The world, and the fitness industry within it, is data-rich. From gym CRM software to website analytics, loyalty programs to social media, gym marketing campaigns to exercisers’ own wearables – and far more besides – we already have enormous quantities of data in our businesses. And that volume doubles every 18 months.
It’s important to note, however, that not all data is equal. Not all data has the same power to transform your business.
Let’s take a look at what data actually is, where you’re likely to find it in your business, in what state it must be to be useful, where the most valuable insights potentially lie, and how we get at them.
What counts as data?
The first thing to note is, data isn’t always digital. It isn’t just about the information stored in your gym software – your CRM or club management system, for example. Data can also be offline; indeed, in many fitness operations, certain data only exists in paper form.
It might be member contracts, PT evaluations, liability waiver forms… and sometimes it’s OK to stay in paper format. Waiver forms, for example, which are statutory but which hold little value beyond their immediate purpose.
In many cases, however, rich data is being captured – in gym sales processes, PT interactions and gym marketing conversations, for example – but not making it out of the staff member’s notepad. This is a missed opportunity, as it could be transformational in the delivery of member experience.
Let’s take a look at some of the different types of data that exist within your business.
Structured data includes things like spreadsheet files and SQL databases, which is the data model most often used in gym CRM software such as your club management system.
With SQL, each data item fits into columns and rows so it can be easily sorted and searched. By allowing every field to be accessed separately or together, this data model provides a powerful platform to quickly bring together information from various locations for analysis.
Examples of structured data include your CMS, access control, website visitor analytics, class bookings, fee payment, exercise equipment, member wearables data and membership sign-up.
Structured data is where we find the most value at present. It is here the tools most organisations currently use are applied to build business intelligence, gain actionable insights and produce results within fitness operations.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of those tools – that invisible presence that facilitates our everyday life, from giving us a drive time and ETA at our destination, to recommending an artist we might like on Spotify. It also has huge application in gym businesses, from boosting gym sales to enhancing fitness marketing to improving member retention – as you can read here.
Unstructured data is data that does not have a recognisable structure, and it accounts for more than 80 per cent of the data in any organisation. It also grows at 55-65 per cent a year.
As such, it cannot be ignored. Indeed, it is when we add structured and unstructured data together that we get to that hallowed entity: Big Data.
Examples of unstructured data abound in the area of gym marketing – social media, email comms (where the body text follows no set format), internet reviews, customer surveys, webchat and so on – as well as things like CCTV, phone call recordings and member assessment/induction forms.
Excitingly, it is in the area of unstructured data that we’ve seen vast leaps forward over the past decade, allowing us to gain far more value from the data in our businesses.
Specifically, AI algorithms – when left to their own devices to investigate and present interesting findings – can extract value from these piles of unstructured data, finding patterns even an expert human might never have predicted. In turn, this powers a treasure trove of new insights around customer behaviours and predicted behaviour.
This functionality hasn’t yet been applied in the fitness sector, but it’s something we’re already exploring at Keepme. Ideal customer profiles are one opportunity, whereby our AI tools could take existing data, cluster customers around every variable and develop brand new target segments for our gym marketing campaigns.
In between structured and unstructured data lies, perhaps unsurprisingly, semi-structured data, with one great example being customer surveys such as the Net Promoter Score©.
The structured element comes from the primary purpose of the survey, which often involves ‘on a scale of 1–10’ type questions. This score forms the majority of the analysis and is generally the one followed by business leadership.
However, we believe there’s more value to be extracted from the unstructured aspect – that is, when you ask the customer: “Why did you give us that score?”
The customer’s resulting free-form text is gold, providing context, detail and often insights that you’d never get from the 1–10 score alone. Yet many gyms miss out on this as they lack the manpower to wade through all the responses. This is where AI comes in.
With AI, every comment that comes back to you is passed through language sentiment analysis. Regardless of what language is used (including Emoji which, go figure, is viewed as a language in itself), each comment is assessed and given a positive, negative or neutral score.
A human could do that, you say? They could, given time. But even if we ignore the fact that every person comes with a built-in bias around what they want to see, or how they feel on the day of the task, how would they deal with the following?
“Great staff, great location, but the changing rooms require restoration.”
Overall a positive? Does the negative mean it’s neutral?
In fact, it needs to be broken down, with the comment scored across three distinct areas: staff, location, and changing rooms. AI can do this, allowing you to then look up core aspects of the business, see how they’re perceived by members, and understand the overall sentiment of the feedback for that specific area of the business.
When you also apply age and gender filters, you can then paint a picture of what’s important to each group, how they perceive certain factors in the business, and how they describe them.
Courtesy of AI, the simple customer survey becomes a turbo-charged gym marketing tool that doesn’t just give you a headline score on how you’re doing with customers. It also shows where you’re powerful and where not so strong, along with additional pointers on which parts of the business to emphasise to which target audiences – whether that’s in your gym member retention programs or your gym sales campaigns.
