Ryan Grimshaw, Head of Brand and Marketing for Topodium Group, outlines how fitness brands digitalise their offer.
We don’t need to dwell on the fact Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on our sports, health and leisure industries. After all, not all is doom and gloom as Covid-19 has revealed some positive outcomes about the fitness industry in particular.
Fitness brands and businesses are quickly learning how to innovate and reinvent themselves as the landscape rapidly changes. Three words I’ve used consistently with our partners over the last few months are agility, adaptability and consistency.
For some, these digital transformations have always been on the cards, and for others Covid-19 acted as a catalyst for the C-suite to finally take note and take action. These changes were coming sooner or later, and inevitably this has left some sports and fitness brands primed and ready, and others frantically playing catch-up – hoping to come out fighting.
So what can those in the sports and fitness industry do to ensure they’re fit for purpose in a digital world? Well, simply put, brands and businesses need to tap into the power of online presence and ultimately digitalise their offer.
Many brands have made this a cornerstone of their strategy during the long slog of survival and disruption, and it could help your business too.
I’m going to take some time to outline the considerations and steps to take to reach that point.
Mapping and management of the process
Firstly, it’s important to recognise the current environment. This is one of the most major global experiences that has effected the lives of every single person on the planet since the launch of the internet – that’s both a scary thought, but also one that is filled with new possibilities, thanks to the digital era.
You should immediately take a mental scan of what parts of your business, or how much of your offering, can be digitalised. You may be a gym owner, fitness centre manager, sports coach, soft play centre operator, yoga instructor… whoever you are and what ever your business, this will very much depend on your core activity.
Sometimes it’s hard to imagine digitalising your offer at all. Challenge your own thinking – you’ll be surprised at the possibilities. I really recommend leisure and fitness business owners reach out to others in their industry or look to other industries for ideas which could translate well into their own sector.
Partnering up with other businesses can help fix together pieces of the jigsaw for each of you. You provide some of your solution and in return they provide some of theirs. This collaborative approach can help sustain two organisations at a lower financial and resource cost, and prove fruitful in a shorter time frame.
Be thoughtful about the practicalities – digitalising your offer means more than simply putting your product or service online. You’ll want to thoroughly map out the process and work out how, and if, you can turn your customer touch points into digital experiences that both resonate and work effectively.
If there are gaps in operational, technical or creative delivery, then work out what that will cost you and weigh up the risk. I appreciate many brands and businesses may not have the funds available to turn this around at present, though sitting back and doing nothing will undoubtedly cost you far more in the long run.
It’s no secret that your website should be at the centre of any digital activity. It’s your store front, virtual shop window, and often the first gateway to your online interaction with visitors and prospective customers.
An up-to-date, contemporary website with a great design and user flow will set you up for success early on in your digitalisation process. If your website is clunky, looks tired and dated, and has five years worth of old, redundant content then it’s time to invest in something that will appeal to your digital audience and most importantly convert them into paying customers.
Mobile-first should always be your primary consideration when thinking about websites. Not only do search engines rank by mobile-first indexing, Generation Z and Millennials are inherently digital natives, and we’re seeing Gen X and Boomers becoming more digitally savvy too. Why does this matter?
Well, more people are making impulsive online decisions and their device of choice is mobile. Hence why it’s essential that your website is optimised for mobile-first, or at the very least is mobile-friendly, otherwise you can wave goodbye to any substantial online customer base.
And the other thing to consider is that people are generally unforgiving online – they won’t wait around or give you the benefit of the doubt – if your site is slow, unresponsive or requires users to jump through multiple hoops trying to book or navigate your website – they’re gone.
Booking software and artificial intelligence
In a similar vein to the point above, make sure you have a mobile-first booking platform or software in place. Your customers will thank you if they can book their activities or online webinars right from their phone.
Artificial intelligence can make your booking system work harder for you. A smart software or booking platform should not only provide a frictionless experience for your customers, it should also help you do a lot more to enhance digitalisation.
- Dynamic pricing and machine learning
In short, using your existing data you can implement flexible strategies to adapt to the market conditions. With algorithms and machine learning, you can support dynamic pricing which plays into peoples price-sensitive nature. It also allows you the ability to influence where your customers spend their money, which is crucial in such an unpredictable and ever-changing market.
- Manage footfall, capacity and visitor forecasts
Smart booking platforms can help ensure social-distancing measures remain in place at your venue. By simply providing time slots or session windows to manage capacity, or alerting participants to closures, postponements or disruption, a clever booking software will reduce unnecessary footfall in your venue keeping you covid-secure and compliant. And simply, by providing a digital booking service, you’ll reduce any physical payments enabling up-front purchases for tickets and payments for classes.
