Marketing for new members has become more challenging lately, requiring club owners to work a little harder and a lot smarter. Traditional forms of advertising seem to result in little, if any, response in many markets.

Because of this, some club owners are using different methods of advertising, including shifting from traditional to alternative media. Although advertising in newspapers and magazines and on radio and TV will continue, spending in new media on the Internet will show the biggest growth because it's often the best way to reach audiences effectively and to yield a measurable return on investment.

Interactive marketing is another trend. Spending in this area is expected to more than triple during the next five years. Interactive encompasses marketing channels, such as e-mail, search marketing, online video ads and social media, all of which will claim larger shares of marketers' budgets.

The trend toward using off-line media to drive customers to the Internet will continue to pick up speed. Traditional media are increasingly relied on to support new interactive campaigns.

The move toward alternative advertising versus traditional methods coincides with the emergence of technologies that enable a one-on-one dialogue with customers. The social media trend of posting a club's listing on Web sites that encourage customer or peer reviews is becoming more popular. Social media add an element of impartiality and are increasingly looked to as reliable sources of information. The caveat of this, however, is that it allows a few grumpy members to make a lot of noise.

Integrating off-line and online campaigns is another growing trend. Some club owners are looking for ways to use off-line media to drive traffic to a Web site with specialized landing pages that tell a deeper story. Owners are using print and TV ads to start the customer education process and direct potential buyers online to learn more or make a purchase.

Once there, entertaining online video ads may be used to tell a longer, more involved story. Marketers must focus on delivering relevant messages to consumers when they're most willing to listen to them. This translates into e-mails that have more personalized and dynamic content and greater use of e-newsletters that provide customers with either valuable or entertaining information.

Some club owners are moving some of their off-line dollars to online because online advertising now offers a strong alternative to some traditional media, such as the Yellow Pages. Online directories and search engines are sharing in advertising dollars. The majority of Americans research their products online before making purchases, so a paid search campaign is an ideal way to make sure you turn up at the top of search results.

Alternative out-of-home advertising opportunities let club owners place their message wherever customers go. Some club owners are putting their clubs' name and company logo on co-op marketing ideas with other businesses, such as on hiking trails in wilderness areas. The key to using these new opportunities effectively is to place the message where it will appear in the proper context and reach potential customers when they are in the right frame of mind.

This year is full of high-return marketing opportunities. By closely watching the hottest trends, you can make smart choices that allow you to step ahead of your slower-moving competitors.

For specific marketing ideas, go to my Step by Step column at www.fitnessbusinesspro.com/stepbystep/marketing.

Ed Tock is a partner in Sales Makers, a marketing and sales training consulting firm that has worked with more than 1,000 clubs and won the IHRSA Associate of the Year award. He can be reached at 800-428-3334 or eddie@sales-makers.com.