With the beginning of a new fiscal year, most club operators have recently spent some time creating a marketing plan for 2004. Of course, looking at what worked and what didn't in previous years is an important part of the process; it allows you to constantly tweak marketing efforts to match your local market and conditions, as well as brainstorm new and creative ways to reach prospective members in the New Year.

While preparing for this year's Marketing Matters column, I also did an audit of sorts by reviewing all the previous subjects I had written in an attempt to find new and interesting materials that could be brought to you. When I placed all four year's worth of columns on the conference table I noticed something. Although a full spectrum of marketing tutorials, theories, ideas and case studies designed to drive more prospects through your club doors had been covered, I had yet to cover “off-beat” marketing ideas.

What exactly are off-beat marketing ideas? Well, they are your non-traditional marketing efforts. The kind of things you hear someone has done and think to yourself, “That's kind of cool and different, I'd like to give that a try.” Certainly, off-beat 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 marketing strategy. So, this year's Marketing Matters will be dedicated to bringing you off-beat marketing ideas.

In this year's first article I will discuss four different off-beat marketing efforts, most of which we incorporated into HEALTHY INSPIRATIONS' 2003 marketing plan. Remember, as it relates to creating a successful marketing plan, there are five “pillars,” that make your Marketing Parthenon. These five pillars are: external marketing, internal marketing, guerrilla marketing, corporate marketing and community marketing/outreach.

EXTERNAL MARKETING

In this category, the first “off-beat” effort is called “wrappers,” which refer to a printed ad that is wrapped around the cover page of a delivered newspaper. Most delivered newspapers come folded inside a long plastic bag. When the bag is clear, the headline of the newspaper is displayed on one side. Even when the delivery bag isn't clear, when the reader takes the paper out of the plastic bag, the first thing he or she sees is the cover of the newspaper. When a wrapper is on the newspaper (it is the same size as the entire cover of the paper) the reader must at least glance at the advertisement prior to removing the wrapper to get to the front of the newspaper.

Up until a few months ago, the only type of wrapper available in our area was one made out of the same texture as the regular newspaper. What makes it so desirable, though, is that it is in color and stands out, regardless of the delivery method. As a result, the typical response rate for this wrapper has been between two and three times greater than a normal display ad in the same newspaper. This makes this “off-beat” marketing effort worth the increased investment (almost twice the expense for the same size display ad).

Three months ago, however, the largest state newspaper began a new wrapper program. Like the first kind, the size of this wrapper is such that it covers the entire front of the paper. What is different about this one is that the paper isn't a newspaper stock, it is a heavy, white paper stock that is printed in full color. This makes the ad stand out in two ways. First, full color on white paper stock is much brighter than on newspaper print. Second, the difference in the paper type makes you stop (to the feel) and inquire as to what is this thing on the front of the paper. Although these differences may diminish in the reader's mind with time, those people getting in on this marketing vehicle early enough should get noticed. One final note about this wrapper is that the paper is using it as a promotion to gain more readers. Instead of this wrapper going to subscribers, it is hand delivered (driveway or doorstep) to a random sample of 3,000 non-subscribers on a Saturday. I like this because it is a highly visible way to reach a segment of the population that might not be seeing our display ads each week.

Because this is new and we have only run two wrappers, I can't give you as confident of a recommendation as with the first wrapper. What I can say is that the first two runs have been successful. For the investment of $450 for 3,000 viewers, our response rate has more than paid for the piece. In addition, dozens of members have told us they have seen the ad. Although they aren't new prospects, we don't get that type of member response from a traditional display ad, leading me to believe that the ad is giving us good top of mind awareness.

TRY IT WITH POST-ITS

The next “off-beat” marketing effort is also something new. In fact, so new that our company hasn't had the opportunity to do it. (It became available right after we committed to the wrapper program.) Somewhat similar to the wrapper, this external marketing program is one that places Post-It Notes on the front of the newspaper. When done only occasionally (so the reader doesn't become blind to it), this lower cost program also has the ability to provide good top of mind awareness. And, although I don't think it has as much pizzazz as the color wrapper, I think it is clever because someone interested in the offer can simply remove the Post-It and conveniently stick it on their refrigerator or in their day timer.

The next idea was one I originally heard about a few years back from a former Faust roundtable member, Dean Wallace. I recently saw it being done locally and it reminded me of what a great idea it was. This guerrilla marketing effort involved placing small guest pass stickers on coffee cups. These small, oval stickers are not much bigger than an inch and a half. They simply say, “Two-Week Free Trial” and can have either a local phone number or a web site, depending upon the length of the address and a miniscule club logo. The reason for the small size is that the coffee shops are placing them on the lids of the take-out coffee cups and don't want to inconvenience the consumer with a sticker that might interfere with their drinking ease and enjoyment.

