The A/B Experience - How NOT to launch an Inbound marketing platform

Turning the volume up to 11 is different than buying a new pair of headphones

My company, City Fitness Philadelphia has a sub-brand, City Fit Studio & Training (henceforth referred to as the Studio). The Studio is a beautiful facility located in one of Philadelphia’s most affluent neighborhoods – where logic would assume a high propensity to exercise and the deep pockets to afford premium fitness programming. No expense was spared with the construction of the Studio’s Thrive (our functional training partners) pod and the infrared-heated yoga studio that shared the space. All of our best programs, all in line with fitness demand from the folks that can pay for it, with a prime location right in the middle of Philadelphia’s wealthiest neighborhood. Makes sense right?

city_fit_studios.jpgOur biggest challenge with developing this side of the business was creating a consistent narrative of “what is this” that followed perceived demand. At the Studio’s launch in 2015, we emphasized the “Mind&Body” group exercise program, even winning a prestigious award for Best New Workout in Philadelphia Magazine, assuming that demand for personal training would flow naturally (because of the way the space was laid out) from the influx of people exploring our Yoga, Barre, and Pilates offerings. We quickly learned that developing a recurring revenue base from these classes was difficult, pushing us to get creative with how the Studio was framed.

Next we created a flow between the group exercise and training verticals, marketing the business as a holistic approach to fitness, with a heavy-touch relationship between trainers and clients developing a roadmap involving both strength/conditioning (from Thrive) and group exercise, with fitness technology integrated throughout. As we got further into this, our marketing generated leads en masse (our baseline promotion offered EXTREME value), but inconsistency in our narrative on the sales side and a natural skew towards training (our trainers had more touch points with clients in developing their “fitness journey”) led to further problems developing a recurring revenue base on the group exercise side of the business. We are now transitioning the Studio to be a full-on Thrive training facility.

Finally, after a strong start to 2016, what could previously be considered SQLs inexplicably stopped picking up the phone or responding to emails. Prospects, MQLs, and SQLs all mashed together. Inbound lead generation simply stopped causing people to actually walk in our doors.

Meanwhile, as I’ve written before, City Fitness Philly is outperforming every other Inbound fitness club in the U.S. There are always growing pains, but the fact of the matter is our marketing ROI is through the roof with City Fitness but struggling with City Fit Studio & Training, using basically the same marketing strategy and platform. If the primary side of our business is crushing records with its Inbound platform, why is our new, aspirational brand struggling using the same general marketing framework?

Consistency is key

The fact that we’re on our third website build for the Studio in 8 months is indicative of some of the broader struggles the Studio is facing. It’s not that each website was an insufficient representation of our product or wasn’t performing by standard digital marketing KPIs (in fact, we’ve seen astronomical lead:contact rates, suggesting that we’re doing a great job of meeting potential customers where they’re at – if they’re visiting our site, they WANT fitness in some form or another), it’s that how we’re communicating our product, and the product itself, has changed drastically since the Studio opened its doors.

So what specifically did we do wrong?

  • Inconsistency between marketing/delivery: It takes a whole bunch of impressions on a potential customer before they choose to buy a product. In all likelihood, because our product has changed so much, there’s been nothing but mixed messaging to our market about what that beautiful new Studio with our logo on it actually was. It’s sort of like someone expecting to buy a Coke, getting to the point they’re really serious about buying it and doing some investigation, and ending up looking at a shelf full of Skittles.
  • False Personas: The Studio’s early adopters were basically millennial women interested in taking variations on HIIT classes. Which we overreacted to, and both adapted our programming and our marketing strategy towards them. That’s neither who lives in the neighborhood the Studio exists in (geography being king in fitness industry marketing and all) nor who can afford the Studio’s premium product. Thus, it’s pretty difficult at this point to differentiate between prospects, MQLs and SQLs.
  • Content without clarity: Establishing authority in our marketplace, takes time and a ton of content generation. We’ve changed the Studio’s product, and thus our content strategy, three times since we went live online. So, a lot of what we’ve done to date has been less effective and, frankly, probably confusing.
  • Staffing turnover: Leaving the programmatic confusion aside, the employee responsible ultimately responsible for overseeing sales has now changed 5 times in 8 months – beyond that being an unsustainable degree of turnover, the process by which leads are received, nurtured, and (rarely) closed has changed with each change, leading to an enormous amount of missed opportunities (our clubs convert Inbound leads at 40%, the Studio closes leads at about 3% to date).

The Studio will be a thriving business now that we’ve landed on an exclusively training model. I’m writing a marketing strategy along with a Service Level Agreement (SLA) for all of the principals to agree to, establishing consistency of process and clear responsibility for sticking to the plan.

But, damn, talk about an A/B experience on how to and how not to jump into an Inbound platform. It comes down to this; if you’re just starting a fitness business and want to dive into an Inbound marketing program, figure out exactly what it is that you’re selling. This is worth considering even if you have a diversified gym – break things down to the essentials and focus on what it is that you do best, and sell that. Your marketing will be most successful when you know what it is that you’re selling and your prospective customers know what they’re buying.

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