough to garner significant results in most markets. It’s time to step it up. There is a difference between advertising and advertising effectively. By developing a concrete plan, enhancing your message and media, applying tons of creativity and evaluating your campaign, you will reap the rewards of a successful marketing campaign.

Your Plan

There’s no denying that marketing demands a significant amount of your annual budget. However, if you view marketing as an investment rather than a cost, then you’ll strive to generate a return on the resources invested in your promotional endeavors. Achieve this return by strategically planning all of your marketing efforts.

In order to develop your marketing plan, precisely define what you are promoting, identify your target market, outline your objectives, determine how you will measure results and establish a timeline. Your timeline should end with a deadline for achieving your specific objectives. Once this deadline is met, then evaluate the results of your campaign so that you can make any necessary improvements when you move forward.

Your Message

Your message must be simple and straightforward. That being said, benefits-oriented marketing is an effective long-term strategy for building memberships. This approach means that focusing on the positive features of your facility is not adequate for portraying an enticing message. What benefits do these features offer for potential clients? How do these features provide an enjoyable and successful experience? Commit yourself to benefits-oriented advertising, and you will see your business through the eyes of your customer (Bonomo 1994).

With this in mind, don’t limit yourself to just one prominent message. Run a variety of campaigns targeting multiple markets. For example, design different ad campaigns focusing on families, strength training enthusiasts, older adults and young singles. Your club can likely accommodate the needs of all these individuals; however, the features and benefits they desire are varied. There is nothing wrong with simultaneously running multiple campaigns as long as the target markets are different.

Finally, provide a call to action. For instance, individuals should call you to schedule an appointment or visit your facility for a free pass. If the call to action is not clearly spelled out in your ad, there will likely be a dramatic decline in response rate. Make sure you tell people what to do.

Your Medium

Where you focus your marketing efforts is just as important as your message. If your budget allows, place ads throughout a wide variety of small and large media. For small media, include local print ads in shoppers’ guides, coupon mailers, door hangers and newspapers. For larger venues, use local cable shows, radio stations and community magazines. The more opportunities you have to remind people of your business, the better. The majority of your new members will come from a 3-mile radius around your facility (Thomas 2007). Therefore, national media is not as effective as advertising directly in your target area to reach likely customers. >>

Creativity Counts

Now that you know the basics, it’s time to get inventive in order to make your ad campaign dramatically stand out from the competition. Surprise potential members. Offer them something they’ve never been offered before. Consider using one of these innovative ideas for generating interest and sales:

Set Up an Attractively Priced Trial Membership. One-day and 1-week passes rarely lead to new memberships. It’s better to give folks a short-term opportunity of 1–2 months to try the gym without any commitment. You convey that your facility sells itself, and once the customers complete the trial period, they are more likely to sign up for membership (Bonomo 1994).

Get Members to Market for You. Try a few approaches to get members wearing your logo and business name. For example, create a game card that gets stamped whenever a member works out or purchases services. Once the entire game card is complete, the individual wins a prize. The key is that the prize is a club-branded item, such as a T-shirt or water bottle. This game benefits you in two ways: it increases retention and provides free advertising when members wear your facility T-shirts or carry their water bottles around town.

Another idea: give branded club money to clients for every new referral, to be redeemed at your pro shop or juice bar, or for services. Chances are, when recipients redeem the money, they will spend more than the gift amount (Tock 2008) and may select merchandise sporting your logo.

Get Involved in Your Community. Sponsoring a local charity run/walk offers your facility positive exposure, while benefiting a worthy cause. Additionally, consider giving wellness talks to schools, religious and civic organizations, and local businesses. “These talks should not be about the club and its great benefits, but should be about exercise in general. You are setting yourself up as an expert and your club as a place full of experts that will help [people] reach their goals,” explains Pamela Kufahl, editor of Club Industry’s Fitness Business Pro.

Partner With Local Businesses That Have a Similar Clientele. Natural food stores, sporting goods stores and fellow business owners in the same plaza as your facility all strive to attract the same clientele. Form a relationship with these complementary businesses, in which you promote their business at your gym and in your newsletter and they reciprocate for you in their stores and newsletters.

Use Technology to Your Advantage. Besides making the most of your website, ask members if they are willing to attach your logo to their e-mail signatures in exchange for club discounts and specials. This strategy can also be done with local businesses with whom you do cross-promotions.

Get the Word Out. Ask the local paper to write an article on your gym. Once it is published, make photocopies and mail it, along with your brochure, to a list of local prospects. Alternatively, buy advertorial space in the paper. Advertorial segments typically feature a variety of local businesses, with each getting either a half or full page of space for their own editorial copy (Conrad 2004).

Evaluating Your Campaign

In order to ensure that you meet the success criteria, carefully track the results of your campaign. Quantifiable results will help you adjust your advertising efforts to be more productive (Thomas 2007). Track responses to your ad campaign by maintaining detailed logs of the following information: telephone inquiries, website hits, drop-ins, new membership sales and new sales for ancillary services during the campaign time period. In addition, maintain specific records of all costs involved in your promotion, including postage for mailings, phone bills and printing costs. This information gives you a clear picture of where the majority of your marketing budget is being allocated and where you can increase or decrease your investment.

A winning advertising campaign is not something you can achieve overnight. Successfully marketing your business requires ongoing investments of both time and money. Fortunately, these are investments that bring significant returns in profitability and retention. l

IDEA Fitness Manager, Volume 20, Issue 5

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About the Author

Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES

Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES IDEA Author/Presenter

Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES, is a certified health education specialist with a master’s degree in public health from the University of South Carolina. She currently resides in Connecticut, where she is a health writer for a variety of trade and consumer magazines. She can be reached at val@valerieapplebaum.com.