When can a shortcut help us, and when can it hurt us? Here’s a four-question test.

We all need marketing now. For the first time, gym owners have access to marketing that works–at least, in the short-term. That’s a huge problem solved. But the next problem to solve is, “How do I pick the marketing that will benefit my business in the long-term? How do I know the difference between a strategy and a shortcut?”

Because we all know that some shortcuts can actually hurt us. We’re fitness coaches, after all, and we spend part of every day telling our clients to stay away from 800-calorie diets and Slim-Quick shakes and pyramid schemes for supplements.

At TwoBrain, we want you to attract clients one at a time; form a personal coaching relationship with them; and keep them for a decade. We use Affinity Marketing, content marketing and high-level Facebook marketing to do that (and it’s all in the Incubator). The other option is to run challenges of 30-40 people at a time through your gym using cut-and-paste Facebook ads. The first is powerful; the latter is a powerful shortcut.

I try not to quote Seth Godin more than once per year, but his podcast today featured a great framework for determining which shortcuts can help and which can hurt. When he’s presented with (or finds) a new strategy for growth, Godin asks these four questions:

  1. Is it repeatable? Can I keep doing this for a long time, or is it a crash diet?
  2. Is it non-harmful? What are the downstream effects on our culture?
  3. Is it additive? Will it improve over time?
  4. Can it survive the crowd? Does it have to be a secret?

 

Let’s hold group challenge marketing up to Godin’s four questions:

  1. Is it repeatable? Yes…for a few rounds, anyway. But anyone who’s run a large group six-week challenge will tell you that it’s pretty exhausting. Imagine running the CrossFit Open every six weeks, and trying to bring the energy every time while explaining the air squat to a few dozen beginners.
    Big group challenges are fun the first time (I enjoyed the first New-You Challenge we ran at Catalyst two years ago.) But the challenge class times inconvenienced my best members. My coaches got worn out. And the new group took a lot of energy to manage…and then left.
  2. Is it non-harmful? At first, running a big group challenge seems like a positive: new potential members, and a little revenue spike. But more and more gyms are telling us they’re losing their BEST members when they run big group challenges. Their seed clients get less attention; they’re inconvenienced; and they’re often paying more for less service than the new kids get. In addition, if you’re offering bait-and-switch challenges, you’re poisoning your well of potential future clients.
  3. Is it additive (will it improve over time)? Unfortunately, lead quality tends to go down over time, and ad costs go up. When you run challenges over and over–especially the same group challenge–its value decreases every time you run it.
  4. Can it survive the crowd? When multiple gyms run the same ad campaigns in the same city, the problem compounds: ad costs go up quickly, and lead quality decreases, because the best applicants have already done the program. They’re looking for the next thing.

 

Now, let’s ask the same four questions about marketing to one person at a time, which is what we teach. For background:

Affinity marketing is in-person relationship marketing, referrals and “help first” conversations.

Content marketing is building a foundation of trust and slowly nurturing each potential client toward registration.

And the Facebook Marketing taught in the Incubator is personal “journeys”–sometimes we even call them challenges, but they’re not group challenges. For example, a person might see the ad, do a No-Sweat Intro, and have a six-week challenge designed for them; but their challenge is different from the next person’s, and leads to a long-term relationship with the gym.

Holding this type of marketing up to Godin’s four filters:

  1. Is it repeatable? Yes, you can have conversations forever. You can run ads forever with a lower ad spend, because your’e not counting on one big “splash” of revenue every 2-3 months. And since you’re just adding jet fuel to your normal process, you’re not going to put your staff through the meat grinder; you’re just speeding up your regular process.
  2. Is it non-harmful? Yes, because every new client goes through your typical intake process, and gets introduced to other members when they’re ready. That means you can still keep your primary focus on existing clients instead of ignoring them. And you can get new clients without tricking them.
  3. Is it additive? Yes. As you get better at conversations, you’ll convince more people to join your gym. You’ll also become better at conversions as you do more in a 1:1 setting. And since you’re not running the same ads as every other gym in town, you’ll get better at judging what works, and spend money on only those.
  4. Can it survive the crowd? Yes. We have several cities in which TwoBrain gyms are operating in cooperation instead of competition. They’re meeting different people, running different ads, and still becoming very successful.

 

There are shortcuts to profitability. Marketing can be one. But big-group challenge marketing is potentially harmful to the long-term success of your business.