How Health Clubs Can Strengthen Their Brand

For Gym Operators

How Health Clubs Can Strengthen Their Brand

Every business needs an identity – a brand.

A business' brand forms the foundation of any successful marketing campaign and should define all member interactions. People identify with strong brands, and it is key to building loyalty among your members. Here are some core guidelines on how you can create an effective brand for your club.

The following is a summarization of an education session from the 2015 IHRSA Convention, produced with full permission from IHRSA. The full-length video is available for purchase at

About the Speaker

Christine Thalwitz is the Vice President of Marketing at ACAC Fitness and Wellness Centers. She has over 20 years of experience in the health and fitness industry. She oversees market research, promotion, advertising, communications and public relations across the company. She is a writer and columnist for Club Industry magazine and IHRSA’s Ask an Industry Leader series.

Brand Leadership and Good Business

The importance of having a clearly defined brand within the hyper-competitive fitness industry cannot be overstated. A well-thought out, focused brand can turn an average facility into an outstanding one. Your brand should permeate each visible element of your facility, from the decor and signage to your programming and the physical structure of your building.

Target Markets

A clear target audience simplifies every aspect of your business.

Once you’ve established the market you want to serve, your marketing and advertising decisions become easier, your social media efforts become more effective, and your business becomes more successful. Be specific about who you’re targeting and make concerted efforts to attract those individuals. Do you want to cater to older adults, families or inactive people? Make sure that your advertising is in line with your target market. For example, you do not want to put young, fit models on your flyers if your target market is the elderly.

Amenities and Programs

Intimidation is given as the most common reason people do not join gyms. Create a welcoming and non-intimidating environment for your new members and prospects. Make them feel cared for and appreciated. Build this into your programming. Provide guided tours and clearly explain how to use the equipment and offer help whenever required.


Deliver your brand constantly and throughout the life cycle of each membership. Why you do what you do is far more important than what you do and how you do it. Communicate why you do what you do and include your brand identity as a part of this mission.

Indoctrinate your staff with the core values of your business. Make your brand and your values their compass that guides their everyday activities.

Each action should be taken in consideration of whether it makes sense for your brand. Empower your team to resolve conflicts amicably and to act on your core values.

When designing new campaigns for your business, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does the campaign align with your brand and business?
  • Does the cause resonate with your target audience?
  • Does it engage people in a meaningful way?
  • Will this partnership and initiative stand out; is it unique and different?
  • Is the program scaled properly to members' expectations. If your aim is to drive people through the doors, do you have the infrastructure available to deal with an influx of new members?


High-Yield Cause Marketing Campaign

Research has shown that 42 percent of North Americans would pay extra for products and services to companies that are engaged with their communities. It also demonstrates that 54 percent of Americans will buy a product that is associated with a cause and 89 percent of Americans are likely to switch brands to be associated with a cause. This data demonstrates a link between cause-driven campaigns and profitability.

Find a cause that makes sense for your brand and represents a community cause. ACAC offered a 25-day promotion for $25 to benefit a local rescue squad. The program was so successful that it has become a frequent event. A cause that benefits the community while generating savings for your target market will likely result in community participation.

Advertise special events related to your cause, but first make sure you have the infrastructure and human resources necessary to host an event. Involve your whole team in your cause campaigns.

High-Profile Public Health Initiative

This initiative is not necessarily meant to be a membership driver but is geared toward public relations and media coverage to generate interest in your facility.

With the rapid rise in obesity rates, ACAC began a sponsorship program for their wellness initiative. A website allows members to post their minutes of exercise and eating habits for three months. They also added leaderboards for friendly competition. They created hashtags in social media platforms to create momentum, garner excitement, and reach people they may not have otherwise been able to touch. This initiative generated a huge amount of publicity and buzz in addition to drawing attention to a very serious health issue.

Programs that Reach Deep into Community

Mass versus niche – this seems paradoxical but you cannot think of markets as a single mass any longer.

Every market has an element of mass marketing, but you can always find the niche within that market. You want your marketing to be non-disruptive and in line with customer demands. For example, teach patients who would benefit from exercise to become more healthy. Demonstrate value within 30 days or allow their membership to be refunded.

Develop Business-to-Business Partnerships

Add more sales staff and trainers to support expansion. Consider venturing into corporate wellness programming by partnering with companies, or add physician-referred exercise programs by partnering with doctors and physical therapists.

Root these partnerships in reciprocity. Develop trust, understand local needs, and provide convenient and accessible service. Be meaningful, provide value, and scale appropriately.

By following these guidelines, you should be able to establish a strong brand platform, expand your marketing efforts, and secure more members for your business.