How can AI help with membership engagement and retention?

Artificial intelligence has the capacity to revolutionize membership engagement and boost retention. Discover how leading-edge AI can help you to engage with members like never before.
August 18th, 2023
How can AI help with membership engagement and retention?

In the ever-evolving, competitive landscape of the fitness industry, keeping the members you have is becoming increasingly important. 

It’s easy to understand why. Retaining a customer, in any industry is cheaper than trying to win a new one. Existing customers, or members, already know what to expect. They know how much you charge and they know how much value they’ll get out of dealing with you.

You don’t need to attract them or sell to them, just maintain the relationship. Depending on the industry, increasing retention by as little as 5% can increase profitability by a minimum of 25%

However, there’s more to retention than members just continuing to accept the service they’ve received. Today’s retention is about sustaining the value perception of the relationship so members remain active, and form a strong connection with your fitness center. 

The challenge, however, lies in understanding how fitness operators achieve this meaningfully. This is where membership engagement, reliable and consolidated membership data, and artificial intelligence can help.

Using AI to make sense of your data, to provide valuable insights that you can leverage to create rewarding membership experiences, is a powerful combination. One that we’ve seen firsthand, transforms gym membership retention strategies. 

Membership Engagement and the Personalized Experience

When a member walks into a fitness facility, their journey begins. From their first interaction with the staff to their daily workouts, every touchpoint counts. 

The key to successful engagement and long-term retention is creating a personalized experience that resonates with each member. Individually. 

However, managing personalized interactions across an entire member base is no easy task.

It’s also important to understand that there is not a one-size fits all approach. Not every member wants to be engaged in the same way. Moreover, members who don’t follow a workout routine or just attend the gym occasionally are harder to build a rapport with.

So, it’s fair to say that engagement can't always be in person, but it can and must always be personalized.

The overwhelming majority of consumers want a personalized experience from the businesses they interact with. They are even willing to hand over behavioral data if it means they get a better, smoother experience.

This is a significant shift in consumer behavior as, historically, consumers were deeply suspicious about sharing their information. A survey conducted by Method Communication in March 2023 suggests that 56% of consumers express their inclination to become repeat buyers following a personalized experience.

In the same report, the data points toward 49% of Gen Z consumers being less inclined to purchase if they receive generic communications. 27% stated they would go as far as to stop shopping with a brand altogether!

This change presents an opportunity for operators who have been given tacit agreement from members to use data to create a more personalized experience.

However, it’s not an opportunity to spam members with every offer, product, and promotion you can. Rather it’s about using that data to create an experience that’s unique to each member.

That way it doesn’t matter if you don’t see all your members regularly. They can still feel part of your gym’s community. ‘Community’ is key here.

Inclusivity and personalization boost member satisfaction, because increasing loyalty increases relevance perception. Relevance is the driving force behind a consumer's decision to stay with a product or service or to move on.

The more relevant to a member’s life your gym is perceived, the less likely they are to churn. To put it another way, and we’re going back to ‘community’ here - make your members feel like they are an integral part of your community and the reason it offers particular services and they will be less likely to seek an offering elsewhere.

Leveraging First-Party and Zero-Party Data in Personalized Communications

Fitness centers collect a plethora of data, ranging from basic contact information to more nuanced details like workout preferences.

While operators can collect other forms of data the two most actionable types are first-party and zero-party data. So, what’s the difference?

First-party data is the information you collect based on member behaviors. The classes they’ve signed up for and the classes they’ve attended. What products they’ve bought in the shop or the smoothies they’ve tried at the refreshments station.

Zero-party data is the information members volunteer. The ‘luxury’ information. This can be anything from top-level demographic data to the classes they would like to try, specific health concerns, dietary requirements, or personal challenges. A lot of this data is gathered when members first join the gym. 

Personal goals and expectations, favorite sports, or workouts are all volunteered willingly to help the gym or their personal trainer guide them on their journey.

However, operators should recognize that while zero-party data holds immense potential, it's important to understand some of this data is intent-based. Being that it reflects the member's desired outcomes or responses they are influenced to give.  

While surveys and questionnaires offer valuable avenues for collecting zero-party data, it's worth noting that they may occasionally lead to said ‘influenced’ responses. This can occur when members anticipate rewards or special treatment for answering in specific ways. But taken with a pinch of salt, these responses can provide valuable insight into what motivates and stimulates your new member.

This is especially powerful when producing content and communications that are intended to be highly aspirational. There’s your hook!

