If you read this column on a regular basis, you know that we've been in business for a long time. And over the years, I'd like to think we've tried just about everything when it comes to advertising and marketing: billboards, direct mail, email, social media, TV, radio and member-referral programs. Some things were successful, and some weren't. Some things worked great the first time and not so great the second or third time.
Recently, we've turned to some outside help for our advertising and marketing needs. As a business owner, it's important to know what you don't know. I wasn't doing a great job at marketing the club. I needed help. I just had to decide what kind of help I needed. In my experience, companies that can provide marketing assistance seem to fall into one of three categories.
The first is a company that will help you organize a one-time ad campaign (usually direct mail or email) that will target your desired demographic in your local marketplace. The goal is to drive traffic to your door, usually in the form of some kind of discount or coupon.
If it's a blanket mailer or email blast to everyone in a 5-, 10- or 15-minute radius, you will be wasting money by reaching out to people who are not in your target demographic. To be successful, you will need to know your target demographic — singles or families, 18- to 25-year-olds or seniors. The company you hire should be able to effectively sort data to specifically target the people you want to reach.
Ask a lot of questions: What other clubs have they worked with? Are these other clubs located in similar areas (large city or rural)? What's the expected response rate? These companies will usually charge you a per-piece price (or per 1,000 email addresses) and sometimes a setup fee. Check references and see what kind of success clubs similar to yours have had with them.
The second type of company that can help you is an actual marketing firm. Such a firm can design a marketing campaign that might last several months or even a year. Their goal is not to just drive customers to your door with a one-time promotion. They want to be more involved with your overall message to the public.
They will ask you a lot of questions: What services do you offer? Who comprises your current demographic? What other demographics can you pursue?
They may suggest redesigning your logo and retooling your message to better reach your customers and to make you more visible in the marketplace. They want to make sure your message matches your services. There is no sense in pushing your facility as family-friendly if you are a hard-core gym.
In order for this firm to be successful in helping you grow your business, it will need to work with you as a partner in this endeavor. Hiring a company like this will require you to interview several firms so you can find the one you will want to work with. These firms often charge an up-front fee and then a monthly retainer to continue to revise and change and push your message in the marketplace. This is an ongoing process that will, hopefully, yield more and better results the longer you work with your chosen partner.
The last company to consider is one that goes beyond just marketing. They want to work with you to make your company better from top to bottom. They want to make sure your company is at its best before they attempt to drive more prospects to your door. If you aren't doing a great job with the clients who are walking in the door now, what's the point of driving more traffic?
This company will want to talk to your staff and your current customers with the goal of helping you become a better leader. Are you paying attention to the right business statistics? How many potential customers walk in the door each day or week? How many join that day? How many came back later? How long do your customers stay with you?
Again, do you know your target demographic? Do you know the best way to reach this demographic — radio or TV or direct mail? What's the best message to put out there to get this target demographic to walk in the door? Once they do walk in, what are you going to do with them? A traditional tour of the facility or more of a Q&A to better understand the needs of this individual? If they don't join that day, how will you follow up with them?
This company will tell you that it will be a process. It should tell you that the process will take time and trial and error to find out what works for your business in your marketplace. You are looking for long-term help, not a quick fix.
The company will also ask for an up-front fee and then a monthly retainer. Be sure that you put them through an interview process that takes more than just one phone call. You will be making a big commitment, and they will be making a commitment to you. Ask for references of not only their best success stories but ask about past clients that they might not have been able to help. If they say they have always been successful, it should come as a surprise.
Only by knowing what you want and what you need help with can you choose the right company for the job — and ultimately the best partner to co-author your own success story.
This article originally appeared in the November | December 2016 issue of Athletic Business with the title "When to seek marketing help and from whom." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.