Sales Step by Step: What Does Your Web Presence Say About Your Club?

By Scott Meldrum
January 17, 2006

As president and founder of HypeCouncil, Scott Meldrum oversees the development and implementation of online advertising, publicity and word-of-mouth marketing campaigns for top brands and Fortune 500 clients. HypeCouncil’s measurable online marketing strategies have generated high sales-driven returns for companies in various industries. For more information, visit www.hypecouncil.com.

Chances are, you’ve gone online to learn about a product or service you’ve considered buying. You probably went on the company’s Web site, did a keyword search to see where else the brand name shows up and poked around some message boards to hear what other consumers had to say. It should come as no surprise, then, that your prospective health club clients do the exact same thing. According to a recently released study by Forrester Research, more than 70 percent of online consumers use the Internet to research products for purchase.

So what does your Web site say about your company? What do your members say about you online? More importantly, how proactive have you been to ensure that your company is communicating the right messages that capture and engage both current and potential members?

The Web can be an intimidating world, but it is also a valuable communication and brand-building medium that club owners and managers can no longer afford to ignore.

There’s no better time than the start of a new year to advance your marketing efforts to the next level. With New Year’s resolutions fresh on their minds, consumers are especially receptive to hearing about your club’s services and products, too. So let’s get started.

Online Marketing's Benefits.Many fitness clubs rely on aggressive print and radio advertising, along with a direct-sales staff, to generate leads and sell memberships. However, If you do not have an equal and formidable presence online, you are missing an equal number of leads and sales. For consumers, online communications are more convenient (they can engage with your club and your brand on their own terms), interactive, personal and immediate. By having a Web site, a club can tailor and target campaigns to specific audiences, track and measure marketing efforts, develop one-on-one relationships with its members, generate greater visibility, and extend its reach.

The first step to improving your Web site is to take a good, hard look at your current Web presence. Your Web site is often the first place prospective members are exposed to your club and your brand, and from your site they usually decide whether or not they want to come in for a tour or trial membership. Your Web site is also a tool to continuously engage current members, motivating them to check in regularly and to get their feedback.

Pulling in New Clients. You are probably one of several facilities your prospective members know about. So, it’s important that your Web site stands out from the crowd with the right combination of visuals and information. Making this pre-sale “virtual visit” easy, pleasurable, informative and trust-inspiring is the best way to take the prospect from a casual shopper to a new member.

You should include the following elements on your Web site—professional photos of the facility, an easy-to-understand list of membership benefits, plan pricing and locations (consider a zip code search function, with street map directions). You should also include a section for members to sign up for a trial membership or a form for prospects to fill out if they wish to be contacted by a representative.

Beyond the essentials is the added-value features that will make your Web site shine. These could be member testimonials with photos, a section that highlights the latest equipment at the club or profiles of the fitness and/or nutrition specialists you have on staff. Anything that is interactive, such as a quiz that makes personalized membership plan recommendations or streaming video, will further build important emotional and sensorial connections with the prospective member.

Meeting Current Members' Needs. These people want reinforcement that your club is meeting – if not exceeding – their needs and expectations. Consider offering tools that allow them to track their fitness progress online with regular reminders sent to their e-mail address (a virtual trainer of sorts). Post informative, regularly updated articles and tip sheets written by you or your staff to strengthen their connection with the personalities and “faces” of your club, as well as reinforce their position as experts in the field. Create exclusive, members-only message boards where members can ask questions and swap tips about various topics, such as cardio, weight training, healthy eating, low-impact fitness and so on. The more you make them feel like they are part of a larger family or community, the more likely they’ll stay loyal to your program and spread positive word-of-mouth to their friends and family.