As restrictions start to lift and the world reopens, it is an appropriate time to talk about marketing. Throughout the shutdowns, facilities took various marketing approaches. Some did business as usual, some modified and some did not market at all.
Regardless of the approach during the pandemic, businesses need to rethink their strategic marketing for facilities to survive and thrive in the new normal. Just as the world has changed, so should the approach to marketing.
When I use the term "marketing," I am referring to methods used to convey information about your facility and its services to the public. This includes everything from traditional sales materials to your website and social media content.
Here, then, are my five steps for successful marketing moving forward:
1. Reflect the current situation
Whether using traditional marketing pieces, your website or social media content, be sure they accurately depict the current state of affairs. If masks are required, make sure to change the images on your website to images of staff and members wearing masks. If you post photos of group exercise classes, make sure members are depicted as socially distanced.
Attention to such details helps to visually outline your policies. If a prospect is researching you online, this type of marketing creates a great first impression. I can't stress enough how important it is that everything you present to the public — regardless of medium — accurately reflects the current situation.
2. Focus on building trust
Often, we think of marketing as something that directly asks people to buy from you. In today's times, trust is crucial and may have to be rebuilt with members and prospects.
By creating and disseminating great content that transparently educates and assists people, you demonstrate that your facility truly cares. Share recipes, wellness advice, mental health tips, at-home workouts and similar information via emails, blogs and social media. Whatever you can do to benefit your audience is well worth your time and effort.
Entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk once referred to this approach as "Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook." Give good content (jab), give good content (jab), give good content (jab), then ask for the sale (right hook). This method builds trust and leads to more sales, especially in today's environment.
3. Consider current buying criteria
What a buyer found important pre-COVID may have changed. Pre-COVID marketing revolved around topics such as weight loss, high-intensity interval training and discount pricing. Consumers may now be researching cleanliness protocols, wellness-related programming and virtual offerings.
In addition, make sure the buying process is user-friendly and frictionless. Contactless purchasing grew exponentially during the pandemic, and most people have gotten used to it and like it. I know I do! The easier you make "buying," the more people will spend.
4. Leverage testimonials
In an era of uncertainty and some skepticism, testimonials go a long way. Make sure to secure testimonials from members who are back in the gym and happy. While members probably trust you, receiving positive information from their peers adds a higher level of trust.
Although traditional testimonials from members about achieving goal-driven results can be effective, this is also an excellent time to add testimonials touting your adherence to new guidelines and safety. Imagine how impactful it would be for a prospect to see a short video or social media post featuring a member talking about feeling safe in your facility, or highlighting the great job the facility does with cleanliness and social distancing efforts.
5. Target ex-members – with options
One thing to remember is that members used to cancel because of non-use, relocation or competition from an alternative facility. That's not necessarily the case in today's climate.
There are members who canceled because facilities had to close or because they did not feel safe attending when open. Use steps one through four to create campaigns to target these former members. Engage with them via email campaigns and social media efforts using great content. Explain what you are doing to make the facility safe. Share testimonials. While some of the strategies are very similar for brand-new prospects, you already have a relationship with former members, so you can be a little more personal.
Finally, consider creating more flexible options for prospects and ex-members. Some consumers are now reluctant to sign long-term agreements. It is worth having less-intimidating options such as month-to-month memberships or drop-in offers. That could be the nudge they need to return. When you provide a great experience for them, they will stay.
That, of course, is the end game of any marketing strategy — building your member base on the strength of an unparalleled user experience. These strategies will help to attract new prospects and revive relationships with ex-members. However, it's the power of a great experience that will ensure you retain current members and inspire them to refer new ones. This word of mouth is where the real marketing magic happens.
One more thing to bear in mind is that you, as operators and marketers, may need to think about your stance on social issues and whether you choose to express a position.
In the past, it was common for businesses to stay neutral on social issues. Today, we are seeing more brands voicing their opinion. Consumers are beginning to expect stances from brands and want to support businesses that align with their values.
Could you risk alienating half of your prospect universe or might you reach a yet-untapped market of like-minded individuals? Food for thought.
This article originally appeared in the June 2021 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Rethink your marketing strategy with these five steps." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.