How to engage members virtually

  • Andy Hall
  • Aug 24, 2020
  • 12 Min Read

Virtual engagement, like offline engagement, is the sum of many parts. It’s not simply creating killer email campaigns, liking your members’ posts on Facebook or having your superstar coaches deliver incredible group training sessions online. It’s all of those things, and so much more. And just as every fitness brand or club is different, so too should its digital platform. In the pre-Covid world, operators mainly used ‘off the shelf’ products to manage their member engagement, but in the post-Covid world, there’s a need for something more sophisticated. Something bespoke. Something that fits the unique identity of the brand/club, its members and your commercial goals.

To achieve this, there’s no need to throw away all of your existing systems. Far from it. We want you to keep them. What we’re actually suggesting is that clubs need a solution that brings all of these systems together to maximise them all, driving acquisition, engagement, retention and revenue. Something that plugs gaps, bolts on, generates opportunities and is quick, effortless and cost-effective to integrate. And it does exist. Let us show you how you can leverage such a platform…

WARNING… Data… but don’t be afraid!

Data is one of those words that can strike fear into even the most experienced operators, but it shouldn’t. All too often, data can be perceived as overcomplicated, built up. Personally, we prefer to think of it as ‘growing a business.’

Used correctly, data can help you to make better decisions, faster. It can automate actions to happen at the exact moments that are shown to increase conversion while enabling you to maximise touchpoints to increase member attendance and lifetime value (LTV), especially amongst your ‘unengaged’ members. Added to that, is the sheer scope of data… From member experience/attendance data, to member wearable data linked to club use, to membership engagement levels, retention, longevity and churn, we’re only just scratching the service of what can be tracked. Metrics that can help operators to make intelligent moves that have a tangible effect on their businesses. The possibilities are almost endless…

Access and visibility of data

To engage your members as effectively as possible, it’s essential that you can see all of your data in one place via a central dashboard. It means that you can track trends between data sets, such as class and personal trainer attendance, showing increased club attendance and LTV. Having a dashboard to compare clubs (if you operate multiple sites) can also help you make more accurate high-level decisions (i.e. some club data might be different from others and require a different decision). With the ‘full picture’ of what engagement looks like across your facilities, you can fine-tune your models for best practice and make more accurate, and much quicker, micro-decisions.

Member experience

We all know that an increased member experience directly links to a member being more engaged and staying with a club for longer. If a member is having a good experience, they are less likely to churn and vice versa. To demonstrate this, research has shown that a promoter (someone that gives a business a 9-10 rating) has a lifetime value to a company that’s six to 14 times that of a detractor (0-6 rating). On the flip side, 67% of consumers cite bad experiences as a reason for churn.

Thankfully, data can show you which members are having a good experience and the correlation between this and their interactions with your club/brand. Of course, this is the same for those having a bad experience. Easily accessible and comparable data across multiple sources allows you to learn who is attending your clubs, classes, PT sessions and, more importantly, who isn’t attending. This means you can increase penetration rates by performing actions such as replacing low-performing classes with more high-performing classes, seeing the direct effect this has on club attendance and LTV.

Data also allows you to spot tasks that can be automated, providing your team with more time to concentrate on the important things like building great relationships – key for online and offline engagement or simply delivering more cleaning hours! What’s more, data enables you to ‘cut the fat’ by seeing which machines are being used the most and least. You can then get rid of the ineffective equipment and replace it with more of what your members like or exciting, new pieces that will delight your gym community and attract more people to your facility.

By more efficiently spending your money and resources and stopping doing the things that cause bad experiences, you can increase the ‘things’ that make great experiences – massively enhancing member engagement. But, it’s important to point out that data is most effective when it becomes part of your day-to-day operations; not something that’s checked at the end of the week or in a monthly board meeting. Through a purpose-built digital platform, data can fit seamlessly into the life of a club to provide the constant insight that drives results.

Generating secondary spend

According to Forbes, customers are likely to spend 140% more after a positive experience than those who report a negative experience. So, knowing who is having a good and bad experience in your club allows you to approach the most engaged members to upsell and create secondary spend. Data provides insight on member actions and the types of members buying certain products, as well as those who should be targeted.

You could even launch new products, like merchandise, food/drinks, digital memberships, exercise education courses, and at-home equipment, using data to show which products have a good ROI and are worth pursuing further. If members are able to purchase or be rewarded with club-branded clothing, for example, it can help to make them feel part of a community/tribe – increasing their engagement – and it effectively becomes free advertising (a walking billboard) for your club.
Member targeting

Who doesn’t love a reward? In fact, a report shows that 87% of consumers are open to having details of their activity and behaviour monitored in order to receive access to personalised rewards or engagement. A digital platform allows a club to target more personalised and direct messages to the right members at the right time. For example, members who are attending clubs and buying products should be receiving regular reminders of the rewards they are benefiting from.

This is really important considering 18% of consumers say incentives always sway them to pick one brand over another, even when they’re loyal to the brand without rewards. The good news is that 67% of savvy Millennials and Gen Z consumers welcome email reminders from brands and retailers that highlight previously viewed products, and may also contain personalised offers/rewards. Running a successful fitness club is all about the ‘marginal gains,’ so having systems in place to make sure that members aren’t missing out on ‘club perks’ can make a big difference to your engagement levels and bottom line.

