Do the words, “What's our promotion this month?” or “Should we send out another direct mail postcard this month?” or “Was that local print ad effective?” sound familiar? If so, you are not alone. In fact, those questions and many more just like it are commonplace in our industry.

They are the direct result of operating a business without a marketing plan. It's a little like trying to drive a car with your eyes closed; the chances are good that you won't get where you want to go and the damage you cause will be tremendous. Even if you were able to reach your destination, you would have no idea how you got there so you could repeat your success.

A 13-MONTH PLAN

The marketing plan is part of a club's offensive playbook. If you don't have a plan for how you are going to score, you won't put many points on the board. Once you complete and execute your first 13-month marketing plan, you will have the basic framework for putting points on the board or in this case, for putting members in your facilities. By staying a year ahead, management is better able to steer the club in a profitable direction.

PUTTING THE PLAN TOGETHER

An effective marketing plan must clearly articulate the following steps:

Step 1: Position

The position you intend to attain in the mind of your market. Decide how you are and how you want to be perceived in the market. It is important to clearly and specifically communicate what makes you unique in your market.

Step 2: Product

What you intend to sell. Your product is what you do and how you do it. It is the experience that your members have each time they come to the club. What you actually do will always speak louder than what you say in your marketing efforts to position the club. If what you do and how you do it needs an overhaul, get it done.

Step 3: Communication

How you plan to communicate it and to whom. This is how you plan to get the message out to your various target markets and what the message will be to each market. How you get the word out must be consistent with the way you want to be positioned in the mind of your market. Review all of your options, select the ones that are most effective, and track the results. Everyone in your organization should know the current campaigns and function as part of the sales team.

Step 4: Campaigns

Specific internal and external campaigns. Internal campaigns focus on generating referrals and additional business from current customers. External campaigns are aimed at those that are not current customers or who are former customers. These campaigns must have a specific start and stop date and a compelling offer. This does not, however, have to mean discount.

Step 5: Goals

Goals in terms of units and revenue. Each campaign must have a specific expectation for sales units and annualized revenues. Results should be tracked by a communication source on a daily basis.

Step 6: Investment

How much you will invest to get the results you want. Most quality clubs will spend approximately 3 percent to 6 percent of gross revenues each year on marketing. The more effective internal campaigns, the less you will have to spend on the external. Remember, a slow economy is generally not the time to cut back on marketing expenses; you will be able to increase your market share when your competitors are trying to reduce costs.

Ultimately, you should also have a protocol for how to handle media and public relations, a market/member analysis section with demographic and psychographic and more.

Once you complete your first 13-month plan, you will regain control of your offense and start putting more members in your clubs.

Jimmy Page has been a leader in the commercial and medical fitness industries since 1991 and is the general manager of the Maryland Athletic Club. He can be reached at www.macwellness.com.