Putting the Data to Work

In theory, first-party and zero-party data can be used independently to build retention campaigns. Each speaks to different areas of interest or ambition for the members. 

But to get a complete picture of what members have achieved and what they want to achieve, blending the data is the most effective approach.

This view allows operators to create a more relevant gym experience, helping members to feel valued 

With one unified profile, operators can create highly-targeted campaigns that speak to both the aspiration and the action. This encourages them both to build on their achievements and try something new.

This allows for some compelling communications. Not only can retention campaigns target members on the value they’ve already had from the gym, but the value they could have in the future. This paints a timeline or roadmap of continued valuable experiences they will have as a member of your community. Get them to envisage and believe in that and you have a recipe for increased member LTV.

As their perceived experience of value and lifestyle impact goes up, so too does their membership duration and the revenue they generate for you throughout it.

Artificial Intelligence and Membership Retention

To attempt any kind of manually executed retention strategy with multiple touchpoints, leveraging detailed customer profiles is massively time-consuming for any team, and subject to inaccuracy.

With the amount of data flowing through the business, manual data handling and campaign building is impossible to execute at pace or hyper-personalize at scale. It is simply unsustainable. Not to mention member activity would outpace the marketing team’s ability to communicate, so you could be relaying messaging that is outdated and thus unlikely to convert.

Remember, relevance is key, and ensuring it through your member engagement campaigns is only possible if it is timely. 

Enter marketing automation

Automation is essential for managing personalized gym member engagements at scale and at the necessary pace. The ability to create multi-stage sequences that nudge members towards outcomes works. 

Depending on your objective that could mean more class pack sales, more upgrades, and earlier renewals, and not just higher class attendance. Retention is great, but additional revenue from the same members is better.

With a rules-based approach, you can create campaigns to engage with members at specific moments in their membership journey to make them feel more engaged in your community, but also more likely to expand their financial footprint in your business by investing in other products and services you offer. 

Why is that important for retention? Because the more invested and involved with your club they become, the more likely they are to perceive the value exchange as meaningful to their lifestyle.

You can then hand over the execution of those campaigns to the automations after the AI has pointed you in the right direction.

Artificial intelligence can identify who in your member database meets the criteria for each campaign. Then the automations can then populate your emails with highly relevant information, and personalization tags based on the parameters you established. 

Then, most importantly, the automations send the campaigns without a need for further human intervention. Aside from the ability to keep pace with the changing size and demands of your membership base, it’s a massive time saver and it eliminates human error.

Let AI do the Talking

However, the one issue with marketing automation is, it’s only ever as successful as the messaging is engaging. 

Engaging content isn’t easy to achieve, big team or small. Once again, artificial intelligence can help. Using tools like ChatGPT and similar, you can create engaging content for your gym campaigns using your brand's tone of voice and other pre-existing assets.

You can ‘feed’ artificial intelligence (known as large language models) your blogs and previous campaigns. It will analyze all that information and then write fresh campaigns for you using generative AI technology. Time savings aside, the creativity potential this unlocks for your teams is huge.

By embracing this type of content production, fitness operators can create the basis for tailored messaging, for each member, vastly improving the quality of automated communications.

A member getting a reminder for their upcoming spin class is good. Getting a reminder that also tells them that it’s their sixth session in a row and they’re getting closer to their target weight, and how this will dramatically improve their ‘health span’ is amazing!

But artificial intelligence married with automation lets you go further still. AI can identify which members are likely to upgrade, churn or be receptive to class pack offers, etc. Then marketing automation can deliver those specific campaigns to drive revenue.

Or, using member data, the AI can provide workout recommendations, class schedules, and even nutritional advice, making members feel valued and supported beyond their physical visits.

Virtually a Member of the Team

As you can see, the synergy between AI and member engagement is reshaping the fitness industry. 

By leveraging member data, both first-party and zero-party, and harnessing the capabilities of AI, fitness operators can redefine how they connect with their members. The era of one-size-fits-all communication is giving way to personalized interactions that foster a deeper sense of loyalty and community.

As AI continues to advance and evolve, fitness operators have the opportunity to not only retain members more effectively but also drive revenue growth. It's a transformative journey that blends technological innovation with thriving gym communities. 

AI is not just a tool but an essential member of your marketing team that empowers fitness operators to create tailored, authentic, and effective engagement strategies. 

It's not about replacing personal interactions but enhancing them with the power of data-driven insights and intelligent automation. 

For more information on how you can engage with your audience using AI and automation, click the link below to book your free demo.

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