How to engage members virtually

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.

What is virtual member engagement?

45% of gym members are infrequent to casual users (ranging from 12 to 49 yearly visits) according to the latest IHRSA Health Club Consumer Report, suggesting that almost half your gym community isn’t engaging consistently with your facility and services. We all know that the more engaged members are, the longer they stay (and the greater lifetime value), so just think of what effect it could have on your business if you turned just half of those more distant members into moderate, core or even avid users (ranging from 99 to 150+ visits).   

Of course, what makes customer engagement particularly challenging is that it’s a never-ending process, starting with the first interaction and extending far beyond the point of purchase. Fortunately, technology has created new opportunities to consistently, effectively and efficiently ‘connect’ with members to achieve ‘around the clock’ engagement that boosts retention. And with the boom in virtual fitness, resulting from the pandemic, never has there been a better time to enhance – and prioritise – your virtual member engagement to capitalise on the opportunities.  

What does it take to engage a prospect? 

You may have heard of the marketing maxim, ‘The Rule of Seven,’ developed by the movie industry in the 1930s, which states that a prospect must ‘hear’ an advertiser’s message seven times before taking action to buy the product. This still rings true today with Salesforce suggesting it takes six to eight touches to generate a viable sales lead. (If you read other reports, it could even be as high as 20!) However, since then, there’s been a shift away from the ‘advertising’ style of marketing. Consumers today don’t just want to be the subject of your broadcast. They want to be educated, inspired, entertained. What’s more, they seek transparency, authenticity and genuineness from the brands they follow. To nurture prospects into leads and sales (members), it takes multiple, thoughtful touchpoints. 

Therefore, being able to effectively track engagement with prospects across all platforms and learn which messages, delivery times, journey stages, and channels get the most engagements (and ultimately lead to the most member conversions) is absolutely essential for any fitness business to be successful.

What does an engaged member look like?

Each facility will have its own profile for what an ‘engaged member’ looks like, both physically and statistically. However, there are some figures that provide a general picture…

A survey of 2,800 UK adults by Myprotein found that the average number of times people go to the gym is five times per week (equivalent to 240 times a year!) and the average British citizen spends seven hours per week in the gym or working out. In comparison, IHRSA’s findings, based on 20,069 online interviews, suggest that the average member in the US uses their club 105 times per year (two times per week). 

Given that the UK has a population of 66.65 million and the US has 328.2 million residents (as of July 2020), these are very small sample sizes so need to be taken with a pinch of salt. Once again, we’re brought back to the idea that ‘member engagement’ is personal to the facility and the goals it has set.

Another indicator of how effectively a facility’s member engagement strategy is working is, of course, retention. A long-standing head-scratcher for the industry, the UK Health and Fitness Club Report 2017 by Mintel states that clubs lose a whopping 50% of their members each year, and the effects of Covid-19 are yet to be seen. However, with the right technology systems in place, the whole member experience can be made more enjoyable and rewarding, helping to minimise cancellations and increase retention rates, even amongst a pandemic. 

And let’s not forget the ‘sleeping members’ who also form part of the equation. Most operators would prefer not to wake them, and for good reason, as Brits spend an average of £39 a month on unused subscriptions, namely gyms, as researched by Natwest. But could re-engaging those members reap higher financial rewards, for example, through upgraded memberships and secondary spend? Again, that’s where technology and smart data use can play a huge role. 

What is virtual engagement? 

In the ‘real world,’ engagement occurs every time somebody visits your facility and interacts with your brand, staff and equipment. Virtual engagement is about replicating these ‘real life’ interactions online or through technology to increase the affinity between your facility and members. 

An example of this is using a virtual platform to learn which classes, PTs, and equipment have the highest and lowest attendance and usage levels. From there, you can swap low performing classes with more high performing classes (online and offline) and see the direct effect this has on penetration rates, club attendance and lifetime value of members. Virtual engagement is about using data to show you what works and what doesn’t to give your members more of what they want, at the times they want it, through their preferred channels – ultimately, providing them with the very best experience possible. 

However, virtual engagement is something that’s often misunderstood or oversimplified within our industry. If you asked most people to describe what it means, their thoughts would probably turn to social media and activities such as liking, commenting and sharing members’ posts, and having that reciprocated. 

There’s no doubt that responding to people’s comments, queries and issues on social media in a timely manner goes a long way to building brand loyalty, trust and advocacy. And having fun with members online is just as important as having fun with them offline. In today’s ‘internet economy,’ it’s what builds community. But while social media is an important part of the virtual engagement, it’s just that – part of the mix. One of many areas to be maximised through technology and data.

