Branding vs. Direct-Response Marketing


Curtis Mock is the President of Vitality Marketing Group, a consulting and campaign company for the health club industry. He has managed, owned and consulted facilities of all sizes throughout the United States for more than 12 years. He is assisted by a team of eight consultants who work specifically with independently owned gyms and health clubs nationwide. Mock also is the primary contributor to VMG’s Gym Goldmine resource, which boasts more than 3,000 subscribed health club owners. Visit VMG at or reach Mock directly at [email protected].

As an independently operated gym or health club, should your marketing efforts focus on building your brand, or should you focus on getting people through the door quickly through direct-response marketing? It all depends on how much money you have to spend.

Branding is important—to an extent. You want your club to be the first that comes to mind when someone decides to get in shape. But at the same time, you have to be aware that it could take a long time, sometimes years, and a lot of money before you have built your brand. If you have deep pockets and can afford to remain under breakeven for as long as it takes to build your brand, more power to you. But if you’re like most independent clubs and chains, you simply don’t have the time or the money to wait for your brand to develop. For limited budgets and struggling clubs, direct-response marketing is a better way to utilize your marketing budget.

Direct-response marketing provides a clear message and gives your prospects a reason to do business with you right away. There are many opinions on the best way to illicit a response from your direct marketing message. The bottom line is that you simply need to present your offering in a way that gets your prospects to raise their hands and say, “I am interested. Tell me more.”

Here are seven rules to help get your prospects on the phone and through the door:

  1. Choose the right marketing medium. Just because you listen to the local hard rock radio station doesn’t mean that is the station your target market listens to. If your club is located in a suburb of a large metro area, television and telemarketing likely won’t work. Selecting the appropriate marketing medium can make the difference between a high return on your investment and a complete waste of money.
  1. Cater to your prospect’s selfishness. Always keep in mind that people, by nature, are self-absorbed. If you do not make it clear to them how your offer is going to benefit them personally, they will not respond. In fact, if this article didn’t in some way benefit you, you would not have read this far.
  1. Your message must generate curiosity. One of the best ways to do this is with an attention-grabbing headline. Too many marketing efforts will go unnoticed because they fail to get someone’s attention. Make your message bold, make it loud and give your prospect a reason to pay attention. A good example is, “We guarantee you will reach your fitness goals, or we will give you your money back!”
  1. Offer an incentive to take action. You need to make it very clear what you want your prospect to do. Do you want them to call? Tell them to call. Do you want them to visit your Web site? Tell them to visit your Web site. Bribe them with an irresistible offer or give away something for free, such as “Be one of the first 20 people to bring this postcard to the club and pay no membership dues until September!”
  1. Make sure to emphasize your USP. Your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is simply the one thing that distinguishes you from all of your competitors. The possibilities for building your USP are limitless, but it is likely that you already have one. Is your club open 24 hours? Do you have unbelievable customer service? Do you cater to women only? Are you conveniently located in your market? Do you have the lowest price or the most amenities? Any of these are considered a USP. Determine yours, and tell the world all about it.
  1. Your marketing must be measured. Direct-response marketing is only effective if you can prove it is working. Direct response means just that—your prospects respond directly. Whether it is from a postcard, newspaper, telemarketing, Internet marketing or any other medium, you must be able to determine the effectiveness of your investment. Keep track of your ROI on each marketing method or you will continually waste money on ineffective marketing.
  1. It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it. You can have the perfect health club with the best personal trainers and the most convenient location, all at a great price, but you still need to have the right message to let your market know about it. Don’t send a boring postcard or have a print ad with a boring picture, your club name, amenities, a weak message and contact information on it. Nobody cares. Be compelling, tell a story, have a uniquely designed ad—whatever it takes to get people to pay attention to your entire message.
For the majority of health clubs, direct-response marketing is a better way to spend your marketing dollars. Many clubs have very little money to spend on marketing to begin with, so it is important that for every dollar that you spend on marketing, you receive more than a dollar in return. Building your brand is always good. However, getting people through your door is your No. 1 priority. Pay special attention to these seven rules and you will see an immediate improvement in your marketing efforts.

Suggested Articles:

Before you reopen your health club’s doors, take some time to consider these three strategies that may help you future-proof your business.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic is presenting every fitness business with a unique set of obstacles. The degree to which each business will struggle

(Editors' Note: For more retention and sales help, attend educational sessions in the Retention and Sales tracks at the 2019 Club Industry Show…