With the fitness industry growing in leaps and bounds, it’s more viable than ever to customize your fitness services for one or two relatively specialized markets or niches. Catering to a targeted sector of fitness consumers who share a commonality (such as age, occupation or a certain belief system) builds your reputation as a fitness pro with a sought-after specialty. This sets you apart from the competition and also makes your job easier than having to capture the interest of vastly different clients.
Prospecting for niche clients versus reaching out to a more mainstream market requires a sharply focused, custom-made approach. Not all niches are mutually exclusive. However, the messages and visuals that persuade one group might turn off another. To help you navigate niche marketing in the fitness industry, I have asked fitness pros who are doing it to share what marketing language, images and tools they recommend for attracting the attention of four promising niches.
Niche Market: KIDS
Roger White, CSCS, a former college athlete, the author of Developing Youth Speed and the owner of Sport X Training in Rochester Hills, Michigan.
Depending on the age of the kids you are targeting, you might find yourself marketing to parents more than to the kids themselves. Either way, some language works better than others. “With children, using words like exercise or fitness is a very hard sell,” says White. “Emphasize words like fun, camp and play for kids under 10.”
“For preteens and teens who want to improve sports performance, speed, agility, quickness and strength are hot buzzwords. Parents know what these words mean, and sometimes kids do, too,” White says.
Wording your material for youth clients (and their parents) can be tricky because what kids want and what they need don’t always match. One solution, according to White, is to cater a little bit to the wants in your marketing but also address the needs in your programming.
Photos of kids at play (i.e., jumping, running, interacting in groups) make good visuals for attracting young clients to your services. Showing children having a good time with the colorful and/or fun looking equipment you introduce in your programming can also be very appealing for kids and their parents.
White, whose programs target kids age five to 18, runs newspaper ads that include pictures of his clients doing fun drills with agility ladders and hurdles. Examples of other kid friendly equipment you might use in your marketing includes jump ropes, stability balls and medicine balls.
“Kids are hard to market to because they are well protected by schools and sports clubs,” says White. So don’t limit yourself to traditional marketing channels. Here’s one of White’s creative approaches: “I set up a table during a sport registration, where kids and parents stand in line for several minutes. I bring training equipment - such as hurdles, agility ladders and medicine balls - and ask kids if they want to do a few drills. The kids are usually shy at first, but they often have fun and run to their parents to tell them what they just did. The parents then ask for more info on the training and programs I run.”
For marketing to parents, White uses a variety of more traditional methods. These include press releases and newspaper bulletins, flyers, magazine articles, a free email newsletter and a website that is strong on search engine optimization for his area.
Niche Market: CLIENTS WHO ARE OBESE
Jonathan Ross, the 2006 ACE Personal Trainer of the Year, owner of Aion Fitness and Personal Training Director at Sport Fit Total Fitness Club in Bowie, Maryland.
When vying for the attention of prospects who are obese, your first instinct might be to extol the health benefits of exercise, but Ross advises against this. “Physical benefits are often not a motivator in and of themselves - even if [prospects] tell you that they are,” he says. Speak to something specific that matters to this target audience. “What do they value? Is it family, money, a feeling of comfort inside their body, the ability to travel and explore their destination?”
Once you zero in on specifics, use positive messages about what clients will achieve rather than negative wording about what they will avoid. “Positive language creates a subconscious shift in attitude about physical activity in your client,” says Ross. For example, instead of a marketing message that focuses on losing weight and lowering blood pressure, emphasize the client’s potential to move more efficiently while also feeling leaner, stronger and more capable. In other words, says Ross, “always tie their physical changes back to things they want to do or can do more easily in their everyday lives.”
If you want to reach prospects who are obese, choose images that you wouldn’t see in stereotypical fitness ads. “Too often, the fitness industry sells fitness to the already fit,” Ross says. “We can't seem to find the courage to show less-than-perfect-looking people in many marketing efforts.”
Not surprisingly, visuals of overly perky, lean, fit people don’t sell fitness to this target market. What does? “Almost every obese client I've worked with has reported a positive response to seeing images of capable, active people who look just like them,” says Ross. So stand out from mainstream fitness marketing with images that demonstrate a realistic diversity in body sizes.
Marketing material that isn’t an obvious sales push may work best with this population. “Overt advertisements tend to put up immediate defenses because [prospects] know it's an ad,” says Ross. “In my experience, providing people with useful information in a compelling manner is the most effective marketing approach. My website, articles and e-newsletters have allowed me to share my knowledge, passion and concern, in a non-threatening, non-sales way that has made people seek out my services.”