Group classes on Instagram Live or Zoom (other platforms are available) may also be top of mind when giving examples of virtual engagement. For many operators, trainers and members, it’s these virtual classes that have helped them through the lockdown period and will form part of the ‘new fitness fabric’ moving forward. But are operators putting themselves in a position to make the most of virtual training? The limitation of these free-to-use platforms is that they don’t have built-in tracking to measure member engagement. They’ve been a great step on the ‘virtual training ladder’ but to truly maximise this area, operators need a more intelligent solution.  

To further illustrate why it’s so important to master the virtual training strand of your virtual engagement strategy, a survey by Savanta ComRes, commissioned by Sport England, found that 44% of people are doing a home-based activity (including 23% doing online workouts). In comparison, gym membership penetration – although at an all-time high – is a mere 15.6% according to the 2019 State of the UK Fitness Industry Report. This shows that virtual training is no longer a ‘nice to have’ but instead a ‘must-have’ for operators. If you’re not offering online classes, you’re most probably missing out and causing your members to look elsewhere for those services. 

Not only that, but each member will have had their own, unique experience of Covid-19, meaning they have different comfort levels in terms of their willingness and eagerness to return to the gym environment. Not everyone will come rushing back – and it could take years to get back to anything resembling ‘normality.’ The beauty of virtual classes is that they allow you to continue providing a service to these members until they are ready to return. By maintaining a virtual offering, it also enables you to create different tiers of membership – from ‘digital-only’ to ‘gym-only’ and everything in between – allowing you to meet the needs and desires of the widest audience possible.

Examples of virtual engagement 

Clubs in China have provided some great examples of how to engage members virtually and execute the online to offline (O2O) model – growing an audience through a slick, digital presence and then channelling them towards physical sites/memberships. 

Immediately after heading into lockdown, boutique studio, Shape, started streaming live workouts. After building an engaged audience (peaking at 100,000 viewers) by using the social media platforms, WeChat and TikTok, it was quick to make the most of this – launching a 12-day online fat-loss training camp where instructors host video training and coaching sessions with participants. More than 1,000 people signed up, with many going on to purchase additional, bespoke packages. This additional revenue stream helped Shape to stay buoyant while generating a new outlet for its instructors. As well as continuing this personal training concept online, Shape believes this is a great addition to its physical presence (complimenting the group workouts it has become known for) and it plans to launch the offering to 90% of its site by the end of 2020.

Lefit did something very similar, attracting an average of 20,000 viewers to its virtual workouts through smart promotion on social media; clocking up a colossal two billion views since launch. Spurred on by this success, it then developed its own online gym platform – Lefit Live Broadcasting Room – offering live workouts, training programmes, and coaching upsells. The number of users is said to be “increasing exponentially every day” and Lefit hopes this will significantly reduce its reliance on offline income, which currently stands for 85% of its total revenue. With uncertainty around the number of people who will return to the ‘physical gym’ once Covid-19 fully subsides, facilities have an unprecedented opportunity to integrate their O2O operations to dramatically enhance member engagement and drive business results. 

Inspiration from outside the industry

Looking for inspiration from outside the industry, fashion retailer, ASOS, provided a brilliant example of how to engage members virtually. It utilised a user-generated content strategy to facilitate customer engagement through the #AsSeenOnMe campaign, which encouraged followers to ‘show off’ their latest ASOS outfit on social media. In return, customers had the opportunity to be featured on the ASOS Instagram page and/or Facebook, which both have millions of followers. This was a great way for ASOS to fill up its feeds with user-generated posts (social proof), essentially, getting their customers to advertise for them. 

What’s stopping gyms from doing the same – rewarding customers for posting about their workout experiences, for example? Or trialling the sale of new products like, merchandise, food/drinks, digital memberships, exercise education courses, and at-home equipment, then asking members to share their experiences/selfies, while using data to show which products have a good ROI and are worth pursuing further?

Summary…

Virtual engagement is not giving a member a ‘like’ on Facebook or providing them with a virtual training session. It’s someone completing a workout and interacting with your services to get the rewards they set out to achieve when they joined i.e. to get fitter. It’s about bridging the gap between home and gym to deliver a joined-up member experience. It’s about knowing how, where and when to share information with your members. It’s about utilising the entire virtual space and channels available to truly connect with your members on a deeper, more meaningful level. 

As with all engagement, virtual engagement is all about tracking – understanding who is and isn’t engaged – and why. Then using those learnings to develop a stronger, more profitable business. Thankfully, technology holds the key and, for operators, it’s all to play for…