Is your club brochure worth the paper it's printed on? Club consultant Casey Conrad has the answer.

Your salespeople and front desk hear it all the time from prospects who quickly drop into the club: "Do you have a brochure I can take?" Well, do you or don't you? And, if your club does have a brochure, is it being used or are there boxes of them collecting dust in the storage room? More importantly, does the brochure work? In this month's marketing column, let's take an in-depth look at club brochures, the pros, the cons and how to get the most out of them if you decide to go to the presses.

As simple as it seems, the first question you must ask yourself is "What is a brochure intended to do?" All too often clubs print an expensive full-color brochure that does nothing more than show a bunch of pictures of the club beside a laundry list of features. In essence this is nothing more than an impersonal, non-interactive tour of the club that allows the already reluctant prospect to walk away without ever being asked to buy! Never have I heard of a case where someone walked into a club and said, "I read your brochure and I'd like to sign up!" And think of how many times you have asked for a brochure only to put it in the pile of stuff on your desk or, worse, hit the circular bin soon thereafter. The bottom line is that a brochure needs to be much more than images and bullet points.

According to Australian marketing guru Chris Newton, the secret in developing an effective brochure is to harness the qualities inherent in face-to-face selling. Said simply, what this means is that a brochure needs to get the reader's attention by identifying prospect needs, involve the reader while clearly demonstrating how the product at hand can meet those needs, and then, finally, prompt the reader to take some action by way of an offer. Let's look at how to accomplish each one of these important aspects of brochure development.

Getting Attention!
As is the case with all the marketing pieces we have looked at throughout this series, the first thing a brochure must do is get the reader's attention. One way to do this is by identifying prospect needs and incorporating those "hot buttons" into a compelling headline that grabs the reader's attention. Also, using the words "You" or "Your" in the headline speaks more directly to the reader. Further, using words like "New," "Simple," "Fun" and "Exciting" is proved to get attention, even though these words may sound too sales oriented.

The BIGGEST mistake that most operators make when creating a bro-chure is placing the club's name in big bold print on the front panel. This is the case with our example (page 86). Remember, whatever the reader reads first is the headline, so placing a club name first on the front panel makes for a very ineffective headline because it means nothing to the reader and certainly isn't emotionally compelling.

Keep in mind that a brochure is meant to help a prospect take the next step in the buying process - it isn't going to make the sale. So, what specifically is on the mind of a prospect by the time he reaches for a brochure? Certainly one concern would be making a good choice about which health club to join. Therefore, a headline that stated "5 Simple Steps to Ensure You Choose a Quality Health Club That Will Produce Results for You" would not only address a prospect's concern but also provide him with helpful information, not just promotional fluff. Even if you didn't want to go the educational route, the customer still wants to believe he is joining a great club. Therefore, a headline that stated, "If You Want the Facilities, Personal Service, and Comfortable Environ-ment You Need to Achieve Better Health and Greater Energy, Then the ABC Club Is Your Choice" would at least convey specific benefits to the reader.

Now, for those of you who think, "Aren't those headlines a bit long?," take a look at our example. Look at the wasted space! Pictures of people exercising don't clearly convey anything to the reader. Further, "Treat Yourself Right" as a caption under the pictures doesn't go with the pictures. Unfortunately, most people creating layouts for brochures are graphic designers who might be able to make something attractive, but really know nothing about writing compelling marketing copy.

Benefits, NOT features!
Now that you have the reader's attention, you must keep him involved long enough to demonstrate to him that your product or service can meet his needs. Traditionally what most brochures do try to accomplish is stating every possible feature of a product or service in the hopes that something on the list will impress the reader. In marketing, though, FEATURES DO NOT SELL.

People don't want fitness classes, aerobics, weight machines, cardiovascular equipment, etc. What they want are the benefits (i.e., an entire range of programs and courses that will keep them interested and motivated to stick with a program long-term, and help them avoid the boredom that some people experience when exercising). Or perhaps they want what an indoor cycling class gives them - a group environment that provides support and fun to help pass the time quickly in an indoor class that lets them avoid biking outdoors in bad weather.

If the brochure clearly states the benefits, readers can emotionally relate to what those things are going to mean to them. This will create a higher level of desire and motivation. Of course, once a brochure has clearly stated the benefits, it is fine to list some of the other features to show the reader the club has other things as well.

Another useful but very overlooked way to involve readers is to set yourself up as the "expert." What this means is offering the reader valuable information about how to make a purchasing decision about the type of product or service you sell.

The headline that was used earlier as an example would accomplish this goal. "5 Simple Steps to Ensure You Choose a Quality Health Club That Will Produce Results for You" would be followed by body copy that outlined for the reader how to choose a quality health club. By letting readers know how things like location, certifications, club ownership (i.e., owner operated vs. corporate run), ratio of members to staff, and age of equipment can affect their choice of a club, you will make readers feel more confident that your facility is a resource of valuable information. To further impress readers, you could outline these things as a checklist in the brochure, giving the reader a tool to use when visiting facilities.

Another way to set yourself up as an expert is to provide the readers with information that would make them want to keep the brochure - for instance, a chart on exercise and calories burned per hour or how to calculate one's BMR (basal metabolic rate) roughly along with an ideal body weight chart. People find these types of "factoids" fascinating and have a tendency to keep them.

Action Is the Key
Although you may stare at it with admiration, a beautiful brochure isn't worth the paper it's printed on unless it does one thing - gets the reader to take some action. Remember, though, the action that we are looking for isn't to buy. That would be great but is unrealistic at this stage of the buying cycle. The action a brochure should elicit is one of calling or visiting the club so that a salesperson can engage the customer and get him excited enough to buy.

Unlike a newspaper or direct mail advertisement, a brochure is going to be around for quite some time. Therefore, creating urgency through a deadline isn't an option. The best way to prompt a customer to call off of a brochure is to offer him something free simply by calling the club. Perhaps it's a free one-week guest pass. Maybe it could be a free fitness profile and orientation to the club or maybe it's just a free report on how to start an exercise program. Whatever the offer, one thing that is highly encouraged is to test your "free" item BEFORE going to the presses with your brochure. You don't want to have thousands of ineffective pieces sitting around! With today's technology, this can easily be done by having the graphic artist send the artwork via e-mail to the printers for simple black and white copies on standard paper stock. Sure it isn't in color yet, but better to take the extra time and print a winner.

Finally, as it relates to the entire piece, remember not to go too overboard with photographs. Not only do they take up a lot of valuable space, but photographs alone do not sell your product. What readers need is useful information to make a buying decision.

Having a brochure is often seen as an "image" piece that adds credibility to a club's perception in a prospect's mind. Although there may be some truth to that belief, the real truth is that no piece of paper alone is going to sell a product or service. Use your brochure to get a prospect's attention, let him know how your facility will meet his needs and wants, and then get him to call the club. This will ensure that a qualified sales staff member will get the opportunity to give a dynamic presentation and do what must be done to sell a health club membership - asking for the sale during a face-to-face meeting with the prospect.