If you gave the health of your private club a letter grade for 2018, what would it be? For many clubs, 2018 felt like a year of holding your breath… hoping that more new members would walk in the door than existing members walked out.
With so many recreational opportunities competing for increasingly limited free time, private club membership simply isn’t as popular as it used to be, so many clubs are struggling to find new paths for membership marketing while their most time-tested ways to fill up the pipeline are becoming less and less reliable.
Do I Really Need Something Beyond Member Referrals?
After all these years, word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing is still a favorite for most membership directors, and for good reason. Nothing works better than a member singing the club’s praises to an already-interested friend. Yet, how predictable and sustainable are those leads? At some point, even your most active members exhaust their list of friends to convince or run out of energy to do so.
As a result, fewer and fewer clubs are able to keep their pipeline full from membership referral programs alone. And even then, the timing of those referrals may not meet the club’s needs or the age of the prospects may not match the club’s desire to get younger.
But all clubs are different, so how well does word-of-mouth marketing work for you? Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
Do you feel like you have a well-defined plan or strategy to reach your membership goals (and have control over growing your membership pipeline)?
Have you invested in programs designed to “invigorate members” that have resulted in a significant increase in membership without decreasing your initiation fees?
Do you have confidence that your prospective members can differentiate your club from other clubs around you from your club's website alone?
If you answered "no" to any or all of these questions, then 2019 is the right time to add strategies and tactics to take more control over your membership marketing. It’s time to take advantage of the opportunities available online, where you already have a presence, and where we know most prospects spend at least part of their research and discovery process for considering membership.
Do Potential Members Really Research Online?
Yes. In fact, studies show that 81% of buyers, particularly the millennial buyers of goods and services, are actively researching information online before they are interested in connecting with a brand.
We know that club memberships are more expensive than many other purchases, but today’s buyers don’t necessarily fold up their laptops just because of a bigger price tag.
In fact, many people are more likely to do extensive research when the stakes (and prices) are higher. That means they may want to be armed with more information and insights in speaking with your membership director until after they have done their homework. And that means your online presence can be crucial for both educating and recruiting new prospects.
Every private club is somewhat unique and there are no “one size fits all” marketing strategies that apply, but even the most successful clubs can take advantage of additional opportunities online. Let's look at a few different types of clubs and how they can take better control of their membership marketing.
Club 1: The Platinum Club
Are you a private club that has hosted numerous professional tournaments? Are you a "bucket list" club? Would most people with a modest golf acumen know who you are? If this is the case, brand awareness is not your challenge.
However, even the most elite of clubs are mindful of attrition and need to maintain an active waiting list. These clubs have plenty of people who would be interested in learning about different membership categories but might not have a process in place to capture and engage with their captive audience and streamline communication to the most interested prospects.
If this sounds like you, you probably have high quality leads falling through the cracks and it might be time to focus on your lead management strategy.
How to take more control: If you have a lot of leads but struggle to manage them or aren’t converting as many of them as you would like, then developing a sales enablement plan should be your primary focus.
Once you organize your leads by quality and category, you can engage them with the right information at the right time. You can even reconnect with old prospects during the off-season to jump-start your next membership campaign.
Club 2: The Well-Known Club
Many private clubs have brand awareness and a lot of website traffic, but very few clubs have clear ways for those website visitors to turn into a membership lead. If a prospect comes to your site to see what you are all about, learn more about the members, or explore your membership categories, can they find those answers easily or are they left waiting for a response from a “contact us” submission? Converting active prospects and generating a pipeline of possibilities is your barrier to growth.
How to take more control: If you have traffic but need more ways to capture new leads, then focusing your online marketing strategies around conversion is how you begin to impact your membership goals.
Remember, many of today’s buyers would much rather do their research online at their convenience, to pre-qualify themselves and avoid an awkward conversation with a real person. You'll never get a chance to "meet" them if you create too much friction.
Club 3: The Attainable Club
We all know that in the club space today, it’s never been more of a challenge to “keep up with the Joneses” as an everyday “Joe.” These clubs need to work even harder to stand out in the crowd and need greater brand awareness. If these are your challenges, you need more website traffic, more social media “likes,” and more strategies to show how your club is different from your competitors.
How to take more control: If you need more traffic and brand awareness, then you need content. Preferably, on-going blog posts that showcase your club’s culture and unique differentiators, or video stories that give your prospects “inside access.” Quality content is what will turn a prospect into a visitor and is foundational to increasing your digital footprint. This will position you to more strategically capture the attention of those who are searching.
So how will you tackle your membership challenges this year? Will you continue to rely on the same traditional marketing tactics and “hope” that this is the year your members really come through with the right number of referrals? Or, will this be your breakout year, where you begin to connect and convert prospects online and take charge of your club growth?
The private club industry is playing catch up with the marketing tactics of the rest of the word. 2019 can be your chance to get ahead of the pack and differentiate yourself from the clubs in your area.
If you aren’t quite sure what your club needs to begin gaining control, check out our free membership growth consultation.