Of all the many marketing mistakes the health club industry is capable of making, there are ten monsters that top the list.
We've all fallen victim at one time or another to one or more of these 10 big marketing mistakes. We've all certainly seen them. And by now hopefully have, figured out ways to eliminate most.
These, of course, aren't the sum total of all of the mistakes possible, but rather-these are the ten biggest mistakes made in the club industry, period. They are here presented in no particular order of importance because they all have a direct effect on marketing success. Each has an incredibly negative impact on a club, its members, the salespeople and your bottom line. All are big problems. Avoid them at all costs.
Your target market consists of those people within a 6-8 minute travel drive time from the club's front door. Those demographics define to whom you're positioning yourself. It will make up 80% of your member base.
Fatal Marketing Mistake #1: Scorch & Burn
The phenomenon of "Scorch & Burn" is a direct result of out-of-control price competition in an over-saturated marketplace. Too many clubs in a limited area causes a reflexive marketing response of discounted fees and membership specials. Everybody's offering a deal on price. Soon, unrealistic $99-a-year dues and special "2-years for $149" bargains define the marketplace.
Customer pools are soon exhausted. Despite quality marketing tools, nothing seems to bring in very much new business. New memberships and prospects dry up fast. What's happening? You just came out with that exciting new $29.99 Summer Blowout Bonanza that undercut everybody else in the market-prospects should be pouring in! Right?
Solution: Price competition along with the rest of the herd is a dead-end, downward spiral. To compete, you must differentiate your club from all the rest. Upgrade service and upgrade price. People are not afraid to pay for quality service. Outclass your competition by becoming the first $50 club around in a market of $19.99 discounters. Dollar-Mart or Nordstrum's? You need to decide.
The best service at a higher rate can translate into an ever-increasing capability on your part to provide a broader range of unique customer service opportunities, programs and perks for your higher-profile membership. All in tandem with increasing profits. Try to avoid "Scorch & Burn".
Fatal Marketing Mistake #2: Flawed Positioning
Health clubs are notorious for trying to be everything to everybody. We're a senior-friendly, family-oriented, multi-sport tennis swim center!
You can listen to a thousand examples, visit hundreds of clubs and consider dozens of strategies-but it all boils down to properly positioning yourself to your own, geographically specific marketplace.
Solution: Do careful market research. Your target market consists of those people within a 6-8 minute travel drive time from the club's front door. Those demographics define to whom you're positioning yourself. It will make up 80% of your member base. Focus on those people and decide how best to serve that population. These numbers come from many years of deliberate, number-crunching research.
Figure out exactly who you are in specific, concise, unmistakable terms. Communicating that to your marketplace defines your product image and ensures success. Looking for an adults-only tennis club? Come down to Nighthawk Courts. Want a place to bring the whole gang? Join Ed's Family Sports & Fitness Center.
Fatal Marketing Mistake #3: Homegrown Havoc
Consider the layouts in Time magazine or Sports Illustrated. Check out the eye-catching ads. Professional styles are produced by people who know what they are doing. There's more in their portfolio than First Place Ribbon in the Middle School Safety Week poster contest.
Solution: Advertising layout should not be left to amateurs. This means no relatives, friends, neighbors or ill-advised personal delusions that simply because you just bought a fancy new Macintosh, you're suddenly an electronic Rembrandt. Find a professional-someone who knows what they're doing. Don't do it yourself. Definitely involve yourself as part of the process, but don't try to be your own graphic artist and marketing director. Find somebody in the know; use professionals.
Fatal Marketing Mistake #4: Improperly Constructed Ads
Do you know how to build a successful ad? Tools include attention-getting photos, headlines identifying benefits to the buyer, sub-headlines and specially-designed text paragraphs. Like all tools, they must be used correctly.
Newspaper ads can cost a thousand dollars each, even $10,000 or more in the case of major metropolitan areas. What's the goal? The highest number people reading an ad that makes the club phone ring.
What happens with sloppy ads? Incorrectly place the headline on top of the photo and readership instantly drops by 20%. If 2,000 people read that ad, one such mistake reduces exposure by 400 people. How many of those 400 could have been turned into prospects? Break layout rules and lose time, intent and money.