- Personalise your customer journey
Booking platforms hold valuable data. Using live-data will enable you to analyse your customers behavioural patterns, understand their purchasing habits, and identify possible up-sells or cross-sells that may enhance their chosen experience at the end of their purchasing process.
Launching your new digital offer
Before you launch your new digitalised offer out to your membership and audiences, it’s essential you plan your communications thoroughly. Even at the best of times you never want to send out communication which can cause confusion, leave room for doubt, or misinforms… and never is that more true than in this time of uncertainty.
Trust is paramount. By communicating clearly with your audiences you are building on that trust and letting them know what to expect from you.
Create valuable and tailored interactive virtual experiences
There’s a whole wealth of tools and applications available to carry out timely and relevant communications from automated chatbots, to Facebook Messenger’s instant messages, to Google My Business Covid-specific features.
Times are tough for many people right now, so creating valuable content and virtual experiences that provide a fun, enjoyable and unique digital escape will be well received and appreciated.
That said, there is a lot of free content, experiences and entertainment online right now specially designed to reinforce brands and attract new audiences. Though there’s no reason this type of content couldn’t be used to drive profit-led activities such as virtual tours, try-before-you-by sessions, virtual classes and webinars, and entertaining livestreams.
Even simple activities such as competitions and offers will help your customers connect and feel engaged with a world outside of their four walls.
One of my absolute favourites, which took Facebook by storm, was Chester Zoo’s Virtual Zoo where they brought the zoo into the living rooms of households across the country with livestreams of their animals. Though not fitness related, it’s a great example of how a business can open up to new ways of engaging with audiences. Even when Chester Zoo re-opened, they kept their livestreams going as they recognised not all of their family visitors were ready to return.
Take this example and perhaps apply it to your sports club. You could have lots of different coaches offering livestream virtual coaching sessions with an interactive chat so players can interact, ask questions and shape the session.
Perhaps you’re a fitness centre or gym wondering what type of content will help drive profits? You could offer premium packages to your existing customer-base; online and pay-as-you, week-long itineraries that focus on at-home workouts, or activities to aid sleep and reduce anxiety, or workouts to fit around busy working-from-home schedules.
Alongside that you may consider sending participants a workout bundle pack so they feel part of your online club. You could even throw in redeemable vouchers or a discount with money off specific sessions to be used when your gym or centre fully reopens.
Communicate your digital offer
Many brands are increasing their digital and online presence by tapping into the fact more people are at home and spending increased time on social media. From browsing, to shopping, to staying in contact with family members, to looking for things to fill up their time indoors – it’s a prime time to get in front of your customers.
A great tip to reduce your time and quickly benefit from increased social media presence is to utilise a social media management tool.
This will reduce your time spent managing your social media accounts, streamlining any messaging process by posting to several platforms at once, and allowing you to schedule your social media weeks or months ahead of time, and of course measure your results and effectiveness – one less plate to spin!
Another idea to consider is triggered events on your website, however, I’d recommend using them sparingly.
Triggered events will not only help direct customers to new information, last-minute changes or your latest Covid updates, they’ll also help you increase your page conversion rates by showing pop-ups or in-web notifications of your deals and discounts, new/amended opening times, or product/service recommendations.
I’d also recommend focusing on your tone of voice and message content. Reassure your customers, craft authentic messaging, and show that you truly understand their situations, that you have sensitivity to their concerns, and that you’re playing your part to support them.
That doesn’t mean you have to be all sombre – there are lots of creative ways you can show you ‘get’ your customers plights without slow videos, soft-focused fades and overly soppy social posts.
Utilise live-data, trends and intel
Maintaining the relationship with your customers should not have to end at the front desk or the door of your venue.
With digital tools you’ll quickly amass crucial data that means you can keep on nurturing and building on that relationship no matter how remote or distanced your customer-base.
Consider how you’ll maintain loyalty with your existing customers along with any new customers you’ll convert. With retention and loyalty strategies you can gather and use feedback to your advantage.
Using simple feedback surveys and post-event email notifications will give you the chance to ask questions, get them to rate their visit or experience, ask them to leave a review, inform them about new events or upcoming offers, promote a referral code, or invite them to take part in a competition.
Don’t forget, you should also consider this approach for your staff, so you can ensure they’re managing well with the digital process. That valuable feedback can prove beneficial in spotting any gaps or issues, and also know what is working well with your teams.
And finally, providing your customers with access to additional resources is just a nice, easy way to show that you value their custom and their loyalty. Things like creating a WhatsApp for free daily fitness events, workouts and tips, or hosting a live Q&A with your CEO or operations manager so that your members can ask questions about your Covid-19 plan and digital process, and feel welcomed, reassured and engaged.
This article was written by Ryan Grimshaw, Head of Brand and Marketing for Topodium Group.