For those of you who might be tuning into this column for the first time in 2004, it's useful to know that each of the six marketing matters features this year will focus on “offbeat” marketing ideas. As a recap, an offbeat marketing idea refers to non-traditional approaches. An idea that you hear and might say, “That's kind of cool and different, I'd like to give that a try.” It is also important to remember that offbeat marketing efforts never replace proven items on your annual marketing plan, but rather they are used as a supplement to drive more traffic through the clubs' doors and in the process, perhaps find a new, successful strategy to add to your annual marketing plan.

The first offbeat marketing idea is something a colleague of mine saw at an inline skating race in California. Hundreds of business card-sized magnets that advertised a particular product were stuck on a car. It was evident to anyone passing by that, if they were interested in the product and wanted the contact details of the seller, that it was allowable to take one of the magnets right off the car. What a great guerrilla marketing idea for a couple of reasons. First, it is impossible to walk through a parking lot and not notice a car that is plastered with small magnets — even if they weren't a flashy color. In fact, it instantly gets your attention to the point where you are compelled to go see what the heck the magnets say. Second, a magnetic business card is something that people will be more apt to keep — especially if they are the type of person who hangs things on their refrigerator.

I remember moving into a new home and receiving a Welcome Wagon basket on my doorstep. Most of the things I threw in the circular file, but one thing that caught my attention, was a magnet that looked exactly like the king of hearts playing card. At the bottom of the magnet was the name, “Royal Flush Plumbing” and a phone number. The magnet was placed inside a letter welcoming me to the neighborhood and offering a 10-percent discount off any plumbing services I might need. I threw the letter away but promptly put the magnet on my refrigerator. As fate would have it, when I ran my first load of laundry the pipes backed up and flooded my basement. Although I had trashed the letter, I quickly located the magnet and called the Royal Flush Plumbing man. The point being, magnetic business cards are more apt to stick around than a paper one. And, at an average of 13 cents to 18 cents per magnet, they are affordable.

One final and interesting note about placing magnets on a car. I later found out that in the state of California, if you have traditional car magnets on your automobile, you get assessed a commercial use tax of something like $1,500 per year. However, these tiny car magnets somehow made it through a legislative loophole and avoided the tax. Certainly, you should check with your local attorney before you make a purchase. Also, know that if you have a Saturn, which doesn't have a metal body, the magnets won't stick.

The next offbeat marketing idea also falls into the guerrilla-marketing category, and although it initially sounds like something old, it actually has a really cool twist. Certainly, at some point during your business, you have had pens printed with your company name and phone number on them. Some people do an inexpensive, Bic-style pen while others spend a considerable amount on a more upscale, engraved pen. (I've tried both.) Although these items seem to be a wonderful gesture to members or individuals passing by a table or health fair booth, I've personally never had any new member site “your free pen” as a source. And, even if it was argued that such a purchase was really meant as a top of mind awareness tool, not a marketing driver, I'm always looking for more ways to get a bang for every buck I spend.

BANG FOR YOUR BUCK

One way to use the pen idea but get much more exposure and awareness from it is something fairly new; a pen that is attached to a carabiner. For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, a carabiner is that metal spring clip that rock climbers use to secure themselves to lines and has recently been popularized on school back-packs and key rings from amusement parks in vibrant colors. The really nice thing about these pens is that women have a tendency to attach them to their purses, allowing them to quickly access a pen without having to rummage through all their stuff. And, because this is such a novel idea at the moment, people have a tendency to notice them. This means that in addition to getting the marketing exposure with the person who has the pen, other people might notice the pen as well. What a bonus. Surprisingly, these carabiner pens are fairly reasonably priced, ranging from $0.99 to $1.70 each, depending upon the quantities ordered. It is certainly pricier than something like a car magnet, but it is also something that will probably get used a lot more.

The next offbeat idea falls into the category of external marketing and came from Kelly Walker, a regional manager for a small group of HEALTHY INSPIRATIONS Centers in Virginia. Kelly had arranged with a local TV station to be part of a local reality show where residents of the town get an extreme makeover. As some of you may know, there is a popular program on television called Extreme Make-over, where people are taken through all kinds of procedures, which radically change the way they look. This nationally televised program includes extreme dental and plastic surgery, liposuction, face-lifts, hair extensions, as well as exercise and eating regimens.

