Around the world, most governments are taking drastic, but vital, steps to stop the spread of COVID-19 by canceling major public events, limiting large gatherings and closing retail shops, restaurants, bars, and most importantly to us, gyms. In the initial few days, there were fears about the future of the industry as a whole and questions about how fitness business owners could survive weeks or possibly months of closure.
However, almost overnight, the industry has turned virtual. Many gyms and studios have transformed from a brick and mortar business to delivering classes competently online. Cheap and widely available recording equipment and streaming platforms have allowed most fitness businesses to transition quickly. A change like this is not without its problems. As this article humorously points out, going from a tightly controlled studio to a place where a bored pet or toddler can wander in can prove a challenge.
If you are one of the many studios around the world who have gone totally online, you have likely got over the initial teething problems of either live-streaming classes or pre-recording and editing workouts. And, like most gym and studio owners, you are focused on retaining as many members as you can with this new business model. Now, your next step needs to be actually growing your business and acquiring new members.
In this article, we are going to look at the challenges and opportunities of marketing an online business, what you need to do before you begin marketing and explore the best channels to market your online classes.
Skip ahead to:
- What to Know About Marketing Online Classes
- Consider These 3 Key Points Before You Begin
- 4 Ways to Market Your Online Classes
What to Know About Marketing Online Classes
One key thing to keep in mind about the situation every fitness business finds itself is that you cannot think of this as a short term change to an online business. This is the reality for the industry at the moment, and it could be a while before things get back to normal. Therefore you need to realize that this is your business model now and for the foreseeable future. To help you get started, here are a couple of things to keep in mind before you create and implement your marketing strategy.
Everybody is Online
The simple truth is that we all live our lives online. Smartphones offer a gateway into a world of different products and services at your fingertips. In fact, in the USA alone, there are 272.6 million smartphone users. People are more connected than ever before and live the majority of their lives online. Everyone has a public profile from which they can broadcast their own content, and the majority of the content they consume is online. If they now have to go online to get their fitness fix, as many already do, there won’t be much of an issue
There’s a Lot of Noise in the Market
Online fitness is behind boutique studios and traditional gyms but is snowballing as a sector within the industry. Primarily driven by the consumer desire for convenience and choice, instead of driving through traffic to be then confined to a small space within a class, a person can do a workout from the comfort of their own home and see similar results. According to Les Mills, 70% of online fitness enthusiasts are drawn to virtual classes due to their flexibility. The market is already quite saturated, and now due to the effect of COVID-19, newly online fitness businesses will face a lot of competition.
You Need to Set up Your Class Recordings Correctly
Finally, a key point to make is that you need to have your online classes set up correctly. Before you go out into the market with your offering, make sure you have practiced and refined every aspect of delivering an online class. The first goal after you move your business online is to retain the majority of your paying members. If you find that this is difficult with online classes, you need to gather feedback and rework the classes until you are delivering the same quality of member experience that you provided before you went online. Check out our recent in-depth article on how to deliver fitness classes online for more information
Consider These 3 Key Points Before You Begin
Before you begin planning your online marketing strategy, you must be set up correctly to market your online offering. Here are a few things to think about before you begin
Remember What Makes You Authentic
As we said previously, there is a lot of competition in the online marketplace. Not only are there businesses online whose whole business model is dedicated to streaming, but there is a multitude of fitness influencers with large followings who are posting free workouts daily.
While you are changing the direction of your business, you are not changing the direction of your identity – the thing that made you successful in the first place.
Update Your Communications
Transitioning your business to online workouts means that you will need to reflect this in your external communications. The first piece of communication you should update is your website. As we discussed extensively in our guide to creating an excellent gym website, your website is the online home of your business, and for many visitors, this will be the first time they get a good look at your business. Because of this, you have to make sure you are making the best impression possible. Transitioning to offering online classes, however temporary, means you need to make sure this is clear on your homepage.
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Create a Clear Pathway to Classes
Whatever channel a person comes through to sign up for a class pack or membership, you need to make sure that they have a clear path towards signing up for a class. If they come on to your website organically, ensure you have clear Call To Actions (CTAs) to direct the person to quickly sign up for a free trial, class pack, or membership. For example, if you are running a Facebook Ads Campaign, the leads you generate should go to a landing page, which should be optimized to convert leads into signing up for online classes.
4 Ways to Market Your Online Classes
A big question facing a lot of gym and studio owners right now is whether or not to grow their business beyond trying to retain the majority of their members. The reality is that you need to think carefully about all the expenses you may incur in the coming months and decide what is sensible to spend on acquiring new members. Here are four channels you can use for marketing your online classes in the coming months.
1. Paid Social Media Ads
Right now, a lot of businesses in every industry are pausing their ad spend. In a conversation with digital marketing expert Matteo Lopez, the podcast Two Brain Business Radio talks about the fact that CPM (cost per 1000 impressions) is quite low right now, meaning that you will spend less to get your ads in front of more people. Another factor they discuss is that because more people are at home at the moment, there are more people online scrolling through social media feeds.
With your ads, you will need to change your copy to reflect the fact that your classes are now online. A good tip discussed in the episode is to not mention Coronavirus or COVID19 in the headline or ad copy. Instead, focus more on how you can deliver value to a person when it comes to helping them hit their fitness goals with at-home workouts.
2. Organic Content
The simple fact is that if you don’t have a regular social media presence, it will be as if you don’t exist. Posting regularly to social media is a long term strategy and may not yield any results in the short term. In particular, Facebook’s algorithm is making it harder and harder for content to be seen on the timeline.
So what is the point?
The reality is that not posting on social media regularly will give off a poor impression of your business and may stop potential leads coming to you. Now that your business has gone online, there is so much content that you can post regularly, such as class pictures and videos, workout and nutrition tutorials, class timetables, motivational quotes, and member transformation stories. Posts about member transformations are particularly powerful as they are highly shareable and can bring in new followers that you can then convert into new leads through targeted advertising.
In a time where most people are locked down due to COVID-19, there is one fundamental way to expand your reach outside your current membership base. A lot of your members will have friends and family in isolation, so you should use this opportunity to get your community of members to spread the word.
Generate positive word of mouth for your gym by using this key marketing strategy and add another string to your lead generation bow. There are two key benefits to running a referral program for your gym or studio. Firstly you reach potential customers who, despite your best efforts, have not seen any of your marketing campaigns to date. On top of that, these prospective clients are more likely to trust a friend over a marketing campaign.
Secondly, as well as being an effective method of lead generation, referral programs can be a good gym membership retention strategy. If a member is resistant to recommend your services to a friend, then there may be an underlying issue with your studio. So use this as an opportunity to intervene early and potentially stop this member from churning.
4. Free Online Classes as Trials
Gyms and studios are now having to adapt to a new reality very quickly, and a lot of them have begun hosting live classes for free online through platforms such as Facebook Live, Youtube Live and Instagram Live. While this is a good idea in the beginning to generate interest in your classes, you will eventually need to begin signing up paying members to allow your business to grow and ultimately survive. A good idea is to post one live stream weekly or bi-weekly that can act as a free trial. Another approach could be to password-protect your free trial for the person who registers their interest from one of your lead generation channels.
Moving your fitness business online is a big step, and the path to success can be challenging. However, in the situation the world finds itself in, it’s a necessary step to retain as many members as possible. The next step is to then grow your business by acquiring new members and proving you can still provide the same value and member experience in an online world.