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Automated vs manual: Fine-tune your gym marketing plan
April 15, 2021 •

When putting together your gym marketing plan, even before you decide exactly what you’re going to say, there’s an important decision to make: which elements will you automate and which will you do manually?

Before we dive into the details – exploring where your communications might best be executed manually and where automation would be the more powerful choice – let’s start with a definition, so we’re all looking at this important topic through the same lens.

It’s a simple comparison, but worth spelling out nonetheless. Because automated communication isn’t quite as simple as it sounds. That’s because, at least upfront, some human involvement is generally still required. 

With an eye on your business objectives, you first need to set the rules you wish your automation to follow, as well as the flow and the content of your communication: if a member does x, then the next piece of communication they receive is y; if they respond in xx way, they receive communication yy; and so on, with the possible choices flowing from here in a cascade that sends members down different funnels depending on their decisions.

Once this is done, however – once your playbook is agreed and programmed in – your automation can take it from there with no further human intervention required, triggering each piece of tailored communication at exactly the right moment. It ensures your gym marketing plan is executed automatically, seamlessly and consistently in spite of a potentially huge number of variables. 

Manual communication, meanwhile, needs little further explanation: quite simply, the marketing strategies for your gym, from beginning to end, are executed solely by your staff. You might draw on your gym software for data to inform your marketing, but that data will be crunched manually and the communications generated and sent out by your team.

Marketing strategies for gyms: A shift in execution

With the above in mind, let’s take a deeper look at where your fitness marketing strategies might best be automated, and where the human touch that comes with manual execution might make your communications more effective. We’ll cover both member retention strategies and gym membership sales strategies.

The first thing to note is that the possibilities for automation now go far beyond what could be done historically. Remember the days when personalisation consisted of getting the member’s name right at the top of a newsletter? 

Fast-forward to today and it’s now possible to trigger communications based on so many different variables – the communications cascade we touched on previously – that your gym marketing plan can revolve around a flow of conditional messaging, triggered by the choices of each individual member, for personalisation at scale. The sort of personalisation that simply isn’t possible in human hands.

We aren’t here to tell you everything should be automated, though: there’s still an important role for manual communications in the execution of your fitness marketing strategies. Let’s turn to this now.

Why manual still has a role in your gym marketing plan  

There are certain situations when manual communication should be your go-to.

The first is when you require absolute certainty that the message got through: “Hi. Just to let you know, all classes are cancelled today due to a health scare in the club.” 

The second is when it’s utterly critical that you understand the feedback or response to your message, both of which can get lost in digital delivery.

Delivering bad news is another scenario that demands manual communication: a change to the timetable, for example, that you know certain members won’t like (your AI can identify who those members are). Break the news via email and we can pretty much guarantee those affected will respond negatively. Deliver it personally – however uncomfortable that process might be – and you have the chance to listen, empathise, address their specific concerns and hopefully turn the situation around.

There are also times where manual communication is required as part of your gym membership sales strategy – most notably, asking for business. Yes, you will likely have sent a series of emails, but if these have been met by radio silence, the next step is a phone call, not yet another email.

Speaking of phone calls, unless such scale is required that it becomes infeasible, we would propose that all manual communications be delivered via voice for maximum impact. 

Pushing this argument one step further, if you as an operator have judged that something needs to be delivered in such a format that it can’t be automated – taking into account the significant capabilities of modern marketing platforms – it is surely worthy of a phone call. 

There’s a nice example from one of our clients in Australia, which in many ways ties in with the second scenario outlined above – the times when it’s critical that you understand the feedback from your members. 

At Willows Health & Lifestyle Centre, the member retention strategy includes a policy of picking up the phone to all at-risk members. Those members are identified by Keepme’s AI, but that’s as far as the automation goes. The call is all about a human touch. 

“Armed with information about each individual, these are personal calls – conversations about them – and the members are genuinely appreciative. They don’t feel like ‘save a member’ calls,” explains CEO Troy Morgan. 

And the outcome? An improvement in retention in the space of just 30 days. For more details, download the full Willows case study here.

Of course, there’s a reality check here: sometimes you need to contact too many members for individual phone calls to be a viable solution. Where this is true, the next best choice of communications channel would be WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or another channel that allows for a two-way flow of communication. A channel in which your members can read and, crucially, respond to your message in real time. 

One thing is for sure: this sort of communication is categorically not suited to a closed-off text, sent from an unmanned account, with the inference being ‘we want to be able to contact you at any time, but don’t even try and come back to us with queries’.

Fitness marketing strategies: The value-add of automation

However, anything other than the broad-brushstroke scenarios depicted above can, and arguably should, be delivered via automation.

Of course, this statement will get push-back: “If communications are worth doing – if they’re an important part of our member retention strategies or our gym membership sales strategies – surely they should be delivered by a person?”

Or the other one we often hear: “Automation is too impersonal.” 

What this outdated statement ignores, though, are the huge advances that have been made in automation over recent years.

