Welcome to the Hilton …we have beds!


One of the hardest things to do in marketing is connect emotionally to your prospect. Telling them how much stuff you have in your club just doesn’t do it, which makes me wonder why so many clubs continue to make that their message.

One of my favorite quotes from Thomas Plummer is, “Welcome to the Hilton… We have beds!” It’s a painfully obvious, albeit funny, statement, but this is a fundamental problem with many of the advertisements you see for our industry; they are features-driven. More weights, better treadmills, bigger lockers, etc. Yes, you have the stuff and paid a lot of money for it. Who else cares? Not Jane and Joe Prospect. If they are like the majority of prospects, then they have never been members of a club, and all that ‘stuff’ intimidates them. Worse still, they may feel that they are not yet fit enough to join your club!

When it comes to prospects, the small percent of workout fanatics have found you and are already members or even staff! No marketing required. They know what they want and will join the best fit for them.

Next in line would be the occasional users. These are the people whom most clubs are fighting for, or the largest percentage of the ‘churn’, as Mr. Cates refers to them in his August 2009 Cover Story entitled, Trust. They want to be club members. They want fitness to be part of their life. They want to enjoy the experience and social side of a membership. Most importantly, they want results. Unfortunately, most don’t get what they want (or need) and jump to the next shiny, new club as soon as it opens. Maybe the new treadmills with all the latest gadgets will help! Likely not…

We all know it’s less expensive to keep an existing member than it is to find a new one (retention is a whole other topic that all clubs should research and work with experts in our industry to increase). Happy members stay longer, spend more and are more loyal! Stop treating them like they don’t count. Treat them like you value their business –because you certainly should–with respect, and give them the attention and help you’d expect as a customer yourself. It’s the very least you can do!

The final group is the non-exerciser. By some accounts, this comprises 65% of the population or more who have never been a club member. They may have never worked out at all. They are also pounded with a few thousand advertising messages every day, including yours. Do you think you are going to stand out by telling them you have TVs, trainers, showers, 25,000 lbs of free weights and a cardio deck that stretches for a mile and a half?

Benefits versus Features Marketing
So, what’s the difference between benefits versus features marketing? It all boils down to what you are going to do to help Jane and Joe Prospect. They may need to lose weight, or recover from surgery, or perhaps they simply want to be able to take out the garbage without being out of breath! Each prospect has a unique reason for coming to you, and at the end of the day, he is looking for help to accomplish one thing, achieving the results he wants.

For example, instead of including the standard ‘laundry list’ of stuff in your marketing message, why not make an attempt to establish an emotional connection with your prospect by replacing it with a testimonial from a member; a real member too, not just ‘this is the best club ever’ one. Another idea is to make it easier to join by removing some of the barriers. Offer things like a money-back guarantee, introductory group training and group fitness classes and member ambassadors who provide support and reassurance to the new member.

People need to feel comfortable from the very first time they walk into your club. Better yet, if you build your reputation around trust and results, your members will recommend your club to their friends, family and colleagues, and that is the best advertising in the world!

One last point to consider when planning your great, new ‘features’ marketing campaign, one which I have made before but is always a good reminder, when the local newspaper, billboard company or printer offers to design your ad for free, keep in mind the price you pay may just be reflected in the product you are going to get. Even if it looks okay, is it on message for your club business? If you truly want to build trust –think brand marketing and the big guys like Nike, Coca-Cola, Apple, etc– you need to be consistent in the message to the consumer. Not for a month, and not for a quarter, but forever. Campaigns can change and so can offers, but what you say, how you say it and to whom you say it must be the foundation of every piece of marketing you spend your valuable dollars on. If you can commit to make your marketing ‘work out’ like you help your members do, then it will start working out for you too!