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Know Your Members to Successfully Market Your Club

Kolbeck, Catherine

doi: 10.1249/FIT.0b013e3182a06108
COLUMNS: The Business Side

Catherine Kolbeck has 12 years of experience in the health and fitness industry, leading marketing and branding initiatives for corporate, commercial, and community fitness centers. In her role as director of marketing, she leads the development of strategic marketing planning for MediFit and its clients while directing the creation and delivery of tactical marketing across multiple channels. She has a B.A. in writing from DePauw University.

Disclosure: The author declares no conflicts of interest and does not have any financial disclosures.



With hundreds of operational details to manage each day at your club, where does the development and implementation of your marketing plan fall into the mix? Oftentimes, we do not stop to assess our membership base and determine why they are members or how we can leveragethem to help attract new members. With a measurable marketing plan in place, you can create marketing strategies and tactics that speak to your ideal target audiences; measure the efficacy of your marketing initiatives; and use your club staff and existing members to drive membership sales while engaging and retaining your existing members.

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It may seem obvious; yet marketing plan development starts with identifying your membership base. Who are your active members? Are your current active members your ideal target audience? Are they the most profitable members (i.e., dues plus personal training or other ancillary revenue)? Are they middle-aged women, young adults, or families? Assessing your club’s demographics and developing marketing strategies and tactics to attract each target audience, even with a limited marketing budget, can result in a larger, more committed, higher revenue generating membership base.

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Even in this hyperconnected technology world, one-to-one relationship building can be one of your most successful marketing tactics. How do you leverage your existing members to help you recruit new members?

Start your relationship building with your staff. Encourage and reward your club staff for driving referrals and engaging members at the club. Consider turning your staff’s business cards into guest passes by printing a complimentary pass on the back of the card. To generate some friendly competition, offer monthly or quarterly contests for greatest number of referrals. Provide trainings on how to build genuine relationships with members. Offer staff talking points about your club’s programs or upcoming events. Demonstrate how to talk with members, for example, “you’ve realized great success here at the club. Have you thought about bringing a friend or family member who also may benefit from taking Zumba®?” Staff typically shy away from anything that seems sales oriented, thus it is important to position these staff-to-member communications as relationship-building opportunities.

As your staff engages with your members, identify key stakeholders in your membership base. These members typically are part of your ideal membership demographic, and often, they also are your greatest fans and avid club promoters. How can you influence them to bring in new members?

Start by asking your members about your club. What do they love about your club? Could you design rewards or special programs around what these members like? Perhaps run a specialty triathlon program with a favorite trainer. Consider providing personalized printed invitations that your fans can hand out to their friends with a great offer to invite them to these programs about which they are passionate. If you personalize the club experience for these critical members and your staff genuinely interacts with your membership, you will build a solid committed base of raving fans and staff members too.

Don’t forget to allocate a portion of your marketing budget for referrals and rewards for your staff and members around your relationship-building efforts. Balance your rewards with nominal offerings such as $25 gift cards to an array of local businesses (gas stations, grocery stores, department stores, etc.) for staff members with the greatest number of monthly referrals while running member contests with perceived high-value items such as iPad® minis, mountain bikes, a day at the spa, and the like.



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Once you’ve assessed your club demographics and leveraged your staff and fan relationships, you can look in-depth at how your target audience engages your club. Knowing this information will assist you in creating highly targeted and meaningful marketing messages. The types of information you might seek include:

  • What drives the male members aged 35 to 54 years to visit your club weekly?
  • Which programs receive the most traction among mothers aged 25 to 34 years?
  • What percentage of your demographics are seniors? How are you catering your programs/promotions to their needs?

As you review your marketing tactics, ask yourself what attracts your membership base and prospects? Which segments of your target audience are social media mavens, participants in local festivals or community events, or regular readers of a popular local magazine?

Gathering and knowing this level of detail about your club demographics will assist you in developing programming, promotions, and marketing that will resonate with your target audiences. Capturing this level of detailed knowledge about your members starts with your prospects. When prospects call or visit your club, ASK and TRACK how they learned about your club. Was it a friend? (Don’t forget to track the friend’s name and reward that friend. Hint: the referring friend is most likely already a fan ofyour club.) Did a specific promotion prompt their inquiry or perhaps an ad? (Be sure to ask which publication or event for tracking purposes.) In summary, have an internal process that requires your staff to ask and track the right questions.

Make sure that everything in your marketing piece is aimed at your target audience. This includes the images; the size and the type of font (especially for older adult audiences); a clear, simple offer; and your club’s contact information. Track what works especially for your target audiences so you can leverage more marketing dollars against proven tactics that attract future fans.

Remember, marketing that works for one target audience may not work for other targets. Diversifying and trying new marketing tactics with the appropriate marketing measurement is critical to long-term marketing success. It controls your marketing spend too.

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Another way to market your club and drive ancillary revenue is through successful programming. Do you have a group of older adult men who are all training to improve their golf game? Offer a golf training program and invite them to bring like-minded golfers to your program. The same principle is effective for stay-at-home moms who want to lose weight in a socially engaging atmosphere. Think boot camps or small group training programs to engage, attract, and retain members. Successful programs attract more members and retain existing members. As such, quality programs and member-centric instructors/trainers are paramount to using programming successfully as a marketing tool.



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All internal and external marketing should speak to attracting and retaining your target demographics. If you want 40-year-old women who take group exerciseclasses and get massages, then your staff should consist of people who easily can connect with this audience and printed materials should include pictures of 40-year-old women engagedin those activities. If you want 20-somethings as your target audience, then your printed materials would reflecta more edgy look and your front desk staff might be younger to attract that demographic.

Remember that the connections and impressions your staff make on members and prospects “speak” as loud as any ad, social media post, or brochure; however, meaningful marketing coupled with great staff-to-member relationships are both critical forces in retaining members and attracting prospects.

© 2013 American College of Sports Medicine.