Coming Out of the Dark Ages of Marketing

I spent my first several weeks at City Fitness Philadelphia learning the company from the membership department during the lean months of 2015 after the New Year’s rush had died down and nobody was really thinking about summer yet. 

We have been extremely effective at closing leads that walk in our door for some time now. Our close rates are astronomical, and we’ve always paid a lot of attention to refining our sales process, tailoring our approach to highlight City Fitness’ unique value proposition according to the needs of our prospective clients, and skillfully overcoming objections that present themselves along the way. 

seeing-the-light.jpgThe problem that we faced (along with everyone else in our industry) was: what is there to be done when no one is walking in the door. We tried directly poaching members from mega-gyms moving out of our market. We dug through the dregs of our CRM to check up on whether or not people might still be interested in yoga. We wrote four-figure checks to street festivals to set up tables. And, of course, we invented monthly price promotions, paired them with stock photography, and mailed them in the thousands to everyone within a 1.5-mile radius. 

We usually hit goal, but we were just perpetuating a cycle that would require the same from us the following month. Slap an image of a woman in a sports bra working out onto a mailer and pray.We were absolutely stuck in the dark ages of marketing.

And then we saw the light…

The Reality of it All

We decided to acknowledge that mailers are annoying to potential customers, that we were hemorrhaging cash without any demonstrable return, and that our website was pretty terrible; both in terms of how it looked and how it was impacting the way we do business. Instead of spending 75% of our marketing budget to print stuff and accost people on the street, why not acknowledge that consumers make all of their decisions online nowadays and – wait for it – market to people that are truly interested in buying our product. 

Cue inbound marketing and what’s projecting at a (trackable) +400% ROI in our first year on the platform. 

The Marketing Mix

I still heavily employ outbound marketing in City Fitness’ marketing mix, but this is more in line with the content-driven strategy utilized by our inbound marketing methodology than the ‘price-driven features’ marketing strategy our monthly promotions had followed historically. We’re big on actually DOING stuff in our marketplace, crafting unique campaigns that engage a lot of would-be customers and building our brand while entering them into our lead pipeline (e.g., #MYCITYMOVES). We meet people where they are, rather than intrusively forcing our messaging into their homes via their mailbox. (It should be noted that situationally, at least, we still use direct mail to amplify cyclical promotions and for new market integration purposes).

The inbound marketing methodology has created a digital infrastructure where we are constantly improving our position in Philadelphia’s digital fitness marketplace while creating timely and remarkable promotions to further differentiate us from our competition. Again, all without me having to do anything! I can almost challenge you, as a fitness professional or a civilian, to visit Philadelphia for three days and NOT see a City Fitness impression (without walking or driving by one of our clubs or if you’re online in Philly). 

All while our lead generation overall is at 130-140% what it was last year (conservatively). And the truly remarkable thing of all of this is that the folks that walk in our doors now are genuinely interested in joining a gym, not just looking to take advantage of a great deal for its own sake.

Inbound Marketing for Your Health Club

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