With the popularity of the program, this local TV station had decided to create their own version. Participants will be enrolled, free of charge, into the HEALTHY INSPIRATIONS Program and receive one-on-one nutritional guidance as well as exercise at the center a minimum of three times per week. Of course, in exchange for providing the participants with the HEALTHY INSPIRATIONS program, the center will receive loads of free advertising and perhaps more important, free third-party endorsements from people who have made major changes in their life.

Another possible benefit, and one we have experienced when running free weight loss studies, is that often participants who received a couple of months of free membership want to stay on after the free period is over. Personally, I think this is one of the most creative, interesting and potentially lucrative offbeat marketing ideas I've heard in a while.

The final offbeat idea I'll discuss in this months' column falls into the category of internal marketing and is something that I was first exposed to about seven years ago and is rarely used but effective. Let me introduce it by way of example. One day I received a piece of mail that was in a letter-sized envelope and hand addressed to me with no return address. Of course, seeing that it had been hand addressed, I opened it. Inside was a photocopy of what appeared to be a newspaper article about a business seminar on tape series. Attached to the top of the letter was a standard-sized yellow Post-it note that said, “Casey, thought you might find this interesting.” Below it was simply signed “J.” As I glanced over the article trying to decipher the content of the audio program, my mind was whirring trying to think of whom I knew with a name that began with the letter “J,” that was sending me such material.

I put it aside and went about my normal day's work and about two hours later it dawned on me. A friend didn't send this photocopied article to me — but rather it was a direct mail piece. Specifically, I had recently bought an audio program from a marketing guru named Jay Abraham. He was probably endorsing this other business program and taking a percentage of the sales. That didn't make me mad, it actually fueled my brain to think of ways that I could use the concept in the health club business.

Depending upon where you are in your business and your ability to write, there are a number of ways in which you can use this concept. One is to find a way to have the local paper come and do an article on your club. Once published, simply make photocopies, obtain a list of local prospects (or use your missed guest list), get employees with good handwriting to hand address the envelopes and fill out the Post-it notes and you will be good to go. If getting an article published proves too difficult, know that some papers run special inserts where you can actually buy space that is written up as an advertorial. These special segments typically feature 40 to 60 local businesses, with each getting either a half page or full-page story on them. I think many businesses write their own editorial copy to ensure they say what they want, but I know that even our small, local paper will do the writing if you are unsure about your literary skills.

Once the article is published, you now have the materials you need to send out to prospects or missed guests. One final way, of course, is to simply write your own article and print it out so it has the appearance of being a newspaper article. The downside to this is that you don't have the benefit of the paper's name, which does help establish more credibility, but I have to tell you I have tried this marketing idea all three ways and found out that they all work.

The reason this type of marketing tactic works has to do with a number of factors. First, an article is like a third-party endorsement. In fact, articles are worth much more per square inch than traditional advertising because consumers are more apt to believe something that has been written by the paper than they ever will believe of a paid advertisement.

Second, the fact that this is hand-addressed means the “open” rate is much greater.

Finally, the Post-it note with just the initial as a signature makes it really appear as though someone you knew sent the mailing. That said, I have met a few people who don't like this idea because they find it deceiving to the customer. Personally, I love it and have used it many, many times in the past seven or eight years. I think it is brilliant.

The fact of the matter is, I have an invaluable product and am sending it to a prospect that I either know or believe is in need of such a product. If I can get this individual to open the mail, read the article and perhaps be compelled to take action and join, I feel I have done a service, not a disservice. This, however, is only my opinion; use what you want and throw out the rest.

So, there you have it — four new marketing ideas to take you off the beaten track to potentially incorporate into your marketing plan in 2004. As the old adage goes, “You'll never know until you try.” Most of this month's ideas are relatively inexpensive and fairly simple to establish. Who knows, perhaps you will find out that one of these offbeat ideas clicks for your employees and potential prospects and ultimately drives lots of new members through your doors.

Call to Action:

GET YOUR MARKETING IDEA PUBLISHED IN CLUB INDUSTRY MAGAZINE! If you have a unique marketing concept that you would like featured in the next Club Industry Marketing Matters, contact me at casey.conrad@verizon.net or call the HEALTHY INSPIRATIONS offices at 800-725-6147.

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