// The six-week blitz - Marketing spend for independent health clubs

by Emmett Williams

As business owners and managers the problem that we face with the general public is that they don’t remember what we tell them. The time, money and effort we put into building awareness of our product is all too often forgotten. In the late 1800s German researcher Hermann Ebbinghaus found that 90 per cent of people forget new material they have been exposed to within 90 days. This period of time may not sound too bad, but consider that he also discovered that there was a steep curve of forgetting whereby most new material is forgotten almost immediately. Most forgetting takes place in the first hour after contact with new information, and by the 48th hour, 70 per cent is lost.

The only way to retain information was found to be through high frequency of exposure, i.e., being exposed many times to the same information in a short period of time. Sounds expensive, doesn’t it?

Good business people look for opportunity in a problem.

If this ‘forgetting curve’ makes advertising your fitness business seem challenging and expensive, then it will discourage some clubs from even trying. All the better then for those who rise to the challenge – survival of the fittest applies, and the spoils, in the form of new sales, will belong to those who find the solution. So what is the solution? It begins with understanding three facts, and therefore three challenges, about the fitness consumer.

Fact 1: Today’s consumer is exposed to an enormous amount of information. It is well-known in adverting circles that a consumer now is exposed to as much adverting in one day as their parents, back in 1950, were in one year! This ‘clutter’ makes it impossible for consumers to take in every message sent to them – they effectively put up a barrier, or ‘preoccupation bubble’.

Challenge 1: To find a way to pierce this ‘preoccupation bubble’.

Fact 2: IHRSA studies show that in metropolitan areas consumers will not travel more than 12-minutes to reach a fitness facility. So when it comes to choosing the waters you want to fish in, do not waste your valuable bait (advertising dollars) by venturing outside your 12-minute radius. The best way to measure this is to drive to the eight points on the compass with your stop watch ticking, and after 12 minutes, simply mark where you are on the map. Joining the dots reveals your ‘catchment area’. If you are inner city you might have to walk or ride the 12 minutes. Either way, these are the only fish worth throwing bait towards.

Challenge 2: Establishing your market boundaries and having the discipline to remain within them.

Fact 3: IHRSA studies have shown that the relevant ‘new member’ market is about 63 per cent of the population.

These are the people who have a fitness need and intend to do something about it. The other 37 per cent are either existing members (10 per cent) or have no intention of ever joining (27 per cent). The ‘new member’ market won’t just come to you though – they need a stimulant to induce action, a reason to stop doing what they are doing and follow through on their ‘intention’. The trigger may come in the form of a family member having heart problems and causing a ‘shock’, a daughter setting her wedding date or a school reunion invite being received in the mail.

Or it may be a strong marketing campaign which grabs attention, builds desires, and calls on action. The fact is that marketing is just a moment in time. At some stage of the year, most of those 63 per cent of people will check out their lifestyle alternatives. But there are certain times of the year when they are more likely to take action. Pick your time of year by looking back over your sales history. A February push, a post-Easter push and a spring push, for example, may be the times your market responds best.

Challenge 3: Identifying the three times of year when the majority of people think about exercising.

So how can you work within these parameters and execute a plan that works? Let’s assume you run a club that turns over $600,000 a year and that you spend three to five per cent on advertising, which is around $24,000 annually.

Drip-feeding monthly radio, TV, and full-page newspaper adverts is great for catching those people who are triggered by an event or an experience, but it is expensive and not the most efficient use of resources. The most efficient way to spend this $24,000 (resource), is to borrow from the German military strategy, the infamous blitzkrieg (lightning attack) – an all out assault on one particular market. This involves concentrating all your efforts and resources into a small timeframe to create the ‘force’ (Force = Mass x Acceleration) required to break through the ‘preoccupation bubble’, and to then continue firing advertising exposures to encourage memory retention (just like revising before an exam) in the significant catchment area where the fish are biting.

So how can you put this strategy into action? Firstly, divide your $24,000 annual budget into three groups of $8,000, and allocate these mini-budgets to three 6-week campaigns over the course of the year (with limited offers attached). In these 6-week blitzes, forego full page adverts and 60-second television spots, instead placing twice as many 30-second adverts, and four times as many quarter-page print adverts, even four in the same newspaper, just a page apart. Furthermore, don’t reach any further than your 12-minute catchment area, and do two or three phases of direct mail within the six weeks.

This blitzkrieg strategy is the most effective way of allocating your resources to achieve the biggest impact. The high frequency pierces the ‘preoccupation bubble’, the location of relevant market spaces will ensure a high response rate, and using a limited offer will prompt many of the 63 per cent ‘new member’ market to pay attention and make a decision about their exercise intentions.

Try the blitzkrieg initiative for four months; pull all marketing initiatives that cost money and allocate the entire effort and budget to a 6-week campaign. I assure you that you’ll get better results than you did over the same period last year.


Emmett Williams, BComm
Emmett is a partner in Creative Fitness Marketing, an international marketing firm that runs membership drives for independent health clubs worldwide. He is an internationally recognised speaker with a wealth of hands-on experience working with clubs worldwide. For more information, e-mail Emmett@creativefitness.net or call 03 9614 3277.