It was already true pre-COVID and now – with fitness consumers fully accustomed to digital fitness after months of lockdown – it’s doubly true. As a health club operator, your competition is no longer just other health club operators.
To understand where you rank in the market – in terms of your consumer appeal, financial performance and likelihood of long-term success – you need to be looking far broader, weighing up your relative strengths and weaknesses against those of the popular fitness apps and online providers.
After all, you might have clubs to be hugely proud of, but if you relinquish ownership of members’ fitness journeys the moment they walk out of your doors, you may not rank as highly in the overall fitness provider list as you think.
So, mindsets need to shift: it’s time to assess your business through a hybrid lens. You must review not only your physical but also your digital services with a critical eye – even if the latter is still a fledgling offering forged in the fires of lockdown – and be truthful with yourself about what you find.
Own the digital space
If anything, it’s arguably more important to focus online than on your clubs right now. Controversial? Maybe, but this is where all the change and growth is happening, and where the B2C platforms are busy land-grabbing under clubs’ very eyes. This is where you quickly need to find your own USP.
The ultimate goal should be to own the digital space in your market, whether that’s a town, a state or a country. After all, as a health club operator you have the programming, the expertise, the credibility, all of which easily translates into the 24/7 digital arena. Why not you?
And, given everything that’s gone on with lockdown, the follow-up question: Why not now? There is no reason not to seize the current opportunity, and every reason to do so.
Where do you stand?
First things first, you need to know where you currently stand digitally: how you perform relative to other leading brands.
A good starting point is App Annie, an app analytics platform that, among other things, ranks your app against others in your market.
Once you know where you stand at the moment, the next task is working out how to improve that ranking – this will involve a lot of research and a fair bit of soul searching.
Your app vs other club apps
If the top digital providers in your market are health club operators, start digging to find out what they’re doing so well. Do mystery club visits. Download their app. Try out their online experiences. Trawl the internet for customer reviews. Then ask yourself a series of deep-dive questions…
How does their physical model compare to yours? Is there anything they’re doing in-club that’s underpinning their digital success? Are they simply doing things better in their clubs, and their members want to bottle that and take it home with them? If so, where do you need to improve?
If their physical model is similar to yours, could your online offering also echo theirs? If so, what can you add to make yours even better? If yours is a different model, might you be better looking for ‘digital transformation’ inspiration elsewhere – and if so, where?
What learnings can you take from their 360° member journey? How are they dovetailing digital into physical to create a seamless experience?
How are they charging for their digital services?
What do those digital services look like – is there anything unusual, special, eye-catching about them? What are their key features, and what could you put out there to compete with these?
Who are their online spokespeople – are home-grown superstars spearheading the brand’s online charge and/or are they working with influencers? How do your in-house resources compare? What expertise do you have in-house? Who else do you know?
Are there any great features you can’t compete with? If so, what other valuable areas can you identify where you could do even better than them, creating your own niche for yourself?
How does brand awareness compare – who is most well-known? Are you a top club brand with a loyal community of people just waiting for you to go online, or are you going to have to fight a bit harder to make your presence felt against big brands that are already established online? If the latter, what clever marketing tactics can you come up with – something to grab the attention of members and prospects alike? Or can you bring something so new and exciting to your online offering that it will transform your business and enhance the brand power of your physical clubs?
You get where we’re going with this. It’s about extensive research and a critical eye, on their businesses but also on your own.
Your app vs digital-only providers
If the top digital providers in your market are digital-only providers, the process of research and honest comparison is broadly the same, with just a few slightly different nuances.
What is it about their experience that draws people and makes them stay? Have they created a niche for themselves? What is it about their delivery that’s so good? How do they keep things fresh? Is there a loyalty programme? How do they create a community?
How personalised is it? What sort of customer insight do they have – what data – and how does this help them shape what they offer, how they market it, how they tailor their comms, etc? What can you do with your own data to improve customer understanding and shape a better online product for your club business?
How do they market their offering? Do they partner with anyone to drive new business their way? What are their online personalities like? How powerful are those personalities as brands in their own right – what sort of following do they have?
What is the sign-up process? Do they make it easy for people to engage? What about the UX: is it one-click simple and easy to navigate?
What do they charge and does that vary depending on usage level, new vs existing customer, levels of demand etc? Do they offer free trials? Is there any free to use content with the rest behind a paywall? How flexible are they in their contracts?
Can you identify anything that could be improved – and even better, that you could improve on?
Find your digital USP
The ultimate point is this: the vast majority of fitness expertise, established over years and trusted by consumers, lies in your clubs. The online players are often the newcomers, grabbing market share simply by being in the right place at the right time with the right consumer insights and the right personality.
The time is now for you to take back control, identifying where you can create a USP in the digital fitness market in your region, then going out there and owning it.
If you’d like to continue this discussion, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org