Your brand was identified by how completely you embraced the flush confidence of the times. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, and the current economic slowdown, there has been a shift in consumer priorities from materialism to things close to the heart — family, home and personal health. Today's market dictates that your club be relevant in members' lives and play a significant role in their lifestyle.

Part of the shift includes consumers' desire for a sense of community and interpersonal connection. On a basic level, they want the products they buy and the places they frequent to reflect the world where they live. Personal fitness is the recognized means to a healthier, happier life. Consumers want that personalized membership within the larger fitness community.

As purveyors of fitness at the local level, it is imperative that your clubs reflect the area's context, values and interests. Your club identity should embrace the community, while keeping true to your overall brand strategy. This means evaluating the relevance of your club to the targeted consumer and the community and recognizing how you can relate to your members on a personal level. Your goal should be to create a space that engages your members with a feeling of familiarity and comfort, winning their confidence and trust, and ultimately, their brand allegiance.

The complete club experience — from facility to staff to programming to marketing and promotion — should demonstrate the club's commitment to the community within the context of the larger brand identity. For example:

Facility

All aspects of the club, from building design to equipment mix to locker room amenities, should reflect characteristics of the surrounding locale while maintaining the unique look and feel of the brand.

Staff

Draw on local talent to help design and build the facility and to staff it. This will inject local flavor and perspective into the club facilities, and the staff's personal involvement will enhance their pride in and ownership of the brand. This will make them your best community ambassadors.

Programming

Know your target demographic — age, interests, lifestyles and income — and gear your programming accordingly. Research what other clubs are offering and talk to instructors in the market. What is hot on the national scene can be and should be tweaked to meet local market tastes.

Marketing

Use promotional vehicles to establish your brand positioning within the community. Advertising, public relations, Web site and direct mail, should represent your unique brand identity in a locally appealing manner. Similarly, it's your job to make the brand relevant and credible through community outreach programs and local professional association memberships and civic involvement. Aligning the club with a local non-profit will also build neighborly bridges and demonstrate the club's long-term commitment to the welfare of the community and its inhabitants.

By personalizing the club, services and presentation, your members can relate to your brand on an individualized level. This will build brand allegiance — that elusive, vital ingredient in member acquisition and retention. Brand loyalty is a key to success and your efforts in personalizing your club will give you a unique advantage in growing your membership.

Chanin Cook is a marketing professional with more than 12 years of experience. She is a former marketing executive for Harbinger and is currently an industry consultant. She can be reached at 707-337-3485 or cookmail@aol.com.