A steady stream of new leads engaging with the business may not be your primary priority right now (our Coronavirus Crisis survival blog can help here). But once the dust settles and you’ve done the necessary work to secure as many of your existing membership base as you can, you’ll need to consider both your internal and external marketing.
Internal marketing focuses on how you can best engage and retain your existing members; and external marketing is concerned with securing new leads from outside the business. Both are necessary if you want to survive now – and thrive later.
Here are some practical steps to guide your thinking, split into two sections: first steps to take in the current period of initial crisis; and thoughts for the medium term as a ‘new normal’ starts to emerge.
For now, during the initial crisis:
Rushing into action isn’t going to help you. This situation is a major trauma to your business, and it’s OK to feel overwhelmed. Give yourself some time to adjust to it mentally. Make space to think. Then get your planning head on and get started again.
“Be transparent; be present; be human.”
Having a clearly thought-through series of comms that put you on your clients’ radar is a vital first step. Be transparent; be present; be human.
The Coronavirus will be affecting people in different ways. Some will have lost their livelihoods – others potentially will have lost loved ones. Be aware of this and think carefully about what you choose to broadcast, both to members and prospects.
Don’t confuse people
It’s not your place to get political or play god. Stay in your lane and don’t drown out or contradict key government messages. Don’t get involved in online drama about social distancing rules, furlough, or any other of the touchy areas that people may choose to take up with you. Remain calm, supportive, and focused on your area of expertise.
Pause all drip feeds and campaigns
What worked before the Coronavirus hit isn’t going to work now. Part of your financial plan will be to cut down on non-essential expense, and campaigns that speak to a different situation definitely come under this umbrella. If you have money to spend on marketing right now, this isn’t how to spend it.
Don’t try and compete with everyone
As our business models are turned on their heads, it can be tempting to throw ourselves into the world of remote coaching without choosing a focused approach. Don’t do this. Consider the needs of your existing members – send out a survey to find out what they want and need – and come in with a clear plan that speaks to these needs.
Understand your client
Now more than ever, you need to stay tuned into the mindset of your target audience. This is essentially an exercise in empathy – putting yourself in the shoes of the people you’re serving. In times of stress, it can be tempting to go onto autopilot and churn out more of what you’re used to. Resist this urge and be really thoughtful about how your clients are feeling, what they need, and how you can speak to this. For example, many people are looking for community more than challenge right now, and may appreciate opportunities to connect with people they know more than to be peppered with posts about press-up technique.
Return to ‘why’
At every step of your planning and execution process, come back to the question: why should people buy from me (or watch my videos)? What makes you uniquely suited to solving their problem – scratching their itch? The same principles of marketing apply as they always have, but the context and conditions have changed dramatically, so you’ll need to repeat the process from a very different client perspective.
Stay true to core values
In a time of extreme uncertainty, it’s more important than ever to stick to the key beliefs that make your business what it is. When you’re planning your marketing approach, revisit your core values, your mission statement, and your training manifesto to make sure that these shine through in all your communications and decisions.
Focus your message
As we mentioned earlier, marketing can be internal AND external. In the initial weeks, many of us will be focused on internal marketing – connecting with and holding on to our existing membership base. As time moves on, we’re going to want to raise our sights and consider external marketing to prospects again. The key lesson here: be clear on which parts of your marketing are focused on which audience, as the messaging will differ from one to the other.
Circumstances have changed drastically, and the majority of people are stuck at home feeling confused, anxious, isolated, and potentially bored. This means that your target market have essentially changed – their needs, their hopes, and their fears have undergone a massive shift. Now’s the time to diversify your offering (and your content) to take these new specifications into account. Find ways to keep your community alive, connect people, and speak to people’s immediate situations.
Once the initial crisis period is over and both you and your clients are settling into a new way of life, you’ll need to re-evaluate your business and marketing plan. Here are some questions and areas to consider:
What will people want?
Whatever emerges from this massive disruption in our society, we can be sure that people won’t relate to fitness in the same way. So what will they want once they’re allowed to attend the gym again? Will they want to continue to exercise from home more than before? Will they expect more connection from the gym community during their days away from the gym? Will they expect a more comprehensive online offering, like an interactive website or app, to make exercise more tailored to them? Only you – uniquely positioned to understand your own target population – can begin to find the answers to these questions.
Will your message be the same?
If what people want changes, will the message behind your offering also change? How can you speak to people’s shifting priorities, lifestyles, and concerns? Does your tagline need to change, for example, or your branding shift to line up with a new, more digitally focused, offering? Again, this will depend on your demographic and will need careful research and consideration.
“Be flexible, agile, and adaptable as events evolve.”
The only real way to find the answers to these questions is to be proactive about asking the questions. Give clients plenty of opportunities to communicate their feedback to you on what you’re offering now; and listen to what they’re saying about what they want for the future too. Read between the lines, staying present in coaching sessions, in team meets, and in social media settings, gathering information about people’s mindset, direction, and desires.
Part of this process of evolution may require you to ‘flex’ and expand your offering. Think about parts of the market that you could serve effectively as a way of diversifying your client portfolio. Could you offer support for mental health through exercise and wellness, for example? Might you be able to cater to a younger population, like school children – or an older one, such as retired people? It’s likely that this diversification will involve a move to a more online-based model.
No one knows how this situation will play out: not you, not your clients, not the government, not fitness industry leaders. The way to get through this and be one of the front runners on the other side is to be flexible, agile, and adaptable as events evolve. This requires a strong foundation of curiosity and innovation – and a growth mindset.