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Gym marketing & promotions

One area of business that gyms cannot afford to take lightly is attracting new members. Large chain gyms and boutique fitness studios seem to be opening at record rates. And no matter how many loyal members a gym has, every gym has churn – people canceling their membership. 

Advertising, promotions, and other types of marketing can certainly bring new gym visitors and members through your doors, offset churn, and help your gym grow. There are countless articles, books, and courses on how to develop and execute your marketing. But for this blog, we’ll stick to the basic categories, and I’ll highlight my favorite types of gym marketing.

female gym member running on treadmill

Without further ado, let’s review 4 ways for gyms to attract new members:

Traditional advertising for gyms

Digital marketing for gyms

Referral promotions for gyms

Employee and residential promotions for gyms 

Traditional advertising for gyms

If you pay attention to the ads all around you, you’ll see gyms advertising on every medium. The traditional marketing channels some gyms use include direct mail, TV and radio commercials, print ads, and billboards. 

Traditional advertising channels have their place for branding. But, the challenge with traditional advertising is that it can be cost-prohibitive, and the results are difficult to measure. 

As a marketer, I generally do not recommend traditional advertising methods for small businesses with a limited budget. However, the exception to this is direct response direct mail. With direct response mail, recipients are urged to take a specific action.

For a gym, an example of a popular direct response direct mail campaign is a coupon or pass for a free visit or trial for the gym, which may be for a day, a week, or longer. With direct mail, you can target by geography, online behavior (with the right vendor), or both. 

Digital marketing for gyms

Digital marketing is my personal favorite type of marketing for gyms. Digital marketing is an umbrella term for all of the digital methods of communication. Digital marketing for a gym can be a promoted post on social media, a paid-for link at the top of a Google search result page, a banner ad on a webpage you’re reading, and much more. 

The reason I love digital marketing methods for gyms is because there’s a lower cost to get started, results are more easily measured, and you can quickly make changes. You can turn off your poorest performing Google Ad, test different subject lines for an email, or easily increase the budget for a campaign that brought in 10 new members. There’s more flexibility with digital marketing. 

Referral promotions for gyms

There’s an old saying that word of mouth is the best advertising. Referral promotions are a great way to encourage word-of-mouth “advertising”. People trust the opinions of people they know better than what companies say about themselves. That’s why referral promotions are my second favorite type of marketing for gyms.

I believe there’s a lot of value in a free trial period for a gym offered by current members to people they know. This can be done through a variety of channels with a printed or digital buddy pass or bring-a-friend pass. Gyms can also experiment with an incentive for the referring member, like a free month or free personal trainer session, so everyone comes out ahead. 

If a person invites their friend to try out the gym they love, or better yet, exercise with them, it’s a more enticing offer than hearing an ad on the radio. And when people join a gym where a friend is a member, they’re more likely to go, use the gym, and continue on as a member.

Studies show that working out with a friend or social group increases the likelihood of sticking with your exercise routine1, helps reduce stress2, and can even add years to your life3. Not to mention, exercising with a friend is just more enjoyable than exercising solo. 

Employee & residential promos for gyms

Okay, we’ve already covered my favorite types of marketing for gyms (digital, referral, and certain types of direct mail). But I can’t wrap things up without mentioning employee and residential programs. In a nutshell, these are discount programs aimed at groups that are in close proximity to your gym location. 

Partner with employers: ask a local business if they would be interested in a discounted gym membership rate for their employees. Some medium and large-size businesses already have “corporate discount” or “employee savings” programs that are promoted for new employees and periodically for current employees. 

There’s a fairly low cost to start these programs (time for you or an employee to research local businesses, print some promotional materials, set up a meeting, etc.). And an agreement or partnership with an employer to promote this discount program can bring new people to your gym while also encouraging employee wellness. 

Partner with rental communities: If there are apartment buildings within a few miles of your gym, and especially any within walking distance, talk to the property manager about offering a special discount or promotion to all residents. You can ask the property manager to promote the program to residents in an email newsletter, with a printed card (that you provide) in the welcome packet for new residents, and on a bulletin board in a common area, if they have one. 

Consider in-person visits or meetings to create and foster programs like these. Thank you cards, holiday cards, and dropping off branded promotional materials as part of a gift basket are easy and friendly gestures that help nurture these business relationships and keep your gym’s promotions top-of-mind. 

When you receive visitors and new gym members from employee and residential programs, be sure to thank your contact who helped get the word out. 

Measuring marketing for gyms

There are tons of marketing channels and tactics that can be successful for gyms! But, it’s very important to measure the effectiveness of each campaign or promotion. Being able to look back and figure out your return on investment (ROI) or return on ad spend (ROAS) is crucial. 

Even if you ask every single new member how they heard about your gym, most will not recall the specific marketing campaign that got their attention, even if they tell you confidently where it was. ‘Oh, you saw us on TV? Cool (we don’t do TV ads, but okay).’

When setting up a new advertising or marketing campaign for your gym, make sure you have tracking methods in place. For digital marketing, including Google Ads and paid social media, there are tracking “pixels” or “tags” – various types of code that need to be installed on your website to measure whatever you deem a conversion – signing up for a free trial, submitting a contact form, or registering as a member online.

When you’re printing buddy passes for your referral promo, have a space for your current member to write their name down (and log this in your system). Also, have a space on any coupon handouts for an employer or residential program so an employee can write in the name of the employer’s business or the rental community to more easily track referral sources for gym visitors/new members. 

Evaluate your marketing efforts and various promotions at least quarterly. If a campaign hasn’t brought in any new gym memberships or visitors and is costing money and/or time, either change something about it or scrap it. 

Bottom line

Gyms should always be working on attracting new members for continued growth and success. Test different communication channels, messaging, and types of promotions. Measure the results and move your marketing effort and dollars to what is working. 

Do you have tips for attracting new gym members? Share your thoughts in the comments.

More from Numberwise:

Bizarre fitness trends

4 tips to reduce costs for your fitness business

Increase income for your fitness business in these 4 areas

1 People who commit to their goals with another person are 65% more likely to achieve them
2 Group exercise participants reported a 26.2 percent reduction in perceived stress levels
3 Individuals who participated in group sports with more social interactions lived a few years longer on average than those who participated in solo fitness endeavors

About the Author

Picture of Rachel Law

Rachel Law

Rachel Law, Marketing Manager at Numberwise, has over 15 years of experience in marketing and communications. She coordinates content for all of our marketing channels, and loves a good meme. Rachel is a health and fitness enthusiast who enjoys yoga and running. She has 2 kids and a growing number of indoor plants.
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