Bolstering Your Club’s Brand

In a rapidly changing market, operators need to earn health club consumers’ trust.

You may not realize it, but among the casualties of the past year might be your health club’s brand. McKinsey reports that 75% of Americans changed brands during the pandemic.

As a result, we’ve seen a number of recent branding updates from big players, including Burger King, which announced brand changes for the first time in 20 years, General Motors, Pfizer (its first significant brand refresh in 70 years), and others.

The top three reasons for switching are value, availability, and convenience. In the health and fitness industry, those three factors are always in play. In addition, a recent Harris Poll indicates a great deal of pent-up demand exists as consumers seek to reconnect with what they’ve been missing, which is certainly true for clubs.

All of these factors point to the fact that it might be time for clubs to revisit their brand identities. When considering a “brand reboot,” bear in mind that it’s not necessarily about rebuilding from scratch. Clubs still need to be what they are.

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“Convincing consumers that a brand has substantially changed is a major challenge,” notes John Atwood, founder and managing partner of club consultancy The Atwood Group. “Think about brands that you, as a consumer, don't currently love and how hard it would be to change your mind. But strengthening and broadening a brand, rather than reinventing it, is done all the time.”

Focus Your Efforts on Trust

If there’s one issue clubs have been—and need to continue—emphasizing in relation to what their brands stand for, it’s trust.

“Covid has changed the playing field in so many ways,” says Atwood. “Members need more than ever to be able to trust their clubs and when trust is critical, having a transactional relationship with members usually does not work. Many clubs are building in safety as a branding message. Members need to know that everything that can be done to make a club safe during the pandemic and going forward is being done.”

Atwood notes that club operators can take a cue from the commitment to high-level service—and resulting messaging—often seen in the hospitality industry. For example, in its marketing, Hilton highlights its CleanStay program geared to consistently high hygiene standards and guest safety and its related partnership with Lysol and the Mayo Clinic’s Infection Prevention and Control.

“Efforts like that show that Hilton is taking its role in protecting hotel guests and employees seriously,” Atwood notes. “It’s more important than ever to have members really feel the management and staff cares about them and knows them beyond being just a number. Including those efforts in your marketing helps build trust in your brand.”

Brand-Building Beyond Safety

Beyond safety, trust is crucial to success in other ways. “How to Build a Fitness Brand,” a recent blog post by Club Automation copywriter Tara Massouleh, describes how working to gain trust can impact a club brand.

“For current members, overall satisfaction is largely dependent on trust. Can they trust you to deliver what you promise? Can they rely on you to help them achieve their fitness goals? Their faith in the service you provide is greatly influenced by your brand,” she states. “Trust is also a huge factor in influencing people to join your club, which contributes to your profit and goal to have a thriving business. Brand awareness (someone’s prior knowledge of your brand before research) builds trust, which in turn instills confidence in buying decisions. The more familiar someone is with a brand and the more positive things they hear about it, the more likely they are to choose it.”

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Trust is also about being true to what you are as an organization and ensuring that customers know what to expect of your brand.

“Trust comes from delivering exactly what you promise every time,” says Atwood. “You can love or hate McDonald’s or Dunkin’ Donuts, but the customer gets what they expect every time. Clubs like Planet Fitness consistently deliver what they promise, so members trust them.”

Creating a feeling of community is another way to engender trust and be more fully engaged with members, adds Atwood.

“Something we know about psychology and our society is that our brand preference reflects what we feel and think about ourselves,” notes Christy Brown, director of enterprise marketing at Club Automation. “A strong brand gives people a way to categorize themselves as either part of a community, or not. That brand becomes a powerful tool to shape how people perceive your club and whether they choose you.”

Engagement as a Tool

A powerful brand drives consistent emotional and intellectual responses. To do that well requires accurate information on a market. Staying engaged with an audience is the best way to ensure you’ve got accurate data to use in every other aspect of brand building. You can then leverage that data to develop a message that resonates with your members and then determine which channels are best to share that message.

Among the most effective engagement tools now available is a mobile app.

“Communication channels for businesses have changed quite a bit from the age of phone calls and mailers,” asserts Brown. “Today’s consumers prefer real-time communication sent directly to their phones. Having a mobile app that takes advantage of push notifications is essential to communicating with your health club’s younger audience.

“The world has gone mobile,” she continues. “Consumers spend an average of three hours and 45 minutes on their smartphones daily. Mobile app downloads are up 45% since 2017, and app usage accounts for 89% of total time spent on mobile phones. Consumers crave the convenience mobile apps provide, and fitness club members are no different. Considering the recent pandemic, this trend has doubled down. Members expect to be able to engage with businesses how they want, when they want, and from the comfort of their mobile phone.”

To that end, she adds, Club Automation’s new, native mobile app solves the problem by providing a one-stop shop for members to manage their club fitness experience. The newly designed, branded app provides health and fitness clubs the ability to offer members engagement on their own terms. Its features include:

  • Allowing members to update their profiles, manage packages, register for classes, view statements, review check-in history, and pay bills,

  • In-app registration for classes and courts with waitlisting,

  • Push notifications for class reminders, schedule updates, new offerings, helpful content, and customizable options; in one user-friendly application,

  • Social media sharing, and more.

Click here to learn more about the Club Automation app and to schedule a demo.

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Jon Feld

Jon Feld is a contributor to