The Marketing Beat Goes On

This is the fourth of six articles this year that focus on offbeat marketing ideas. An offbeat marketing idea refers to non-traditional marketing approaches. Of course, offbeat marketing efforts never replace proven items on your annual marketing plan, but is a supplement to drive more traffic through the clubs' doors and in the process find a new, successful strategy to add to your annual marketing plan.

Remember, as it relates to creating a successful marketing plan, there are five pillars that comprise the Marketing Parthenon. These five pillars include: external marketing (television, radio, direct mail); internal marketing (referrals, missed guest mailers, alumni mailers); guerrilla marketing (lead boxes, flyers, joint marketing); corporate marketing; and community outreach. The key to creating a powerful marketing mix is to have a balance of all five pillars.

As we move into fall, which is a busier time of the year, let's look at new guerrilla marketing ideas, as well as more sophisticated internal marketing concepts.


The first offbeat guerrilla marketing idea is another new twist on an old approach — door hangers, which have been around since door-to-door sales were common and acceptable. The original concept was to have someone walk through neighborhoods, placing the paper ads on doorknobs or, in some cases, on the flags of street mailboxes. This was an inexpensive and effective way to gain exposure. Today, although our company still uses door hangers and finds them effective, many companies don't use them because they can't get their employees to do the work or have difficulty finding a company to do it for them.

Because of these challenges, we began to look for more creative ways to use door hangers and found two, successful new concepts. The first is to have local clothing stores place the door hangers on their clothes hangers. This idea is effective at women's clothing stores and even plus size specialty stores. Not only is this idea inexpensive, but it opens the door to future marketing opportunities with the business. For example, using this concept led to us partnering with a women's store to do a local fashion show, which not only led to community exposure, but resulted in joint marketing opportunities with other businesses in the community.

A second place for distribution is dry cleaners. What is nice about this venue is that the clientele, although mixed, is generally from the immediate geographic area and is often professional, with a higher discretionary income. And, of course, there is the benefit of having a high volume of customers year round, with the potential of a lot of the hangers reaching potential prospects.

One point to remember when putting together any door hanger marketing effort is to have the printer not make the cut into the top of the ad hanger, which allows the paper to be bent when placed on a door knob. The reason is that the slit often results in the ad falling off a coat hanger. Instead, have only the hole drilled or die-cut out of the piece.

Finally, with any guerrilla marketing effort that involves another business, ensure there are mutual benefits from the relationship. Offering a free membership doesn't always benefit the other business. Often, these are small, owner-operated businesses where the owner puts in a lot of hours and won't have time to use the club. Instead, find ways to help them grow their business in exchange for helping you grow yours. For example, we arranged it so that during the months that the local dry cleaners was putting ad hangers on the customers' clothes, our center set up a dry cleaning drop-off spot where members could drop off their clothes and we would bring them to the cleaners and have them back at the center for their pick up. A discount was offered for the first month, allowing the dry cleaner to try and gain new customers from our members. This win-win situation is imperative for long-term success of any joint marketing promotion.


The next guerrilla marketing promotion, which can be categorized as a community outreach effort, is the brainchild of industry veteran, Tony DeLeede. The program is called “5 for 5,” which stands for “5 days for 5 dollars,” and is designed to accomplish two things: first, to drive prospects through the doors and second, to help local organizations raise money. “5 for 5” guest cards are printed with the organization's name. (We had ours printed in full color and left a place for the organization to use an Avery label to customize.) If possible, the passes should be numbered for quality control. The organization then sells the guest passes for $5 and has the purchaser fill out the information card, which is perforated for detachment. The organization then returns the information on the purchaser to the club and gets to keep the money.

I like this promotion for a number of reasons. First, having a 5 for 5 program (or something like it), allows you to avoid buying ineffective ads or sponsorships with the dozens of local organizations that come and ask for money. Instead, you can say to them, “We don't do that but we do give you the opportunity to earn an unlimited amount of money at no cost to your organization.”

Second, while helping community organizations you are able to get free marketing that has the potential to drive prospects through the club doors. Finally, by collecting the information about the purchaser, you have the ability to build a database. Certainly, many of these individuals will buy the pass to support the organization, but having the contact information (especially the e-mail) allows you to send out one or more letters or e-mails to qualify hot prospects and weed out the dead leads.

Although I prefer the 5 for 5 concept because it proactively obtains prospect names and contact information, some organizations don't want to be responsible for the passes, nor do they want to sell on behalf of one for-profit organization. In an effort to make it as easy as possible for any organization big, small, young or old, to tap into this type of fundraising effort, our Australian distributor, Jamie Hayes, created a second option. Instead of selling the passes, the organization simply distributes the passes around town and receives $5 for every pass that is returned to the club for a tour.

Some club operators balk at the thought of paying someone $5 for a tour, but the reality of the situation is that a club's average lead acquisition cost is much higher, making this a low-cost lead. Remember, the $5 is only given for a complete tour and presentation. You can also spice up this promotion by having an interscholastic competition, giving the school that has the most guest passes returned a prize of $500. This type of twist takes more organizational skills to keep the competition interesting and growing, and you need to set a minimum number of returns in order to receive the prize, but taking the time and effort should pay off in the increased number of guest passes hitting your community and the possible PR that could come out of the competition.

The final offbeat promotion is an internal marketing idea. It is another twist on a successful promotion that was covered in a previous year's Marketing Matters. Some of you may remember the birthday card promotion. This is where the names and addresses of people whose birthday it is that month are obtained and a card is sent to them. Inside the card is a trial membership to the club, usually for 30 days. To increase response rate our centers have also given the recipient a free mini-facial. Of course, a club that does not offer aesthetic treatments could add something else, like a personal training session.

The twist came from a women's-only facility that offered to each birthday card recipient a gift box that was filled with a variety of goodies like a t-shirt, water bottle, sweat towel and diet booklet. The direct mail piece that was sent had a picture of the gift-wrapped box and the side panel had a photo that showed all the enclosed goodies. The addition of the photograph of goodies dramatically increased the response rate to the mailing. When they arrived at the facility, a gift box was wrapped for the birthday guest and was handed to her at check in, which increased rapport and comfort level because the guest stopped being suspicious about a potential “bait and switch” promotion. Although the cost of each tour increased by almost $7, the added number of responses and ultimate sales was worth the investment. Furthermore, the potential for future sales of missed guests was higher because the gifts were fitness oriented — almost all the people who responded had some level of interest in fitness. Therefore, with a good missed guest sales strategy, this promotion can create two waves of sales; the immediate sales from the tours and the future sales from follow up.

Whether using door hangers at clothing stores or laundromats, creating a 5 for 5 guest pass program or taking the time to run a birthday card promotion, these are offbeat marketing ideas that you don't see being used much in the club business. Finding creative ways to attract prospects at low cost is the only way many smaller, owner-operated fitness centers will survive in today's competitive market. It may take time and energy to plan and execute the ideas we have discussed over the past eight months, but doing so will lead to more prospects and a greater level of success.


Be one of the first 10 people to contact me with a unique, offbeat marketing idea that I have not written about and I will send you a free “Selling Fitness” book ($19.95) and feature your club in one of the next Club Industry, Marketing Matters columns. Contact [email protected] or call the HEALTHY INSPIRATIONS offices at 800-725-6147.

Call to Action:

GET YOUR MARKETING IDEA PUBLISHED IN CLUB INDUSTRY MAGAZINE! If you have a unique marketing concept that you would like featured in the next Club Industry Marketing Matters, contact me at [email protected] or call the HEALTHY INSPIRATIONS offices at 800-725-6147.

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