The Benefits of First-party and Zero-party Data for your Fitness Marketing Strategy

An effective fitness marketing strategy helps to drive member engagement which can boost memberships and reduce churn. Learn how zero-party and first-party are essential components in your fitness marketing strategy, and where to find them.
Phil Spurgeon
Phil Spurgeon
October 20th, 2023
The Benefits of First-party and Zero-party Data for your Fitness Marketing Strategy

We first touched on the importance of first-party and zero-party data in our blog about how can AI help with membership engagement and retention. But we wanted to take a more detailed look at why these two data types are important to your fitness marketing strategy. 

When creating a fitness marketing strategy, operators can benefit from having an engaged membership base. Highly engaged members are much less likely to cancel, so operators don't have to depend only on acquiring new members to generate revenue.

This is advantageous for operators since it helps stabilize acquisition costs. As a result, operators can focus on delivering value to current members, both through in-gym experiences and communications. By concentrating on member engagement and retention, operators can reduce reliance on continually acquiring new members to maintain revenue levels.

However, an operator’s ability to capture and utilize data is integral to both successful membership engagement and gym member sales.

Without it, marketing becomes little more than guesswork and generic messaging. Excusable if your customers are just numbers on an eCommerce website. Less so when your members consider your gym an integral part of their routine and social life.

Leveraging the first-party data and zero-party data in your business gives you the means to create meaningful experiences. Not just for your established members but for your gym sales prospects.

Understanding First-party and Zero-party Data

Firstly, it’s important to understand these two vital types of membership data. Understanding and effectively harvesting the first-party data and zero-party data in your business will directly affect your ability to market.

The likelihood is, that regardless of your current activity and tech stack, there’s a lot of data flowing into your business. Accessing and harnessing the data to put it to use is usually where most fitness centers fall.

But initially, you need to know what the differences are and where that data is likely to reside.

Zero-party Data

Zero-party data is the information members give you in person, or via surveys, responses to follow-up communications, competitions, and other communications. 

The information you can collect is incredibly broad depending on the questions you ask as it can include both personal information and preferences.

Responses to a health questionnaire and a survey about favorite fitness brands are both examples of zero-party data. However, the data collected serve very different purposes and can be leveraged in different ways to engage with members.

Net Promoter Score surveys are one of the most effective and measurable methods of collecting zero-party data. Establishing an individual member’s level of satisfaction with their gym experience informs who to engage with.

Zero-party Data and Building Trust

What makes zero-party data so special (and therefore valuable) is the information the member has chosen to give you. That demonstrates trust. Once a member trusts you, their membership engagement goes through the roof.

This is largely due to a quirk of the human brain. On a psychological level, humans can’t differentiate between people and businesses. Which is why consumers feel so attached to one brand over another. Even to the point they will advocate for, or even defend them. And why football fans take wins and losses as personally as the team on the field. 

Therefore, if you’re able to establish a trust-based relationship with your members then they will also start to form an emotional relationship with your gym too.

Building that trust, and harvesting that data can begin from the moment they inquire about joining your fitness center. The amount of data you capture naturally will depend on what you ask your prospects at the point of inquiry.

The obvious information will be there such as name, contact information, and which fitness center they want to join. But there’s an opportunity to learn more. 

Fitness goals, classes of interest, relevant medical history, disabilities, previous gym experience, interest in a personal trainer, etc. These are all reasonable and relevant questions to be asked.

This gives you the foundation of a membership profile. But, at this early stage, it also gives you a means to start communicating with your prospects meaningfully.

Personalized outreach will not only impress your prospects but also allow you to harvest more information. This will allow you to give them the best possible service both at sign-up and long term, but it will also give you an idea of buying intent.

Prospects who share their information during the sign-up process are more likely to convert to members than those who don’t. This is because they’re taking the process and their fitness journey seriously.

Zero-party Data Membership Data

The more zero-party data you collect at the early stages of the membership process, the easier it is to capture more later on.

Engaged members who feel valued and trust you are far more likely to share information with you. Providing you’re rewarding that trust through personalized incentives, loyalty programs, and other rewards, members should have no qualms about providing you with more information. 

Establish that any data members share with you will be used to deliver them a better experience.

Zero-party membership data can build on the data you gathered when they were prospects. Interests and fitness goals are useful to revisit as these can change over time. This will help you to keep your communications relevant, personally contextualized, or ‘of the moment’. 

Questions around their dietary requirements, current health concerns, and personal goals can help you build a better picture of whether they need a personal trainer or a nutritionist to support them, and potentially how receptive they would be to those offers and services.

The more considered the questions, the better the answers will be, leading to better service, higher rates of customer satisfaction, and likely, more profitable membership engagement.

The only thing to be aware of when it comes to zero-party data is that it’s not always going to be 100 percent accurate. This is simply because members are subject to moods, biases, and all the other factors that can influence their responses. This can especially be the case when members enter competitions as they can exaggerate their responses if they believe it will enhance their chances of winning.