The great thing about this concept is that it's simple and generates a lot of top of mind awareness quickly. Furthermore, although there is an initial cost in getting the stickers printed, they are relatively inexpensive when printing thousands of them in one color and by the roll. (It may seem as though printing 5,000 or 10,000 seems like a lot, but you would be amazed at how many hundreds of coffee cups a busy café goes through every day.) Therefore, when combined with your other monthly marketing efforts, additional prospects and sales can be realized without adding a lot to the lead and customer acquisition costs.

GOING DOOR TO DOOR

The next “off-beat” marketing idea is using an outside consumer-marketing group to sell mini-membership packages door to door. Perhaps you have had the experience where a young, professional-looking person came knocking on your door or walked into your place of business selling Blockbuster Video, Dominoes Pizza or even a local restaurants' coupon packages. Typically, these coupons come on an oversized, folded cardboard stock brochure that is attractive and professionally done and sells from $20 to $40, depending upon the product or service. The value of the coupons must substantially outweigh the cost to the buyer, but be done in a way that won't cost the featured business more than their typical lead or customer acquisition cost (depending upon whether they just tour or buy).

The marketing group usually incurs all the cost of the brochure development, printing and door-to-door sales, which is targeted to homes and professional office buildings. The group that HEALTHY INSPIRATIONS used was highly professional and employed good looking, well spoken and degreed young adults who had been through a rigorous sales training program. The “Pamper Package,” as we named it, was sold for $39.95 but had a potential end-value to the customer of $750, if they used every aspect of the coupon; some things were outright freebies while others involved the purchase of products and services.

What about the promotions success? From a sales perspective, the company sold more coupons (500) in one week than any other offer they had run. Now, before you get your calculator out and figure out the profits, know that the marketing group keeps all the income from the coupon sales. And, although that initially seems unfair, know this. First, every coupon that was sold had a tear-off portion that collected the name, address, e-mail and phone number of the person buying the coupon (90 percent were obtained). This allowed us to market directly to them, even if they didn't use the coupons. Second, the goal was to simply drive people through the doors; if the offer was good enough, the end-result would be profitable.

In fact, HEALTHY INSPIRATIONS Centers only incurred an actual out-of-pocket cost when an individual walked through the centers' doors. Most of the coupon items involved some level of staff labor, such as providing a body composition analysis, instruction on the exercise equipment prior to their using a two-week free membership or simply showing the person how to use the shiatsu massage chair. Other services had labor cost and a small cost of goods, like the mouthpiece ($5) for a free resting metabolic rate check or materials for a free facial. A good majority of the coupons, though, were buy one service and get another free, which meant substantial savings to the customer but no cost (actually a profit) to the center.

Because we had such an initial influx of calls and walk-ins, we told the company to put a hold on any more sales. We let two months go by and then allowed another 300 to be sold. In the end, although we drove a lot of people through the doors, I wasn't particularly pleased with the sales income. I believe, however, that it was no fault of the marketing company but rather how we positioned the coupon booklet. In an effort to make it more attractive to the general public, we pushed the spa side (Pamper Package) of our business. As a result, when people came in and saw our primary focus was weight loss, they took their freebies but none of our core activities. I think if the right offer was used in the health club environment, with trial membership and other fitness services, it could be tremendously successful.

Whether it be a wrapper program, Post-it notes, stickers or a door-to-door sales program, each of the off-beat marketing effort we employed last year helped to enhance our pre-designed marketing plan (of proven promotions) and allowed us to identify new things that have the potential to become staple marketing items in our future plans. In addition, these unique marketing approaches infused excitement into the staff and gave us increased exposure in ways our traditional marketing efforts don't. Finally, as a bonus, doing such things has helped to create a more creative culture within our organization, where the employees are motivated and feel comfortable approaching us with marketing ideas that seem a little wacky. Wacky, perhaps, but when they work we all benefit and grow as a team. So this year, where all your new members have made resolutions to become more fit, make your own resolution to try some “off-beat” marketing efforts.

Call to action:

If you have a unique marketing concept that you would like featured in Marketing Matters, contact Casey at casey.conrad@verizon.net or call the HEALTHY INSPIRATIONS offices at 800-725-6147.

Related Stories