Three Good and Three Bad Marketing Strategies

marketing strategies
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Marketing is both my favorite and least favorite thing to talk about. It’s my least favorite when it’s viewed as that one thing your business needs to be successful. “If I could just get more people in the door, my business would be saved.” What if your business sucks and that’s why no one comes in the door? 

Marketing done best is simply a story; a story that conveys the problems your business solves for your community. It’s not a story about why you’re so great or how many L4 Coaches you have. It’s a story about empathy and understanding that puts your customers first. If you’re not putting your customers first, you don’t have a good story. Before you try to find the magic marketing trick to solve all your problems, be sure you have a dialed-in product with full-time, professional staff. All marketing strategies will be worthless otherwise. 

If you’ve been in this business long enough, you’ve seen all the trends: 6-week challenges, Groupons, flyers, billboards, lead funnels and marketing “automation.” When done correctly, each of these tactics can work. But if you don’t understand the principles behind why they can work, they probably won’t. Before you go blaming the company that hard-sold you on their marketing solution, be sure to look in the mirror. Those products exist because they have worked for people. If they didn’t work for you, it’s because you didn’t understand the strategy. Tactics only win with a solid strategy behind them. 

If you’re new to the marketing game, here are three things that are tried-and-true marketing strategies and three things that are guaranteed duds. 

1. Your Website is Your No. 1 Marketing Asset 

All of your marketing efforts should point back to your website. This is the only digital platform you own. You rent your social media presence and Google rankings. Those can change in an instant. You should have a landing page for every event, sign-up and lead capture. Invest a lot of time and money here. 

Upgrade your efforts: The homepage of your site should have less than 20 total sentences and should be able to capture contact information within 20 seconds. Yours probably has way too much copy and is difficult to give contact information. 

2.  Email and Text Messaging

Email marketing still has the highest impression-to-purchase conversion. If you look at your analytics, your close rate on email may seem low at 10 to 20%. But compare that to a typical social media campaign that gains 2,000 to 3,000 impressions but only converts to one paying customer. Email seems very effective in that light. Especially considering it is a very inexpensive medium.

Upgrade your efforts: Most small business owners are too timid about email. They’re afraid of an “unsubscribe.” An unsubscribe is just as important of a data point as is a purchase. Now you know not to direct efforts to that person. Send them hundreds of emails until they tell you “no.”  You’re not bothering them; you’re reminding them. 

3.  Search Engine Optimization

When someone finally decides your product is right for them, they then go on to decide where is right for them. How do they decide that? Google, of course. Your site should be mobile-optimized and well-indexed to be easily searchable. If you’re not in the first few results, you’ll probably be overlooked, no matter how great is your community. 

Upgrade your efforts: Paid Google search is one of the first places I’d recommend you put your advertising budget. You’re guaranteed a top result as your organic rankings follow suit. Plus, not many people in the fitness space are hip to paid search so your cost per result will be super low – don’t tell anyone our secret. 

Now that we’ve outlined the evergreen, tried-and-true marketing wins let’s take a look at the marketing duds. Now, let me preempt the inevitable, “But Groupon worked for my gym and some of our best members came from that.” Cool. I also don’t really care about one-off, anecdotal success stories. I’m more interested in measurable, observable, repeatable (wink, wink) principles that stand the test of time. 

1. Non-strategic Discounts

Before you start an argument in the comments section, please read “Drive” by Daniel Pink. If you still believe discounts and freebies win customers, read it again. The “first one is free” principle only applies to drug dealers and coffee. If you set the cost of your product below what people will pay for it long-term, they won’t be thankful for the discount, they’ll be resentful of the price “increase.” 

Upgrade your efforts: If you’re running a “special,” do so strategically. For example, you go present at a company. You hand out a coupon to everyone in attendance that entitles each attendee to a free nutrition consultation if they join within 30 days. But the offer is only good for the first five of the 50 attendees. You didn’t discount your core product, plus you introduce a potential future up-sell. Combine that with the scarcity of five offers and the urgency of 30 days and you now have a strategic “discount.” 

2. You don’t have entry and exit surveys. 

If you don’t gather data when someone makes a purchase, you’re missing the biggest marketing opportunity in your business. How did you find us? How long did it take for you to finally step into the gym? What type of research did you do ahead of time? Do you know anyone here? Where do you work? This is valuable data. Similarly, when someone leaves the gym, ask them why they’re leaving. This is just as valuable. 

Upgrade your efforts: If someone is standing in your building, they’re ready to work out. They’ll be willing to fill out a form or a survey. Sit down with them for 30 minutes before a class and really get an idea of who are your customers. This data will inform all of your future marketing efforts. 

3. Non-trackable ROI 

Let’s say you spend $500 printing off flyers you put in every apartment complex within 20 miles. How could you tell if that $500 created a return on investment? Put a unique code on each flyer that requires the recipient enter the code in order to unlock an offer. That could be a fitness assessment, body composition scan, a meal plan with a membership or a jumprope. Get creative, but make sure you can trace each dollar spent to a person in the door. 

Upgrade your efforts: You can also use the above flyer example on your website. You can create multiple landing pages for different campaigns. Let’s say you have a 30-day offer for a complimentary fitness assessment for the first 10 people that apply. Send the fitness assessment people to a separate landing page. Send the body composition scan people to another landing page. You can then look at the analytics of your site to see what is the most effective offer for what type of people. Then, just pour more money into what works. 

Marketing isn’t like salt. It’s not going to make an OK pot of soup better. Marketing is more like vinegar: bitter and acidic on its own but when used strategically, it will bring a dish to life without ever tasting the acidity. 

If your marketing strategies feel like you’re trying to find that one thing, stop immediately. You’re throwing good money after bad. Take a step back and evaluate what you have and what you can control. Then, begin to piece together your strategy one variable at a time until you have the confidence to be the captain of your own marketing efforts. 

Matt Scanlon is the owner and founder of CrossFit Memorial Hill and TheHillKC in Kansas City, Missouri. He is also the co-founder of BUILD — a CrossFit program and research project dedicated to improving health outcomes for cancer survivors.  Matt's professional career began in healthcare management. As a result of this experience, Matt is focused on using CrossFit to improve health metrics for a broad population of people historically underserved in the fitness industry.  Located at the base of the National WWI Memorial, CrossFit Memorial Hill was founded in 2011 as a free community fitness resource. After gaining a following of nearly 1,300 participants in community pop-up WODs, Matt Affiliated in 2012.  In 2016, CrossFit Memorial Hill expanded to incorporate a private coaching business, BUILD, a TRX and bootcamp series, and various other specialty programs under the umbrella of TheHillKC.  Contact him at