Which is why first-party data is important to have as well.

First-party Data

Whereas zero-party data is the information your members voluntarily provide, first-party data is what your business collects as they interact with you.

Essentially, first-party data is historical data built up on behaviors like card swipes, class-pack purchases, and class attendance. When combined with zero-party data it builds the most complete membership profile it’s possible to have.

The kind of first-party data you’re likely to have in your fitness business includes: 

  • Frequency of gym attendance

  • Attendance duration

  • Time of visit

  • Classes booked

  • Classes attended

  • Classes missed

  • Court/pitch bookings

  • Pool usage

  • Products purchased

    • Including size, color, brand, price (sale or not)

  • Average spend

  • Refreshments purchased

    • Including flavor, size, brand, frequency

First-party data is useful because it gives you an ever-evolving record of what your members are doing. This is useful in terms of marketing to them and also in terms of retention.

If members' attendance starts to dip and/or they keep missing classes then there could be a risk of attrition there. Being able to see that information early and act on it allows you to change the behavior.

As retention should be a key part of your fitness marketing strategy, having this level of insight will make it much easier to keep members for longer.

Retention aside, first-party data makes it easier to talk to your members about the things of greatest relevance to them. If you know they enjoy hot yoga, your engagement campaigns can be orientated around your Bikram yoga sessions, helpful tips or guides, and relevant products, based on their purchase history.

There is a world of difference between recommending a generic range of yoga products and recommending products from the member’s favorite brand, in size and even their preferred colors.

Feeding the Beast

The biggest challenge with first-party data is that it’s only as good as the last interaction. If members stop engaging with your emails and content, stop spending money, or their attendance drops, the insight drops with it.

But this is why getting your engagement campaigns right from the start and nailing your retention strategy is so important. 

First-party data can give you incredible clarity into membership behavior but you have to work to keep members engaged. Blending zero-party data within a single unified profile can help to sharpen up those communications to keep members engaged for longer.

Where to Find Member First-party and Zero-Party Data

This is the rub. Your data is likely scattered across your entire tech estate and can be as dispersed as having data in:

  • A gym sales platform

  • A membership management system

  • An email marketing tool (like MailChimp)

  • An SMS platform

  • A third-party booking system

  • Survey tools (such as Survey Monkey)

  • Your shop’s ePOS 

  • The website’s back end

Making use of that data is next to impossible without consolidating it. Manual consolidation is laborious and time-consuming. It’s also fraught with errors.

But in practical terms, your team doesn’t have the time to manually export, consolidate, de-duplicate, and segment all that data into a meaningful and usable format.

And that’s before you start to build any kind of strategy or tactical campaign around it.

One Source of Truth

Combining the first-party and zero-party data within your fitness business can be the rocket fuel for your marketing strategy. It allows you to dramatically move your focus away from member acquisition to membership retention.

While membership acquisition is still important, if you’re keeping your members for longer then it matters less. More importantly, you reduce your outgoings and significantly boost your profits. Because retained members don’t cost you anywhere near as much to keep as winning new ones do.

When member data is unified into a single profile you can segment it in a highly granular way. The more you segment the better you understand your audiences. The better you understand your audiences, the more effectively you can market to them.

When you consider the potential for data capture at the point of inquiry, you can transform your gym’s lead gen and acquisition strategy. Lead gen can become about a home away from home, rather than just a place to work out. Acquisition becomes value-based rather than transactional. By learning more from your prospects when they first contact you, you’re able to create an increasingly personalized experience. 

New members who are excited to be part of your gym community are already engaged. Engaged members are less likely to succumb to competitor offers and more likely to stay with you for longer. 

Your retention strategy also becomes less about incentives and more about the relationship. By having all your data in one place, where you can analyze it in real time, you can spot the problem behaviors before they take hold. 

Most importantly, you get to make your marketing strategy about delivering value and making the member experience a positive one. Rather than scrambling to get the members you’ve got while desperately trying to find new ones.

Added Value

By far one of the most important things unifying your first-party and zero-party data is the ability to add value.

If you don’t have to worry as much about bringing in new members, you can focus on delighting the ones you have.

All that consolidated and segmented data allows you to create hyper-personalized communications that focus on value. Health and wellness guides, best practice tips for the gym, a beginner's guide to yoga, etc.

All these things help to solidify your gym members’ place within your gym community. When members actually feel like members then they’re significantly more likely to engage with you when it comes to product-focused communications. Firstly because they will be relevant to them and secondly, they’ll want to spend money with you to help you succeed.

That’s the sweet spot. When your members value their gym experience so much with you they’ll increase their spending because they recognize it will improve their experience.

Ready to Dive into your Data?

Book a 15-minute demo with a member of the team.