Niche Market: ATHLETES
Ed Yong, CSCS, a former minor league strength and conditioning coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks Baseball Organization in Tucson. He also served as served as the strength and conditioning coordinator for the Chinese Olympic Baseball Team
Two major areas of concern for athletes are to decrease injury and increase performance. Including these or similar terms in your marketing messages helps capture an athlete’s attention, says Yong.
You also want to play up your service’s benefits and value without coming across as too authoritarian or pushy. “Many athletes do not like being told what to do,” says Yong. “They are more receptive to being advised on what they should do.”
Finally, don’t come on strong with over-inflated marketing promises. “Athletes - especially professional athletes - are [often] misled, so knowing that you are someone they can trust goes a long way,” says Yong.
Action photos can be good attention-grabbers, but there’s another visual that many fitness pros might not think to include: numbers. “Athletes love numbers, whether it be in their playing statistics or (for professionals) paychecks,” says Yong. “If you show athletes the percent of increase for a certain value (i.e., running times, vertical jump distance, body-fat percentage, etc.), they will see the value of your programs and services.”
Websites, brochures and newspaper ads all work well - just make sure your promotional pieces stimulate valuable word of mouth and demonstrate a community of sports people. “Athletes like to be associated with other athletes,” says Yong. “A sense of familiarity provides comfort and can lead to a very positive training environment.” Consider showcasing your client list if it contains familiar names (athletes and/or teams) to help pre-sell your services to sports-savvy prospects.
Testimonials from key players in the sports world are also very powerful for attracting high-level athletes (who rely on trustworthy guidance) and budding athletes (who enjoy training alongside the pros). “Seeking permission from a high-profile athlete to endorse your program or facility can increase your business success,” says Yong. Even if you don’t have connections to big-name athletes, rounding up client testimonials can spark prospects’ interest and confidence in your services.
Niche Group: POSTPARTUM WOMEN
Kelly Goff, Director of Marketing and Business Development for Baby Boot Camp, headquartered in Sarasota, Florida.
Presenting weight loss as a potential benefit of your program helps draw post-pregnancy women to you. But don’t stop there. Addressing familiar, relatable scenarios new moms face is also quite powerful. “Focus on the strength needed for general day-to-day baby care, such as hefting around car seats and heavy diaper bags,” says Goff. The terms core training and core strengthening exercises may work well in headlines or promotional sound-bites.
Finally, consider communication that connotes the ease and accessibility of your programming. “For new moms, just getting to an exercise class seems like exercise in and of itself!” says Goff. Show that you understand and even accommodate for the daily struggles of new motherhood. Just avoid being cutesy or patronizing, says Goff. Marketing to adults who care for infants with infantile language isn’t appropriate.
If you offer bring-your-baby workouts, show a sample of exercises so new moms see how baby fits into the fitness routine. For example, “since stroller fitness classes are still relatively new and unique to the fitness scene, it’s essential to not only describe the classes but to show them in action. Smiling women walking, running and lunging with their children in strollers helps give potential clients a visual way to evaluate this unique fitness option,” says Goff.
Also, be mindful about including women who represent various postpartum stages. “The reality is, most women are cherubic for some time after giving birth. It’s important for potential clients to be able to ‘find themselves’ in your materials, as well as to aspire to a fit/lean look,” says Goff.
In addition to photos of moms, use images of smiling, laughing babies to quell women’s concerns about how their little ones might fare. Says Goff, “The happy baby picture is always effective in drawing the eye, and it helps persuade new moms that their children will benefit from the classes, too.”
“A website is essential because house-bound new mothers do so much reading, researching and buying online,” says Goff. Other effective marketing tools include brochures or “free trial class” cards placed at the cash register in maternity stores and posters displayed in high traffic, mom friendly areas, such as a shopping mall.
Most of all, though, this niche group responds to word-of-mouth marketing because info-hungry moms are so accustomed to swapping new-parenting and post-pregnancy tips. “The power of another woman’s/mother’s recommendation cannot be underestimated or ignored,” says Goff, who suggests referral incentives to boost word of mouth. “Offers like ‘bring a friend and get X’ can be effective, but only if the participants think what you’re doing is great,” she says. “Generating this type of goodwill or marketing karma, if you will, begins and ends with the quality if the product or service you are providing.”
It’s tough to set yourself apart in today’s marketplace. By targeting your services to one of the above niche groups, you can establish yourself as a trusted expert in that particular population, gaining valuable new business and keeping yourself one step ahead of the competition.