Marketing: one of the most crucial aspects of your fitness facility’s long-term success. But where do you start? There’s direct marketing, consumer marketing, B2B (business-to-business) marketing, online marketing and more. However, one essential form of marketing that is commonly overlooked is guerrilla marketing, unconventional marketing that relies more on creativity than a big budget.

Business competition is at an all-time high, and traditional marketing isn’t getting the response rate it used to. People are not reading the newspaper, watching television or even looking at junk mail (direct mail) as much as before. These marketing vehicles represent a significant percentage of where facilities have attracted business in the past (Fischbach 2008). Implementing guerrilla marketing tactics as part of your overall marketing plan can lead to significant rewards and can spice up interest in your business.

Why Use Guerrilla Marketing?

The good news is that guerrilla marketing is a low- or no-cost form of marketing that can reap substantial profits if implemented correctly. It often involves unconventional and nontraditional ideas that cost very little to execute, so there is not much risk involved.

A guerrilla marketing approach is about thinking outside the box to come up with creative ideas to draw attention to your facility. Typically, this type of marketing focuses on three specific areas of business: new referrals, new memberships and more transactions from existing members.

Guerrilla marketing has a major profit emphasis. Since the focus is not on spending funds, facility managers must employ significant use of time, energy, information and, most of all, imagination (Lautenslager 2006).

Implementing Guerrilla Strategies

The primary point of guerilla marketing is to get your business’s name in front of as many people as possible in nontraditional, unexpected ways so that when individuals are thinking of joining a gym, yours will be the one they think of first (Agoglia 2006). Gather your team of salespeople, department managers and any other staff who wish to participate, and brainstorm ideas. By allowing all ideas to fly, you might be amazed at the creative suggestions the group comes up with. The following ideas will get you started:

Utilize Social Networking Sites. Websites like Facebook, MySpace and YouTube receive millions of hits each day–and are free to join. Post your business profile on these sites, including exercise-tip videos and any attention-grabbing ideas you can think of. Of course, include a link back to your main website so that viewers can find out more about your facility.

Create “Free” Mailboxes. Set up mailboxes in business plazas located near your facility (with landlord permission) with the words “Free—Take One,”similar to the “mailboxes” set up with real estate or auto dealership brochures. Inside of each mailbox, place your facility’s marketing materials complete with free guest passes.

Partner With Local Businesses. Dedicate a section of your website to coupons, accessible to members, from local retailers. In exchange for providing the retailers with exposure, have them promote your business on their website or by visibly placing your brochures at their locations.

Enlist Member Participation. Ask members who have achieved great success in weight loss to serve as role models. Rather than decorate your health club with generic fitness posters, create giant “before” and “after” posters of members who have reached noteworthy goals. With the members’ permission, these posters can be hung throughout the gym to provide motivation and increase retention. These photos can also be used in fliers that you distribute throughout town.

Speak Up. Offer your services as a speaker for community organizations and local businesses. Your presentations should be creative and unconventional, selling the benefits of exercise, not your business. This focus will build your expertise in the eyes of the attendees and should not appear to be a sales pitch.

Successful Examples

It can be helpful to seek out creative guerrilla campaigns that have been effective in fitness and other industries. Here are a few novel ideas that have led to considerable success:

Chipotle’s Mexican Grill. With locations nationwide, this business implemented a promotion in which anyone who came into the restaurant on Halloween dressed up like a burrito (basically wrapped in foil) received a free burrito.

New York Health and Racquet Club. This New York City business drew tremendous crowds as six “models” dropped their pants in front of Grand Central Terminal. They revealed underwear emblazoned with the words “Booty Call” to create buzz about the club’s new butt-building class. The results were so successful that passersby were snapping photos. Pictures of the event then showed up all over the Internet, and it didn’t cost the club an additional dime (Fischbach 2008).

Monti Fitness. In a neighborhood full of typical Italian restaurants, this fitness business in Rome reached out to people when they were thinking about their weight the most (after lunch). The club printed a series of exercises on the back of the restaurant receipts with an accompanying message and guest pass, inviting patrons to come and “burn off their meal.”

Little Money, Big Results

Implementing grass-roots marketing efforts is not a common practice in the fitness industry, but perhaps now is the time to change that. With the potential rewards and profits outweighing the minimal risk involved, guerrilla marketing is certainly worth a try. Your options are limited only by your imagination.