The national number of full-service country clubs continues to decline. We are all too aware of the reasons why this is happening: aging long-time members and the related attrition, the abundance of choices available for a share of “leisure” dollars, and the significant reduction of “available recreational time." Clubs desperately need to evolve and innovate not only their service offerings but the way they attract and convert new members. But change is hard.
Most people naturally resist change and few clubs have been quick to embrace change as it relates to their marketing strategies. However, smart thinking general managers and club boards need to step out of their comfort zones and embrace the marketing models that have been proven in other industries to succeed with today's audiences.
An Outsider's Perspective
After years of success in various industries at StoryTeller (including clubs), we’ve noticed that the membership marketing industry is BEHIND.
Over the last 10 years, marketers outside the club industry have taken a holistic and adaptive approach to keep pace in this rapidly changing world brought on by the explosion of the internet. Rather than do what they have always done (marketing the same message to the masses in hopes that the right person with the right need for their product or service just comes along at the right time), these innovative marketers recognize the way buyers make decisions has changed.
After all, any buyer under 35 years old has grown up with technology. These younger buyers have taken what was once perceived as a linear path to purchase and turned it into a customer journey that is anything but predictable (as you can see below).
They make buying decisions when they want, where they want, and how they want. As a result, today's marketing needs to be multi-channel — all brands must make a conscious effort to be present on a multitude of channels, enabling them to connect with their buyers in tandem with their buying patterns.
I realize membership marketing has different nuances. Absolutely. There are different considerations that clubs have to take when it comes to marketing, no question.
But whether it's considering membership at a club or looking for the perfect event venue to host your wedding, how consumers are accessing information is not different. Prospective private club members are going online for information, just like the rest of the world's consumers.
Chances are they are using their smartphones to kick off their quest for information, and if you aren’t providing helpful resources (in a mobile responsive format) to support their decision-making process, that's just giving your competitors a chance to have a leg up.
My overwhelming observation is that private club marketing is STUCK!
Stuck in a sea of tactics, rather than strategies. STUCK wanting a “quick fix” approach to marketing without having a plan that will drive results in a predictable and measurable way (which could impact club stability for years to come). STUCK doing the same exact things year after year, hoping for different results. STUCK with legacy industry partners that are convinced that in-person meetings, with fancy, glossy brochures and branded folders filled with discounted fees, are still the best way to hit membership targets. STUCK looking within the industry for innovation rather than outside.
And once you get STUCK, it's hard to get going again!
So What Does Innovative Club Marketing Look Like?
Changing the way you market your club means moving away from traditional tactics and shifting your focus to a long-term sustainable digital strategy. It means taking your marketing from offline channels (brochures, events, direct mail, door hangers, etc.) and applying online principles, and I don’t just mean using Facebook. It means powering your website with an abundance of valuable resources (content) to help your website visitors advance their buying decisions.
This methodology is called inbound marketing — bringing those you are trying to reach to you rather than pushing a message out to the masses and hoping it’s heard.
Your website is not just an online brochure meant to engage your members, it has the potential to be your number one lead generation resource (This is a terrific podcast explaining more).
I caution you, however, this approach to marketing is a long-term strategy. If adding 12 new members in the next 60 days is imperative to maintaining the health of your club, then this is not your answer. Make sure you have the stamina to run a marathon because inbound marketing is not a sprint.
Over the last 10 years, we have had the unique perspective of looking at marketing from a 360-degree view. Not only have we worked with private clubs, most notably Hazeltine National Golf Club, but we have also had experience working with just about every type of marketer in every type of industry: manufacturing, medical, software, non-profit, consumer retailers and the like.
One thing remains consistent and is industry agnostic, the buyer’s journey now takes place online. You need to be where your buyers already are and you need to arm them with educational, meaningful information and give them a customized experience.
We have written hundreds of blogs on the topics of inbound marketing and we are on a mission to help club marketers get “unstuck” from traditional marketing tactics. If you are on board with this concept, I hope you find these resources helpful to get you pointed in the right direction:
The Importance of Content
It’s easy to look around the industry and copy what others are doing and wrongly assuming that it works. More and more clubs are doing this and repeating the same ineffective marketing tactics, which in turn just creates more ineffective marketing.
Ask yourself, “What about our marketing is working to increase the health and viability of the organization?” If you don’t have any good answers, it might be time to change the course.