Data gifts from members
Utopia for a fitness operator is when you can gain an insight into the member’s activities away from the club. There’s a world of difference between a member who’s stopped coming because they’ve decided the gym isn’t for them, versus a member who’s taking advantage of the good weather to do runs or bike rides in the park – a difference you need to understand to create relevant gym member retention strategies.
Then there are the (retention-boosting) personalisation opportunities that come up for grabs when – just as an example – you know a member’s current fitness level or average cardiovascular load.
The good news is that this valuable data is already being collected. The challenge is that our members are managing it. Without them sharing it, we’re missing out on possibly the most useful data of all.
Apple Health, Google Fit, Apple Watch, Whoop, Myzone… all of these are sources of member data. These tools are increasingly not just for on-site use, but also worn 24/7 to help guide and inform their user on their current condition. This is incredibly rich data that could power everything from retention algorithms to recommendation engines, providing hyper-personalised engagements for your customers.
Now is the time to start understanding who’s using what, and why they choose to use it.
The quantity of public data available varies from country to country, and its usage even more so. However, where permitted, the integration of public data with the data within your business can produce a rich seam of value.
The US is a market that’s awash with public data, and little control around how that data can be used. From salaries to purchases, political affiliations to hobbies, all of this and more is available and used daily by marketing automation and ad platforms.
An excellent example from a fitness perspective is a service we’ve witnessed that powers member lead generation. Merging public data with your ideal member profile, they can ‘find’ ideal potential members for you to target with your gym marketing.
What if my data is imperfect?
So, you’ve now identified your data sources and you’re considering bringing in AI to unlock the latent potential in that data.
One of the most common questions we hear when businesses look to work with their data is: what if my data is imperfect? Our answer is always the same: imperfect for what?
With almost every data project, it’s inevitable that the data will not be optimal unless it was collected specifically for the purpose or project you’re now trying to implement. In the future, that sort of specificity may become possible, even the norm, across the board. For now, however, we’re taking what we have and applying the new tools and methodologies to the data – and regardless of data condition, it results in giant leaps forward.
That’s because – with the advent of AI, Business Intelligence (BI) and Big Data – it’s now entirely possible to improve the datasets that already exist within companies. Here’s an example of a recent piece of work we were involved in.
Data duration: 3 years
Member records: 12,659
Complete Records: 0
Duplicate Records: 2,187
Membership Types: 63
Data duration: 3 years
Member records: 11,201
Complete Records: 11,019
Duplicate Records: 0
Membership Types: 7
Quality over quantity
You’ll note this example was based on three years, and this is another question we’re often asked: how much data is needed?
It depends on the outcome you’re looking to deliver, of course, but our advice is this: it’s better to have 12 months of comprehensive, clean-ish data than three years of rubbish. Interpolation can be achieved from a small clean data set to make up for lack of duration.
Advances in methodologies have helped here, driving a decrease in the quantity of data required. For example, in 2019, Keepme needed three years of member data to provide the Keepme Member Retention Score. By January 2021, only one year was required.
Find your unique identifiers
An important point to note is this: however complete your data, if you cannot link that data to the individual member (or, indeed, prospect) through a unique identifier such as a membership number, it’s unlikely to be of any use.
Those customer feedback screens that allow you to choose the face and rate the service are a good example. They may be great at giving you a high-level customer service view, but the data is pretty useless beyond that.
However, don’t overthink this. A unique identifier can be flexible. Let’s say you’ve been using Mailchimp for all your gym marketing email campaigns. This is potentially valuable data, and the actions of the recipient (did they open, click, share, unsubscribe etc) can be linked through the email address. Mobile phone numbers are also used, along with home addresses – though the latter less so because of multi-residency.
You already have the data you need
One final word of encouragement: your data capture may not always have been purposeful or intentional, done mainly through necessity and not always comprehensively. However, we can confidently say the data already exists in your business to improve and refine your offering in a multitude of ways.
Indeed, from our conversations with more than 100 club operators around the world in the last 18 months, without exception the data they needed to transform their businesses was already there – from personalisation of the member journey to improved gym sales, increased secondary revenues to better targeted products, services and gym marketing ideas.
You just need to know where to look. This blog should have provided some insight, but of course, we’re on-hand to help you take a deeper dive. Because ultimately, if you’re working with an external supplier, it is their responsibility to determine whether you have the data needed to complete the project.
You’re signing up for the delivery of business value that’s powered by your data. Your responsibility is to provide the data (and some $ for the service); their responsibility is to provide the value. We’re here to take on that responsibility, digging deep into your data to uncover insights that can transform your business.
Learn more about the invaluable data that exists in your business. Register for a free copy of our white paper – Everything You Need to Know About Data & AI – here.