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When Seeking To Focus a Club's Advertising, Guesswork Just Won't Cut It

When General Motors prepares to market one of its cars, the marketing staff starts by asking a lot of questions: Who has bought our cars in the past. Which models? Who has bought similar models from other manufacturers? What needs did that particular model fill for the customer? Was it the prestige of a luxury sedan, the practical value of the compact car or the family requirements that a minivan meets?

Similarly, for a club's marketing to be effective, it must target each audience the club hopes to motivate to join. Guesswork just won't cut it, as different factors motivate people to buy a sports car as opposed to a minivan.

Health-club owners may not have the budget of a Fortune 500 company, but the same marketing principles that guide General Motors apply to them.

How do you determine your prime prospects? Like plotting your course before setting sail, your answers to the following six questions can be the difference between being lost at sea and reaching your intended destination.

1. WHY ARE YOU ADVERTISING? At first, the question seems too elementary to even ask, but it is one you must ask - and answer completely - before you launch any campaign. Nothing is more important than setting precise goals before spending your time, money and effort. If you want to increase membership or pro-shop revenues, you have to specify by how much. If you are looking for new members or participants, how many can you comfortably accommodate within your facility? Are you looking for more sports teams to participate? Do you want to attract families, or would you rather aim for the young single professional who might one day purchase a family membership? The better the questions you ask, the better-quality advertising you will produce.

2. TO WHOM ARE YOU TALKING? Before you can build a successful ad campaign, you must have a vivid picture of your target market and the lives they lead. To do this, ask questions. How old are they? Are they married, divorced or single? Where do they live? What types of housing do they live in? What level of education have they attained? What do they do for a living? Where do they shop? What is their level of technological sophistication? Where do they spend their leisure time? What types of cars do they drive? Do they already belong to or use your facility, or one similar to yours? Once you have made it this far, you have developed a target group, or several separate groups, to whom you can advertise.

3. WHAT ARE THEIR CURRENT PERCEPTIONS OF YOUR FACILITY? Are your targeted participants currently using other facilities? If so, what do they like about where they're going now? What do they dislike? How are they using it? If they are not members of a private club or using your establishment, then why not? Are they doing something else with their recreation time? Only after you understand their present way of thinking can you begin to shape the way they perceive your business.

4. WHAT DO YOU WANT THEIR PERCEPTIONS TO BE? This is the time to dream. In a fantasy world, how would the target group feel about your facility and its services? If you stopped your prospective members on the street and asked them about your "brand," what do you wish they would say? It is absolutely critical at this stage that you remember how this group would best benefit from your service (possible responses include better health, team interaction or positive family dynamics when they "play" together).

How the target group perceives your service is extremely personal, reflecting as it does their fears, desires and aspirations. For example, is having a good-looking body their ultimate goal, or is it just being able to climb three flights of stairs or play with their kids without losing their breath. Maybe it's the idea of their child learning about team play that inspires them to sign up for ice hockey at your rink.

5. WHAT IS THE ONE IDEA THAT YOU MUST CONVEY? Your message must be so powerful that, assuming it is believed, it will change your business dramatically. How can your club or rec center enhance your customers' lives in ways they never imagined? It is vital that the idea be concise. Too many facts, statistics, and offers will dilute your true message.

One way to reign in your tactics is to ask your current users why they come to your facility. If, for example, you want to attract more families, find out from your current family members the top five reasons they chose your facility. If you survey 10 to 20 members at random, you may be surprised by how consistent their feedback is. The common thread should be readily apparent and help provide a clear focus when advertising to families.

6. WHY IS THIS BELIEVABLE? Your final message should be exciting, enthusiastic and, at the same time, believable. It must be believable based entirely on people's needs at this point in their lives. If it is about your club instead of them, it won't work.

Once these six questions have been satisfactorily answered, targeting your marketing efforts is easy, no matter which format you choose. Selecting from among TV, radio, newspaper or direct mail advertising can be tricky, however. All have their benefits, but the process outlined in this article may well steer you toward direct mail.

Once core prospect groups have been identified, direct mail can be targeted to reach them inexpensively and with very little waste. An appropriately produced and targeted direct-mail piece will garner a 1 percent response rate from a grade "A" or "B" list, and a response rate of 2.25 percent or more from an "A+" list. Even the former can be a big success. A 10,000-piece mailing, sent four times a year, can be counted on to produce 100 new leads every three months.

If this is your destination, climb aboard and set sail.

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