The insistence on using people rather than technology ignores the fact that people are often the cause of vital communications not going out as they should. 

In fact, automated marketing uses the data gathered by your gym software to ensure your communications are better targeted, more relevant, more personalised and more consistently executed – even when you have thousands of members – than you could ever achieve through a manual approach.

Automating your gym marketing plan

In any typical fitness setting, there are a number of standard member communications you would expect to find. These include the new member welcome email, with an introduction to the services on offer; the ‘happy birthday’ message; the ‘we value your opinion’ member survey/NPS participation request; the ‘congratulations on completing x workouts this month’ recognition… The list goes on.

These are classic member engagements: predictable, but nonetheless critical. Yet all too often, they are sent out manually, resulting in inconsistent and unreliable delivery. 

Similarly, drawing together multiple tech platforms as this process must, it’s also the case that data may no longer be live when extracted manually; cue messages that aren’t as relevant as they could be, or that don’t even reach the intended recipient.

The long and short of it: it is human intervention that increases the likelihood of failure. Too many actions fail to occur, despite the leadership believing they are happening, because of a requirement for humans to execute them. 

Meanwhile, all of this can be automated. Welcomes, attendance prompts, birthdays, milestone achievements… Every stage and every action can be set to happen based on simple criteria. Each engagement is customised to the communication preferences of the member (including GDPR) and, where there are options, optimised to the required outcome. Personalisation – in the form of personal preferences, gender- and age-specific images – are automatically included.

And this is just the beginning. Automation can also allow for many more variables than a human could feasibly process. In turn, it facilitates hyper-personalised offers, at scale, based on actual behaviours: cross-selling campaigns based on class attendance, for example, in which your AI determines the list of recipients and your automation sends out the communications.

The result: selling becomes easy, because you’re matching the right products to the right people. You’re offering them exactly what they want, when they want it, at a price they’re willing to pay for it. 

Once again, Willows has a great example: a three-week upsell campaign where Keepme identified general fitness members who had done some yoga classes, and who also met other key criteria around risk profile, exercise preferences and length of membership. Highly personalised offers were sent to a couple of hundred people, with an 85 per cent email open rate, around 60 per cent of recipients making some form of purchase, and A$35,000 generated in additional revenue. 

Conversations that don’t go cold

Returning once more to the cascade we mentioned at the beginning of this discussion, automation plays an invaluable role here, too – both for the instant responses and for the complexity it allows to ensure a conversation doesn’t go dead. 

In your automated gym marketing plan, every piece of communication can prompt members to take action. Some will, some won’t, those who do may respond in a number of different ways – but automation allows you to adapt around each of these variants, and to continue to do so as those variants proliferate in a cascade that could go on almost indefinitely. All without the ball ever being dropped or the wrong message going to the wrong member.

Yes, you the marketer will need to manually set the content of each communication at the very beginning. But it’s a one-off task, with the system – AI + automation – taking it from there, determining who gets each piece of communication, and when. 

And it isn’t just a one-way flow: automation + AI can extract value from each and every engagement, too, drawing data from each individual response and reaction to deepen your understanding of member needs. 

Automation can even prioritise messages for you, ensuring members are engaged with the right message at the right time. You can instruct it, for example, to prioritise a birthday message even over a highly valued NPS request, as well as to stagger communications – NPS to go out seven days later, for example – so the member isn’t bombarded. 

Trying to do something like this manually, at scale… It’s easy to see how too much info might go out back-to-back and/or at the wrong moment, driving ‘unsubscribes’, or how the NPS request might simply be forgotten and never sent.

Where automation meets manual execution

If all of this seems a little clean-cut, let’s return one last time to Willows for a couple of hands-on examples of how automation and manual execution can exist side-by-side in a successful gym marketing plan.

“Within all areas of our marketing strategy – retention and promotion – automation plays a key role in understanding the needs and wants of members and ideal prospects, and in turn what the marketing messages should be to connect the individual to our product solution,” explains Morgan. “The manual aspect then becomes how our staff deliver on the promise of our marketing.”

He continues: “When we run online or in-house seminars for our members, for example, we’ll use AI to collate data around member interests to determine the seminar topic. We’ll then trigger automated, personalised invitations to those members to whom the session will specifically appeal. 

“The development and delivery of the webinar will be done manually, and there’ll potentially be a mention of secondary spend opportunities during the webinar, but follow-ups can once again be automated.

“Meanwhile, a gym membership sales strategy example would be our targeted mailbox drops. We use AI + automation to map the local areas with the highest density of our members, then within that, we map the exact locations of our low-risk members – people who are very likely to be raving fans. We’ll then manually mailbox-drop the houses next door to our raving fans.”

He concludes: “For us, marketing is a continual combination of automation and manual working together.”

To find out how Keepme can help you strike the perfect balance between automated and manual communications in your gym marketing plan, book a demo today.

Read more about the role of automation in your gym business in our free-to-download white paper.