The outside perception of your health club is what your current members, past members, prospects and the local community thinks about your health club. Perception is reality. Right or wrong doesn't matter. If you are perceived to be a run down dumpy gym, and you're really a state-of-the-art fitness center, you will get the results of a run down dumpy gym.
In fact, we venture to say that the crux of all marketing problems, including yours, can be wrapped up into one simple statement:
Most health clubs' outside perception
is NOT an accurate reflection of their inside reality.
The inside reality has to do with all the things your health club does that makes
you valuable to your customers from a product, operations, and management standpoint. The "inside reality" is about what you do and what you are that allows your club to perform better. It's what gives you a competitive advantage in the marketplace. The reason we call it the inside reality is because the reality of what you do, and the customers' perceptions of what you do, aren't necessarily the same. These two words - reality and perception - are vital to this process of winning in business.
The inside reality encompasses everything you do and everything you are that makes you good. It's all your skills, your people, your expertise, your service to the customer-before, during and after the sale-your systems, your operational procedures, your commitment to excellence, your passion, and the way you conduct your business. You might think you're actually better than you are, or, you might not be giving yourself enough credit for the things you do well. Regardless, there is a reality of how valuable you are to the marketplace based on these things. That's what we call the inside reality.
If you asked your members why they joined your club, they'd tell you something quantifiable, specific, and instantly obvious. They could point to specific advantages
of joining your club and say, "That's why I'm a member here; that's why I refer my
friends to come here; that's why I'm a loyal customer of this place; that's why I don't mind paying more here; that's why I keep coming back." That's your inside reality.
Inside or Outside?
You may need to innovate your club so there's a reason for people to join. Many
popular gurus do a great job of teaching you how to do those things. But here's the
problem: Just because you've achieved "WOW!" doesn't mean customers are going to flock to your business. You still have to market your business. And that's where the "outside perception" comes into play.
The outside perception is how customers and prospects perceive your company. The outside perception is developed by all interactions somebody has with your Health Club. Customers will draw on their past buying experiences to form their outside perception. The industry on a whole has a negative perception. Most of it is not the fault of the health clubs, but more so the members fault. Most prospects have belonged to other clubs. When they join and stop showing up, get frustrated, they blame the club.
But even if your customer service is great and your members love you, none of it
means squat to a prospective member if (1) they don't know you even exist as an option, or (2) they can't distinguish your value because of your inability to market yourself properly. They perceive that you are no better or worse than anybody else.
Marketing ineptitude creates a chasm between your inside reality and your outside
perception. To your buyers, they are totally different. Take your pride and stick it on
the shelf for a minute. Regardless of how good you are or how good your "inside reality" is, your prospects can't figure it out based on your marketing. You appear on the surface to be just another place that sells fitness. The prospect will more than likely be apathetic at best, resistant or hostile at worst.
Most health club owners know what their customers want, but can't communicate their "inside reality" to the outside world. They can't take their WOW and lead prospects to the conclusion:
"I would have to be an absolute fool to join anywhere else, regardless of price."
Think about your health club. Your ability to know what your customer wants is
what has made you as successful as you are now. You have good classes and/or memberships and you fill a market need. You've studied your market, your prospects and your business for years, and you have solutions that add value to you customer's life. Why, then, aren't you making all the money you deserve? Because you're an expert at what you do, not a marketing communications expert.
Advertising executive Rosser Reeves once said, "To be effective, you've got to make the product interesting, not just make the ad different." That's something too many of the books, gurus, and agencies don't understand. Visit an ad agency or a media sales rep and they'll say, "Just bring me any product or service and a big bag of cash, and we'll guarantee you that we'll spend all of it." They put all their creative effort into making the ad different, with no thought for the inside reality of the product or service.
It's A Balancing Act...
You've got to work on both sides of your business -the inside reality and the outside perception. If you concentrate all your efforts on the "inside reality" but you don't know how to market properly, you set yourself up for frustration and failure. You'll be pulling your hair out trying to figure out where your money vanished to, or you'll feel like the "best kept secret in town."
Or, if you're focusing all your efforts on the "outside perception," you may have bought some advertising or direct mail books, or you hired a PR or ad agency, or enlisted a media sales rep. Now you'll have customers, but they'll hate you because you're selling them a lie! You must balance both sides of your business.
Most health clubs could stand some improvement in both areas, but they struggle most with the outside perception. In reality, they have a good club and offer good value, but they don't differentiate themselves in the marketplace.
Look at your marketing and advertising. Is it instantly obvious what makes you better? Can you show what makes you unique and different and how prospects should judge your offer, what factors they need to consider when deciding, and how you provide value? If not, you have some work to do.
Ensure that your outside perception is an accurate reflection of your inside reality and convince prospects that you are the obvious choice.
'til next week...