Less than $500.
That’s the amount of money we’ve spent at Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) on traditional advertising since opening our doors nine years ago this month. I’m guessing you wouldn’t believe me if I told you that our average annual advertising spend of roughly $55 was the key to taking a roster of 40 clients on day-one to just a shade under 4,000 through our doors as of today. If that were accurate, we’d be talking about roughly a $0.12 per client acquisition fee…I’d have to write a “how-to” book on lead-generation and conversion that would change the business world.
Sure, we’ve made the occasional donation to a charity golf tournament, or even thrown some cash toward worthy fundraising efforts organized by loyal clients. However, other than a few hundred dollars spent on Facebook ads in advance of our attempt at a transformation challenge, we rely almost entirely on word-of-mouth advertising.
The key to word-of-mouth advertising is understanding that it is anything but free or effortless. You’re going to need to spend significant funds on brand, business, and personal development long before the floodgates open and new client inquiries begin filling your inbox and voicemail accounts.
There are three specific actions that we’ve taken to amplify and accelerate the positive impact that word of mouth advertising has had on our business.
1. We focus on being unique and memorable.
It takes more than gym chalk, loud music, and a competitive training environment for your facility to thrive in the long-term. If this describes your plan of attack, your best bet is to invest in the $3,000 annual Crossfit licensing fee and dive in to the process of attempting to differentiate yourself from the other five “boxes” that sit within a 20-minute drive of your facility (there are now 10,000+ similar locations worldwide).
The problem with owning a gym like this is rarely in creating discussion surrounding the training experience; it is, instead, the abundance of similarly priced alternatives sitting just minutes away that will cut in to your profits. Cultivating serious brand loyalty within this environment is difficult. While you are working hard to create loyal Crossfitters, you may not necessarily be creating Crossfitters who are loyal to your specific box.
Instead of leveraging the delivery of an environment that can easily be replicated (for short money), we lean on a rare understanding of the unique training needs of the baseball community to generate discussion outside of our facility. Nothing would make me happier than to hear a client tell a friend on his team: “I’m pissed because my favorite coach at CSP wont be in the gym tomorrow because she’s going to observe a Tommy-John Procedure at Mass-General Hospital.”
People will travel significant distances if it means that they can gain access to unique training material. I’ve found word-of-mouth advertising to be effective at bringing the right clients in the door, while paid advertising doesn’t allow me to segment my Facebook advertising efforts to target “13 to 22 year old baseball players with a history of elbow and shoulder-related injury issues.”
2. We worked hard to make ourselves visible.
Ever heard of “The Rule of Seven” in marketing? This is an old adage that assumes it takes seven different exposures to your brand or message in order for a consumer to take action and begin spending money with you. Thankfully, we knew that we could chip away at that magic number of seven simply by showing our faces in the right settings.
Back in 2007 we didn’t want to sit around waiting for baseball parents to hear about our brand more than a half-dozen times before coming in to see who we were and how unique our business was. Instead of being patient, we put on CSP tee shirts and attended as many baseball games as we could fit in to our schedule. If Eric and I showed up to six games in the spring, and then the catcher’s dad mentioned to one or two other parents that we’d helped his injury-prone son stay healthy for the entire season, then we’d be at our magic number of exposures in quick fashion.
The point here is both simple and cost-effective: If you rely on word-of-mouth advertising to prompt consumers to spend with you, you need to take action both inside and outside of your facility. You can’t just hope for brand exposure, you have to actually expose it in order for word-of-mouth to take effect.
3. We prepare our clients for the discussion we hope that they’ll have.
If you truly want your customers to be effective brand ambassadors while outside of the gym, you need to equip them with more than just an understanding of how to execute your training material. Clients who understand “the why” behind their individualized programming are much better positioned to illustrate just how unique and valuable your service offering is during discussions with friends.
CSP coaches don’t just robotically deliver assistance with the arm-care protocols for baseball players; they articulate the reasoning for their inclusion in the programming and explain how they can be introduced to a pre-practice or game day warm-up ritual. “Because my strength coach said so” is a much less memorable justification for doing a specific warm-up than “because it addresses the shoulder instability that was identified during my initial assessment at CSP.”
Detailed explanation of material in the weight room eventually leads to memorable word-of-mouth interactions in baseball dugouts and clubhouses.
- People are vocal about differentiated services.
- Making your brand visible is critical. It doesn’t need to be difficult, but it needs to happen.
- Don't assume that your clients are equipped to convey what makes your business unique; empower them.