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How To Market Using The Stages of Change Model

Leslie Nolen leads The Radial Group, which provides sales, marketing and business planning know-how for health and wellness businesses. Join thousands of health and wellness leaders who get free weekly business tips at

How much time and money has your health club spent selling to people who aren’t ready to change?

The “readiness to change” model first described by James Prochaska of the University of Rhode Island is a powerful tool for understanding how your customers are thinking about lifestyle change. It’s even more powerful when you use it to drive your sales and marketing activities.

Use these tips that follow the model to make sure that your health club stays in sync with your prospective customers’ commitment to lifestyle change.

We’ll use a weight-loss program as our example:

During the pre-contemplation phase, people aren’t planning to make lifestyle changes. They’re unaware or unconcerned about the health concerns related to excess weight and obesity. You’ll also find demoralized people who have repeatedly failed to lose weight in this stage. They view their current situation as the norm. It’s just how things are, as comments such as “everyone in my family is heavy” illustrate.

Marketing to this group is not productive for most health clubs and fitness centers. You’ll spend time and money providing basic health information to individuals who are very far away from becoming customers. In fact, most people in the pre-contemplation stage never move out of it. Let well-funded, highly visible organizations like the American Heart Association partner with government-led public health initiatives to reach this group.

As people enter the contemplation stage, they’re definitely interested in change. However, they’re still weighing the trade-offs. That means they’re still months—or years—away from becoming a customer. For example, someone who wants to lose weight may believe that she’s got to stop eating potatoes, bread and other carbohydrates. She’s not ready to give up her favorite foods in order to lose weight.

Marketing tools that help customers sort out the pros and cons of lifestyle change can be helpful in moving them toward a buying decision. For example, you could debunk common misunderstandings by providing a checklist of “Ten Myths About Losing Weight” that explains that a healthy diet can include favorite foods like potatoes and bread.

As interest in returning to a healthier weight grows, prospects move to the preparation phase. Here, they’re definitely planning to take action in the near future. They’ve already made a few small changes. Perhaps they’ve switched to vitamin-fortified soda or 2 percent milk, or they’ve started parking a bit farther away from the door. These baby steps signal a growing commitment to change.

Case studies and success stories that go beyond mere testimonials to explain why customers chose your program are effective marketing tools for those in the preparation stage. Frequently asked questions are also useful. For example, customers wonder what will happen in the first session of a weight-management program. Tell them in your FAQ and offer a trial pass, so they can see for themselves.

As people enter the action stage, they make significant lifestyle changes. For example, they may consciously monitor and reduce calories, take part in an ongoing fitness program or attend weekly wellness coaching sessions. Customers make purchase decisions during the action stage, so your marketing materials should make it easy for them to buy with confidence and encourage them to buy now.

Tools like cost calculators can help them appreciate the financial value of reduced medical costs (less time lost to illness and disability) and a wardrobe that fits this year and next year. That perspective can make the cost of your program much less daunting. Guarantees increase their confidence in moving ahead with a purchase despite disappointing weight-loss experiences in the past. Limited-time offers encourage them to buy now, rather than procrastinating.

In the maintenance stage, people consolidate their progress and are generally able to maintain their lifestyle changes. However, most people will experience minor lapses. For example, they may exercise less frequently, or they may re-introduce certain foods.

Your marketing materials in this stage should maintain the connection with your customer so that they think of you first when they need help. For example, a blog that talks about the challenges of staying on track once you’ve reached your goal can provide ongoing support for customers.

Market products and services that help customers stay on track. For example, energy bars or card decks with body weight exercises may be great products to offer if many members travel and have trouble staying active and eating well on the road.

Some individuals actually move into a relapse stage. They slide back into all of the unhealthy lifestyle habits they were working to change. From a marketing perspective, it’s often best to think of these customers as going back to the pre-contemplation phase.

Why waste time and money selling to people who aren’t ready to make a change? Use these tips to stay in step with your potential customer.
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