Email, the Next Great Marketing Weapon for Health Clubs
By: Al Valente
We've seen email adoption explode on a worldwide basis at the fastest rate since the fax machine to now where it is estimated that there are roughly 700 Million active email accounts globally
Email is a powerful non-intrusive form of marketing.
When abused, it's spam, when used properly, it's favored by the vast majority of club members, prospects, and ex-members over other means of communications. In the last 5 years, we've seen email adoption explode on a worldwide basis at the fastest rate since the fax machine to now where it is estimated that there are roughly 700 Million active email accounts globally. Its chief appeal is speed . . . with a mere touch of a button you can send out hundreds, even thousands of messages.
You'll even start getting replies back within minutes.
Email's explosive adoption rate has been propelled by some simple economic factors:
"Email can keep you out of voicemail Hell." Says Nilou Perry of Fitness Formula, the owners and operators of six clubs in the greater Chicago area, and who recently rolled out email programs at their newest club, the Union Station Multiplex. "Imagine needing to contact 100 prospects, now you can hit a button and email all 100 simultaneously . . . and there are no busy signals."
- Stamps are free
- Email accounts are free
- Information is weightless
- Travels practically at the speed of light
- Knows no borders
- It's 24/7
Email will become your best communications medium second only to a face-to-face meeting. It's all part of a new contemporary concept coined by Internet marketing pioneer, Seth Godin, in his seminal book called Permission Marketing. People resist giving out personal information like email to most companies but the communal nature of fitness centers makes the request a lot easier. In fact, most members want to be kept informed and realize the efficient nature of email. If you don't violate the trust by pummeling members with trivia that's irrelevant, impersonal and imprecise, you'll have permission to keep sending them emails forever.
Leading clubs are just starting to use the email medium for fast and affordable communications to their prospect and membership base. According to Jill Kinney, COO of the ClubOne chain in San Francisco, "We've recently doubled our efforts last year. We've developed graphical templates for every situation such as e-news, and following up with guests, it has proven to be an effective means, especially for following up with a new member".
Steve Colivas, President of Extreme Fitness in Toronto, is beginning to use email to contact prospective members in his market zone. They've purchased a database of 2,500 email addresses within 5 mile FSA of his three clubs in the Toronto metro area and he'll be sending out regular promotional campaigns.
According to Tanya Crowley, Webmaster of Mount Auburn Club in Watertown, MA, "Email has really improved our front desk service". They recently sent out a blanket email informing the membership of the annual maintenance schedule of the pool and whirlpool and the new fall programming. In pre-email days they would be flooded with inbound calls asking repeat questions. Just one blanket email answered the anticipated questions and now their staff is free to provide higher levels of service.
Sending out a common e-news message to a master mailing list is fairly straightforward. There are a number of software packages that can store addresses and generate the emails. The clubs we polled feel that a frequency of one electronic mailer per month is about the right cadence.
Be aware that the contemporary email medium has a fresh set of rules and practices all its own and managers best heed a couple of caveats else they risk damaging their client relationships. Most importantly, make sure the message is newsworthy. "Don't inundate them with minutiae, only communicate the truly new programs and events" advises Nilou Perry.
Building and Maintaining the Email List
By far, the biggest task clubs will face is the initial building and then maintenance of an accurate email list. Unlike home phone numbers which are fairly stable, email addresses tend to change for a variety of reasons, e.g. change of job, change of ISP, switch to free trials, and the like. This makes it a continuous effort to maintain.
Since so many members and prospects use their work email accounts, by default, when they change jobs, they change emails but don't think to notify their clubs. Consequently with each email broadcast, you'll get innumerable failed messages. Mount Auburn makes it a point to follow up on failed email addresses right away with phone calls to obtain the new correction. Takes time? Yes, but saves volumes in the end.
Ask and Ye Shall Receive
If members are still reluctant to offer up their email addresses, you may have to get creative. "To get the email addresses from members", adds Ms. Perry, "You have to offer quid pro quo, things such as raffles for a massage, personal training . . . offer something in return."
Unlike printed collateral, emails often end up in an inbox with scores of other email messages thus overwhelming the recipient. The very style and tone of the communication becomes critical else it'll be deleted without ever being read. Ms. Crowley advises: "It best to be brief, friendly and light".