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The 'Issue' Is Marketing & Sales

The 'solution' is to understand the benefits of marketing, clarify your marketing direction and reap the sales and retention benefits of your marketing investment.

What is marketing? Marketing is "finding out what your customers want and delivering it," says Jodi Rudick, president of the ADvisors Marketing Group, a promotional agency located in Oceanside, Calif. In Rudick's presentation, "The Five-Minute Marketing Plan," at the Athletic Business Conference, November 28 through December 1, in Orlando, Fla., she explained that marketing is "everything you do to get and keep you customer." It is most definitely "not about advertising; it's about getting customers and turning them into salespeople for your business - getting them to talk good about you." So, how do you do that?

Marketing is an investment

First, understand that marketing is not a cost, it's an investment. "When you spend time and money randomly on marketing," says Jane Hendry in her article "The 7 Myths of Marketing a Service Business" (www.translationdirectory.com), "then it probably is an expense because you're not generating a return on the resources invested in it." Most fitness-services businesses can't operate like big businesses that specialize in image advertising. Instead, fitness facility operators need to focus on specific daily, monthly and yearly results. "The key," says Hendry, "is to understand the elements or variables that go into each [marketing] activity or campaign, and how they affect the ultimate outcome."

Positioning your business

Before you get into specifics, be sure that your business is positioned correctly. For instance, Robert Middleton in his article "The 5 Ps of Professional Service Business Marketing" (www.actionplan.com/6psmarkt.html), says you need to know what your business solution is, or how your service solves a problem for customers, adds value, etc. Then, you need to identify exactly who your potential clients are. What are their demographics? What past experiences with fitness centers have they had? Then, determine what makes your facility unique. "That is, what differentiates you from your competitors," says Middleton. "What do you do better, different, faster, cheaper, with higher quality or with a different spin?"

Next, establish a business identity. "What are the qualities you want to be known by?" asks Middleton. "You can't be everything to everybody." Is it your trainers' and instructors' expertise? Is it your programming and/or customer service? And, last, what is your "Phrase that Pays"? Come up with some words that concisely sum up your positioning strategy in a way that is memorable and meaningful. Perhaps it is, "We get you the fitness results you desire with degreed and certified trainers," or maybe it's, "We make your fitness experience fun with the hottest programs and creative instruction."

Positioning your marketing message

Once you have a clear idea of your business direction, design specific marketing campaigns around the various areas of your facility that you wish to grow and/or change. Each marketing campaign needs to have a plan, says Rudick. You have to define what you are selling by identifying what your product is, what its features are and what the benefits of that product are to your members.

For each marketing plan, define your objective, measurement and timeline, and don't forget the reality check, Rudick says. For example, let's say that the objective is to increase participation (not just awareness) of older adults in your tai chi classes. Your measurement, then, would be increasing participation by 10 percent. And, you want to do this by May 1. Then, determine under which conditions these goals are obtainable. Say to yourself, "We can do this, if ... ."

Next, spell out who your target market is, says Rudick. What is the description of your target market? In this example, it would be individuals ages 50 and older who are interested in mind/body group exercise programs. You also have to know why participating in tai chi is important to them. Spell out the benefits of tai chi to this group, such as increased fitness and flexibility. And, last, think about how to reach them. Where do you find those individuals, and are they the ultimate decision-makers about participating? Who could help you reach this audience (the gatekeepers)? Is it their children who are members, is it local retirement communities, senior centers, etc.? "Get into the minds of the customer you are trying to reach by reading what they read and going where they go," Rudick says.

When you get to the promotion stage, you have to "get past the brochure/activity guide, [and] do something that [makes] your customer say, 'Tell me more!'" says Rudick. When they're at that stage, take them through the process of actually becoming a participant in the tai chi class. Once you hook them to come to the first class, it's up to who they deal with next (the coach, instructor, etc.). "You have to look at all facets of the member experience," says Rudick.

The five-point marketing plan

Marketing is a never-ending process. Rudick suggests that facility operators constantly evaluate how they can make their businesses better by instituting the five-point marketing plan: 1) What could we do now to improve the quality of our product/service in the eyes of our customers? 2) What additional product or services would our customers most like us to offer? 3) What could we do right now to cut costs without hurting quality? 4) What offers could we afford to make to encourage new customers to try us or encourage current customers to be more loyal? 5) What could we do right now?

Honing in on some specifics

In this special section of FM, we provide you with some specific areas to look at in your marketing efforts. First, personal training is at the height of excitement and participation in fitness facilities, and the American College of Sports Medicine listed it as the seventh-most-important trend that will affect fitness facilities in 2008. Therefore, it's important to look at the ways in which you can maximize your personal training profits.

Customer service is also one of the most-important elements of marketing, not only your business to the community, but each of your products and services to your members. With the growing number of people of different ethnicities and nationalities participating in fitness, it's important to understand how marketing affects each culture. Last, websites and other Internet-based communication tools must be a part of your overall marketing package. And, in this day and age, it couldn't be easier. No matter what service or part of your facility you're marketing, be sure that your business position is always at the core of your message. And, remember, "Marketing is not something you can usually achieve [success in] overnight," says Hendry. "It's something that you need to do constantly, bit by bit, in the same way that an [athlete] needs to train every day to be good enough for the Olympics."

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