This month, we're in the third of six “Marketing Matters” articles for the year that focus on offbeat marketing ideas.

Now that we are into the summer months where the traffic flow for sales is slower, this article will feature offbeat ideas that are guerrilla oriented; meaning the ideas require a minimal investment and can be implemented by the sales staff, rather than relying on outside sources.

The first idea is a twist on an old idea — but it's a twist that has brought life back to a dying strategy. I'm talking about lead boxes. Before you let out a groan, just give me a minute. For those who might not be familiar with lead boxes, they are small cardboard or acrylic containers that have a slot on the top for people to drop in a business card or a slip of paper (usually affixed to the box in small, glue-bound pads) that they have filled out with their contact details. Typically, there is a display board attached to the back of the box that allows for a permanent advertisement or, in the case of acrylic boxes, a mechanism that holds an 8 ½-inch × 11-inch flyer that can be regularly changed.

In the 1980s, lead boxes were a big part of health club and spa marketing. Over time, lead boxes got a bad rap for a number of reasons, such as other businesses using the concept or health clubs stealing the leads of another club right out of their box. Finally, there was the issue of lead quality. As is the case with any free offer, the quality of lead box leads was low. Therefore, a salesperson might have to make 20 calls to book one appointment.

RENEWING THE LEAD BOX REPUTATION

Many of the larger club chains still successfully use lead boxes. I know of one chain that requires new clubs to place 300 lead boxes in the community during pre-sales. This accomplishes two things. First, it allows salespeople to obtain names and numbers they can proactively follow up. Second, the lead box acts as a mini advertisement. Therefore, I am of the belief that if a salesperson doesn't have five pre-booked appointments each day, they should have five to 10 boxes out, providing them with leads.

Enough about the lead box, what about the twist that makes this qualify for an offbeat marketing idea? Instead of giving away a free trial membership or enticing people to enter to win a longer-term membership, our company is giving away a weight loss booklet (which we developed and had printed for about $0.64 each) when they leave their information in the lead box. You may not think this is offbeat, but it is. First, we are giving away a tangible product that provides information on something 64 percent of Americans want — weight loss. Second, we are lowering the barrier to entry with the free offer.

Even with a free trial membership customers often feel at risk for being given a sales pitch. With an information booklet, however, the person is simply asking you to mail something to them. They may feel somewhat at risk for being put on a mailing list, but it's a much lower risk than an in-person sales presentation. What the customer is receiving, however, is a product that identifies them as a quality prospect, which in my centers' case is someone who wants to lose weight. Sure, we still get kids filling out bogus slips and other people who have no interest except that they are getting something for free. But for the most part, this strategy is successful. We build a database of people interested in our product and are given the opportunity to send them something that educates them on the value of the products and services we offer.

Once you have your boxes you need to figure out what to do for a free informational booklet. You have several options. First, get your staff members together and write it yourself. It is a lot easier than it sounds. Remember, this doesn't have to be a four-color job and professionally typeset. We created ours in a Word document using margins that resulted in a 4 ¼" × 5" pocket-size booklet with an attractive two-color cover. Even small quantity runs of 500 booklets will probably cost about $1 per item, which is an inexpensive way to get a higher quality lead. (Of course, you never just send the booklet out; you always call and qualify before spending that money.)

THE GOODY BAGS

The next offbeat idea is one of my favorites. At Healthy Inspirations we call it the Goody Bag program. One of our licensed centers borrowed an idea used by pharmaceutical representatives. The concept is that the salespeople identify local doctor's offices and businesses that cater to similar clientele. Once identified the staff puts together goody bags filled with a variety of supplement samples from our weight loss program, tri-fold brochures (that are coded) and coupons good for free services at our center (relaxation treatment, mini-facial, cellulite treatment, etc.). The average cost of the bag (not including the cost of goods associated with someone redeeming a coupon) is anywhere from $2 to $3. The salespeople then hand deliver the bags to the local businesses with the intention of meeting the owner or manager, starting a conversation and building a long-term relationship.

Each time a referral comes in that can be traced to one of the goody bag locations, it is documented. For at least three months in a row, a new goody bag is brought back to each listed location (typically 12 to 24 total). After bringing a goody bag to a business for three consecutive months, a pattern of referrals begins to emerge. These referrals could be from the employees working at that business (because you have established a relationship with them) or they might be from tri-fold brochures or flyers left behind. As is the case with club members, about 20 percent of all the businesses chosen become solid lead generators. The salespeople continue to bring these businesses one new goody bag per month. Then, a new batch of businesses and/or offices is identified and the cycle begins again. Eventually, a large group of referring businesses is established, opening up the possibility of other joint marketing ventures in the future.

MUD SIGNS

The next offbeat marketing idea is simple but one that not many health clubs use: a mud sign, which is a small sign (typically 1 by 2 feet) that has thin wire rods attached to each side. The wire rods allow it to be stuck in a grassy area. You may have seen these signs being used by small, at-home-type businesses, suc as painters and junk removal. In the past, I have also seen them for insurance and real estate open houses. The number of signs you plan on using will help determine what you will print on the signs. For instance, if you plan on using them around the plaza where your facility is located, you can say something like, “Free Tour Today,” followed by your club logo. If, you plan on placing them around town, you may want to put your Web address on the sign to drive people to your Web site, assuming your site is attractive enough to grab their attention and effective enough to drive the person to visit your club or give you their information.

Another reason these type of signs work is because they are easy to use and can be placed just about anywhere. However, “can be placed in terms of physical ability” and “can be placed in terms of legal ability” are two different things. When Tony DeLeede owned the Australian Body Works club chain in Atlanta, he found these signs to be effective at driving prospects through the doors. Unfortunately, the zoning ordinance for the Atlanta area didn't allow such signs and DeLeede had to pay fines when an inspector found them. But the club managers continued to use the signs on the weekends because they felt the number of leads that were generated outweighed the small fine. It's a testament to their effectiveness.

Summer is here, it is time to get your sales staff working on lead generation ideas that will drive more prospects through the doors. With this month's three ideas and the eight ideas offered in the two previous offbeat marketing articles, you now have an arsenal of tools at your disposal. Remember, not every idea is a perfect fit for every club; work with your sales team to identify strategies that have the greatest chance of lead generation. With a great attitude and effort, your club will be well on its way to creating new marketing strategies that will result in more sales.

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