The Unspoken Opportunity: Marketing to Women

It's hard to believe but this month's “Marketing Tutorial” marks the beginning of this column's third year. I don't think either Club Industry or myself would have predicted such longevity but the demand by readers to provide them with hands-on marketing insights and examples has been inspiring. In year one, the column focused on how to create various marketing pieces such as direct mail and yellow pages. Year two focused on marketing to specific medical conditions such as asthmatics and diabetes. This year the column will be dedicated to marketing to specific populations. To start things off, this month's feature focuses on marketing to women.

The Women's Market

In the most recent State of the Health Club Industry report published by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), statistics showed that 32.8 million Americans are paying dues to be members of health clubs. Of these members, 51.6 percent are women. Today, in all sectors, women are more important consumers than ever. According to some researchers, women buy or influence the purchase of 80 percent of all consumer goods. Tom Peters, long time business guru and respected consultant, believes that women represent one of the biggest growth opportunities for businesses in the future. And health clubs are no exception.

In her book EVEolution, Faith Popcorn outlines eight truths to successfully marketing to women. All of the “truths” begin with the premise that women and men are different, not just biologically, but “shop-ologically,” as Popcorn refers to it. Because of the differences, Popcorn states that women need to be marketed to and sold to differently than their male counterparts. Such efforts, she promises, will not only win female consumers to one's business but also keep them as loyal customers for a long time.

As the owner of women-only weight loss centers who also has marketed and sold for years in co-ed environments, I know that much of what Popcorn states is absolutely true. Perhaps one of the more important things she emphasizes is something that these marketing tutorials have discussed numerous times. Specifically, successful marketing goes beyond the initial advertising to the fulfillment of the product or service. In other words, if you can't deliver what you advertise, don't bother bringing the consumer to your business in the first place!

Therefore, in discussing how to market to special populations, this column won't just discuss marketing campaigns and ad copy, but rather will also discuss sales approaches, club integration and general member service issues. As you read through, evaluate each area and determine what changes you need to make to successfully market to women.

Advertising

It goes without saying that whatever advertising medium is used when marketing to women you still need to follow the basic steps to creating a successful piece. That is, create a compelling headline, clearly state the benefits, make a strong offer, add a guarantee when appropriate, have a definitive call to action by using a deadline or incentive and, when possible, make the offer better than risk free. (Refer to any of the previous columns for more specifics or access past “Marketing Tutorials” online at clubindustry.com.)

In addition to the basics, there are other things you will need in your efforts to advertise to women. First, you must remember that women like a softer approach to selling than men. Big, blocky letters and heavy borders just won't do it. Rather, women like softer colors (when possible); more feminine fonts; and tasteful photos that focus on groups and families rather than a skinny woman in a miniscule sports bra with a half naked, abdominal-wielding man in the background.

Secondly, know that women are much more apt to buy a product when then are referred to it by someone (even if they don't know the person but can relate to them). This means that testimonial-based advertising is key with women. Women are relationship builders and they love to hear about what others are doing. Creating an advertising campaign that features happy, female members of your club sharing a small story about their experiences will go a long way to attracting other women. (One time we used a staff member as the testimonial and people came in with the flyer in their hands saying, “I want to work with this person” because they related to her story and wanted her as their consultant.)

Finally, remember that women like the concept of trials. Today's woman juggles many things at once; therefore, she will want to make sure that a health club investment will fit into her lifestyle without sacrificing too many other things. Free trial periods, money-back guarantees and short-term programs give women a comfort level in trying out a facility at little or no risk.

Throughout these marketing tutorials we referred to such offers as “lowering the barrier to entry” and this strategy is more important than ever with women. Even in cases where she tries but doesn't buy, if you give a woman a great club experience not only will she tell others about you, but also she will be more likely to come back to you when her schedule permits a regular exercise program.

The Sales Approach

Just because your advertising efforts have gotten a woman through the club doors doesn't mean the marketing process ends. In fact, for a woman, it is just beginning. It's all about the relationship with a company that counts. One of the first and most important relationships is with a salesperson. Simply put, women hate to be “sold.” Rather, they like to buy. In fact, even deeper than that, women love the process of buying. This is why a woman can go out for an entire day of shopping, come home with nothing but have had a fabulous time. (For a man this seems incomprehensible because you only go shopping when you “need” something, hence “you go, you find and you buy.”)

Because the process of buying is so important to a woman, club salespeople need to approach the sale as a relationship building process. This means a number of important sales strategies need to be used. (This isn't to say that you wouldn't want to do all these things with male prospects, just that they MUST be done with female prospects in order for the relationship to be built.)

  • A more casual, “get to know you” introduction where time is spent letting the female prospect know what a visit entails as well as getting permission to move forward with the sales process.

  • A thorough and personal Needs Analysis should be done prior to any tour of the facility. This is a rapport-building process where the salesperson uncovers exactly why the woman is at the club — emotionally, not just logically. When done correctly this can take 20-40 minutes.

  • Every effort should be made to introduce female prospects to both staff and members of the club, allowing for interaction as well as questions the woman may want to ask. This type of connecting is very important for a woman when buying.

  • When possible, allow female members to go through a sample workout by meeting with a fitness staff member or even taking a class. At the very least, get the woman to physically try one or two pieces of equipment while touring the facility. This is particularly important because so many women are concerned about being able to use the equipment. Sampling will eliminate or reduce much of the worry and doubt.