Solution: Hire people who know the rules of properly constructed ads. As always, involve yourself, but don't try to perform the actual mechanics.
Fatal Marketing Mistake # 5: Missing the Mark with Off-Target Messages
Off-target messages occur when a club does not have the right compelling idea or market positioning in mind. You're blindly following other people around#133; should the competition come out with a 24-Minute workout special, you respond with a 20-Minute workout. That's reaction, not innovation.
Solution: Perform some carefully thought-out background research on your membership and competition. Look at what's out there. Look at what isn't out there. Use innovation as your major philosophy and become the leader. Innovate the club and market your innovations. New programs, new facilities, new equipment and renovations generate excitement and maintain high interest.
Fatal Marketing Mistake #6: Stumbling Around Without A System
Few clubs have a clearly-defined, yearly marketing plan prepared in advance. Most play it by ear, randomly picking their campaigns as the months go by.
Solution: Stick to a single system-one that fits your philosophy and is well-grounded scientifically. Adopt that system and stick to it. With all ventures, there will be high months and low months. Don't worry about a few dips or spikes... as long as the business is going in a positive direction, an established system will carry you through.
Fatal Marketing Mistake #7: Improper Sequencing
Your club's promotions are erratic and confused. They have no rhythm.
Solution: Adhere to correct marketing sequencing. Proper elements consist of an External, an Internal, and a Cap. External marketing goes outside the club in newspaper and broadcast mediums. Internal promotions stay in-house for current members. The end of each particular promotion culminates in the Cap.
Sequencing rules must be followed. Campaign components have simultaneous beginning and ending times within their own seasons throughout the year. Fitness has its own buying cycles. Fall and winter seasons are traditionally high, contrasted against low periods in spring and summer. Use that knowledge to anticipate and plan accordingly.
Fatal Marketing Mistake #8: Insufficient Marketing Budget
A million dollars can easily be spent on bricks and mortar to open a new club. Another $10,000 may go out for promotion. Opening Day comes along and the expected huge turnout turns out to be an embarrassing trickle.
Solution: Spend 10% minimum of the gross cost to pre-open your new club. The 10% for pre-opening is a one-time investment in buying a membership base to get the club started. During regular operations, spend at least what it takes to maintain your membership and still grow about 10% a year. On average, that will be anywhere from 3% to 10% of total operating costs. More need not be spent if you're on the right track. Break established rules and both waste and expense rise dramatically.
Each new membership costs between a $100 and $200 to a club when marketing, labor and infrastructure costs are calculated. That price drops by half with efficient handling.
Fatal Marketing Mistake #9: Poor Lead Administration
Improperly trained salespeople and front desk staff cost you money and prospects. Industry research shows clubs can be called with a simple membership cost inquiry and receive across-the-board confusion and errors. Many calls are lost to excessive hold time, misdirection and other handling mistakes. A majority of answers that were received ended up to be surprisingly inaccurate.
Each new membership costs between a $100 and $200 to a club when marketing, labor and infrastructure costs are calculated. That price drops by half with efficient handling. Don't tolerate losing half of your phone or walk-in prospects due to uneducated or overwhelmed staff. Call the club yourself to easily check this.
Solution: Ensure competent staff. Train them thoroughly. Make sure they know what they're doing. Staff appropriate numbers to comfortably handle the work load. Institute a system with a high level of accountability.
Fatal Marketing Mistake # 10: Head in the Sand With No Feedback
What's working? What's not?
Feedback keeps track of how your media is working. You want to know how many times the phone rings because of a particular ad. Or if an ad isn't working. Poor ad performance may indicate a need to retool the layout or increase the placement numbers. How do you know what's working and what's not?
Solution: Track promotion responses as closely as possible. Record the origin of new prospects. Train front line people to ask how new people have heard of each promotion. "What brought you in today?"
Remember that for any of these marketing solutions to be effective, you must consider your club's own particular circumstances and tailor these solutions for the best benefit. Every club is different…so are the problems. To Survive & Thrive, do everything you can to avoid the 10 Fatal Marketing Mistakes.
About Mike Chaet
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