Another factor to consider here is referral marketing. As we described in our previous blog, referrals can be one of the highest converting channels for fitness clubs – and will be even more important in the post-COVID world with health and safety-conscious consumers turning to the people they know and trust before deciding on which gym to join. But referral schemes only work if they’re delivered to the right members, at the right times, and with the right reward. Technology makes this simple.

Tiers to engage every member

Every members’ experience of the pandemic will have been unique to them, therefore, they will all be at different stages emotionally and physically in terms of their willingness and ability to return to the gym. Some will be rushing to get back while others will be more reluctant or wishing to take more gradual steps to re-induct themselves. Others may not be able to return because of underlying health reasons or being in the ‘high risk’ category.

The beauty of a digital platform and ‘virtual engagement’ is that it enables you to stay in touch with members every step of the way, so you never lose connection. It also allows you to offer different tiers of membership to suit members with varying needs, expectations, personality types, and comfort levels.

Tier One could be a ‘digital-only’ membership, which gives access to all of your facility’s live, recorded, and streamed classes, as well as workouts and PT sessions, from the comfort of the member’s home. Tier Two could give members access to all the online content and a capped number of gym visits per month. And Tier Three could consist of all the online content, plus unlimited gym sessions.

Of course, there are many other ways you could structure this. You may want a fourth tier, providing a purely physical membership for those who aren’t interested in virtual training, and for when we return to ‘normal’ (i.e. when the virus has been brought under control and we no longer need the same social distancing measures). Although, we’re pretty sure that most of your members would prefer one of the ‘hybrid’ packages to take advantage of the full range of benefits (physical and virtual) on offer, particularly considering the world’s increased affection and understanding of technology, generated by the pandemic.

Engaging prospects and generating leads

Some people, given the nature of their jobs, maybe working from home for the foreseeable future, or spending less time at the office, and, therefore, are searching for facilities closer to home. Others may be looking for that ‘hybrid’ model, allowing them to mix physical gym sessions with virtual sessions to continue what they started – and enjoyed – during lockdown. And, of course, there will be those who may not feel the need to attend a gym anymore in light of how successfully they’ve been able to train at home, needing a fair amount of convincing to return!

So, alongside battling to retain existing members, you’ll also be competing to acquire the ‘new pool’ of potential customers that have cancelled their memberships elsewhere, or who now want to join a gym after re-igniting or discovering their passion for fitness during lockdown. The beauty of a digital platform is that it offers a ‘shop window’ into your facility to attract these new leads. For example, you could offer prospects the chance to sign up for a free trial of your online membership (Tier One) via your digital platform, enabling them to get a flavour for the club, PTs, classes, and all the other services on offer to whet their appetites and entice them to join.

Tracking conversions

Now that you have a method in place for generating more leads, you need a way to monitor and fine-tune your sales and marketing strategies to maximise conversions. With a digital platform, you can track engagement with prospects across all channels, as well as spotting work duplicates and gaps so you don’t annoy potential members with loads of emails, texts and phone calls from different club staff.

Through a virtual dashboard, you can learn which messages, delivery times, and channels get the most engagements, and ultimately, lead to the most member conversions. You can also quickly see your funnel metrics and identify the tactics that move the most prospects into the next phase the fastest. You can then double down on what’s working best and use this to form a successful and repeatable algorithm for your business.

Maximise your superstar trainers

A digital platform gives your members access to the superstar coaches and trainers they’ve built relationships with at your facility. With additional opportunities for member-trainer interaction through online training, coaching, classes, and support, this can significantly boost customer engagement, satisfaction and retention rates, driving people back towards your gym (the online to offline model).

Although many people will have experimented with all kinds of virtual classes and trainers during lockdown, most would still prefer to be coached by someone they know, like, and trust. Not providing this opportunity to your members could mean they look elsewhere. Using a digital platform stops this happening and brings your community closer.

Coupled with the above, data insights can be used to set KPIs that encourage your staff to be better and help to make them accountable for their decisions and actions. Giving staff real-time visibility on progress towards KPIs keeps them on track, with a positive knock-on effect for member engagement.

Summary (embracing the ‘hybrid’ model)…

Data shouldn’t be overwhelming. It’s something to be embraced and can become an operator’s best friend if integrated into the inner fabric of a facility. With the right offerings and strategies in place – driven by data – this will help your members to become more engaged and, importantly, form habits with your club/brand. Once that habit loop is formed, retention becomes much easier and cheaper and LTV rockets.

As we move into this new era for the industry – we believe that a ‘digital hybrid’ membership model is key. Clubs will need a digital platform that allows you to offer both a ‘bricks and mortar’ and virtual service, bridging the gap between home exercise and the gym to successfully unite the ‘fitness ecosystem’ and create a highly effective and engaging, end-to-end member experience. Central to this is having a digital platform with a central dashboard that is completely bespoke, measurable, and created to deliver commercial returns from day one.