An Internet search for the terms “health club” “fitness” and “exercise” reveals 145 million returns for health club, 447 million for fitness and 221 million for exercise. The overwhelming number of possibilities, along with the 52,000-plus fitness facilities (commercial, residential, etc.), complicates a consumer's membership decision.

That's why a good brand is important for a club. It can do three things: save time, project the right message and provide an identity. If you want to hold the leadership position in your market, you must strategically differentiate yourself. It is not enough to appear to be different. You must be different.

To compete strategically, your company brand image must be powerful, its culture engaging and its vision determined. In short, for your company to succeed to its fullest potential, your brand must be absolutely focused.

Some of the national and regional club names do a good job of delivering their brand, but many do not. And just because you have one of these names does not mean you do not have to work at it.

From your brand perspective, your point of differentiation is the catalyst that your club or company needs to reduce competition and rejuvenate your sales staff. It is important to determine how to develop your point of differentiation and explore examples of how it can be rolled out into your marketplace.

The solution to differentiation is typically right in front of you. But we are so used to viewing our clubs from one perspective, it is often easy to ignore key processes or developments that truly make us different from our competitors. The goal is to draw out these experiences and determine as a team its potential as a profit-generating advantage.

The company or trademark with the highest percentage or brand awareness in its market always outsells the second- and third-ranked companies combined. In a national survey, 99.2 percent of the respondents said they were more likely to buy a product or service based on the first company or trademark that comes to mind when it's time to make a purchase.

Effective branding increases profits. You don't have to be a mega corporation to leverage this knowledge. Create a logo and place it on your business cards, T-shirts, pens, Web site, etc., and then get these items in front of as many people as possible. Find ways to get your club members to wear or carry your brands outside of the club.

The idea is to get your logo and/or your name out there and keep it out there. Once people see your club's name or hear about your facility enough times, they begin to see your club as the market leader. This will increase your chances of increasing your market share.

To ensure this, you should assess your marketing materials and change inconsistencies. Interview your sales representatives to ensure the message they give customers is the same. Ask customers for their impressions of your club's offerings and make adjustments if their view doesn't align with yours. Assess your advertising program to ensure all ads offer a consistent message. If you sell products, ensure all packaging fits with your image.

Once your brand is out there, remember that quality is the top reason people support a brand and are loyal to it. Once the quality is gone, they flock to the competitor. Always be aware of your brand's performance.

As marketing guru Al Ries has so effectively documented in his books on positioning, the only surefire way to win category leadership for your brand is to be first in the category. That means you must create the quality and the category in the minds of the customers.

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. He can be reached at 800-428-3334 or eddie@sales-makers.com.