  • During the tour it is imperative that the salesperson emphasize how the woman will be integrated into the club. This should include the details of her first full visit, any on-going instruction and/or club contact as well as discussing how she will be meeting other people easily and naturally. Remember that women like to be part of a group and the thought of going it alone will push them towards the door!

  • Finally, salespeople should avoid any type of hard closes with women. Pressuring them with “today only specials” or manipulative tactics will only enrage a woman and encourage thoughts of distaste for the salesperson. Ask any woman and she will tell you, “I didn't like the salesperson so I bought somewhere else.” This is true even if she will be inconvenienced to buy elsewhere! Instead of hard closes, encourage discussion with the woman to understand what is holding her back and, most importantly, uncovering what needs to happen in order to move forward with the buying decision. (Please note that NOT hard closing should not be confused with lack of closing. There is a big difference.)

  • The Club Integration

    Now that you have gotten a woman to buy a membership (or trial) at your club, the marketing process must still continue because, although she may have bought, she isn't yet convinced that you are who you said you were. In order to create a happy, long-term member, there are three things that you should be doing to ensure that a woman is adequately integrated into your facility.

    First of all, offer a complete club orientation, which is much more than the typical fitness orientation. Specifically, a club orientation is typically a one-hour group orientation that will give the new member a complete run-down on the entire club's services and policies as well as making staff introductions. Such orientation is something that would be offered only two times a month but would be open to any new member. (One club got very creative and opened the Club Orientation to all missed guests. On any given orientation, four to eight missed guests would show up and about 80 percent of those would join!)

    During the orientation visual aids and maps are used, appropriate handouts are given, time is allotted for questions and answers and refreshments are served at the end to promote interaction amongst the staff, new members and guests. Although both men and women attend the orientations, the women far outnumber the men. Perhaps it's the opportunity to network and meet people or maybe it is the desire to get comfortable with a new environment. Whatever the reason, offering these orientations seems to allow the women to integrate to the club more easily, resulting in a better feeling for the facility.

    The second way to successfully integrate female members into your club is by offering them numerous fitness workouts as part of their membership. Where most clubs offer one to three workouts, why not just say, “We'll help you for as long as you need.” Of course, the fear is that members will think that they get personal attention at each workout. This is an unnecessary fear so long as expectations are established from the on-set. Simply let all clients know that most people get anywhere from one to three instructional sessions with a fitness specialist (not a personal trainer), but that every client is different. If she needs six instructional sessions before she is comfortable, you will be glad to accommodate her. When done in a supportive, non-condescending tone, this will convey comfort and warmth to any female member.

    The final way to successfully integrate female members into your club is by having a system for follow up phone calls to new members. This isn't a new idea and it certainly isn't rocket science but far too few clubs actually do it. By taking the time to call all new members at the one-week, three-week and six-week mark just to say, “Hi, how are you, can we do anything for you” will make a woman feel her business is appreciated. Further, such calls can also flush out any concerns or issues that she may have but has not been willing to discuss with anyone. Where a man is more likely to verbally express his unhappiness with something, a woman is more likely to just go away and never come back AND tell 10 friends about it in the process! The key, of course, is having a system to ensure such calls are made and are being handled well.

    Member Services/Amenities

    Even with the right advertising, sales approach and club integration strategies, there still are other member-service items that must be attended to for successful marketing to women. First of all, the overall design of the club can't be overlooked. Women are both visual and sensory beings. Therefore, the colors you choose and the lighting you utilize will have an important effect on her comfort level with the facility. Instead of simply painting the club with the colors of your logo (a trend that is 10 years old), bring in a color consultant to provide you with an up-to-date look. Even if you just do an update of the reception area to create a warm first impression, it will make a difference. Further, softer lighting can have dramatic impact at a low cost. And, even small things like the type of music being played and the volume at which it is delivered are important to creating a comfortable environment for female members. All of these smaller details add up to a large influence on a woman's buying decision.

    The cleanliness of the club is also a key attraction (or detraction as the case may be). Even if a woman doesn't keep her house spotless, as a general rule, women frown upon facilities that are less than neat and tidy. Unfortunately, like any individual, businesses can become a bit blind to their own dust and clutter. Corners of the locker room don't get scrubbed, a light film of dust sits on the leaves of the plants and papers build up at the front desk and underneath employee workstations. For a woman there is nothing as nice as walking into a new home — fresh paint, a new carpet and no track marks on the tile floor! She's in heaven. Even the smell of a freshly cleaned home makes a woman feel more comfortable. This same concept holds true for women when as it relates to a club membership. The more you can make your facility seem “like new” the more at ease a woman will be when touring and the more comfortable she will be as a member. Ensure that carpets are regularly steam cleaned, extra paint is purchased to allow for touch-ups one weekend a month and that cleaning is never sacrificed. Never have the club smelling like a gym locker room — including the locker rooms!

    Putting It All Together

    Getting women to walk through the health club doors isn't something new to the industry. Further, as evidenced by the numbers of women who are currently members, fitness facilities are enjoying success in the women's market. This isn't to say, however, that clubs can't get even more women to join through better, more focused marketing efforts. By discovering and better understanding what women like in advertising, sales approaches and member services, clubs will position themselves to take full advantage of the growing women's market.