If you gave the health of your private club membership a letter grade for the past year, what would it be? For some clubs, the pandemic ushered in an unprecedented number of new members, but for others, 2020 was just like every other year: hoping the number of new members offset the number of resigning ones.
With so many recreational activities competing for people's increasingly limited free time, boosting private club membership can still feel like an uphill battle. In 2021, the most time-tested ways to fill up the membership pipeline are becoming less and less reliable... but there is a way forward.
WHY REFERRALS AREN'T ENOUGH
After all these years, word-of-mouth marketing is still a favorite for most membership directors, and for good reason. No private club marketing tactic works better than a member singing the club’s praises to an already-interested friend. But how predictable and sustainable are those leads? At some point, even your most active members run out of friends.
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 goals to appeal to younger audiences.
With all of that in mind, you should consider how well word-of-mouth marketing really works for your club. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
Do you feel like you have a well-defined club marketing plan to reach your membership goals and control your membership pipeline?
Have you invested in club marketing programs that increase membership without decreasing initiation fees?
Can your club website differentiate your club to prospective members?
If you answered "no" to any or all of these questions, then 2021 is the right time to use strategic thinking to take more control over your membership marketing. Most of your prospects, young or old, are researching club membership online. It’s time to take advantage of your online presence and the digital opportunities that come with it.
Do Potential CLUB Members Really search Online?
Yes. In fact, a 2019 study showed that 85% of buyers, including millennials, actively research information online before they connect with a brand or engage their services.
Private 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, they're likely to do even more 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've done their homework. And that means your online presence can be crucial for both educating and recruiting new prospects.
WHAT DOES YOUR CLUB NEED TO INCREASE MEMBERSHIP?
There are no “one size fits all” marketing strategies that apply to every private club, but even the most successful ones take advantage of additional opportunities online. Let's look at a few different types of clubs and how digital marketing strategies can take better control of their membership marketing.
Club 1: The Platinum Club That Needs to Follow Up
Are you a "bucket list" club? Have you hosted numerous professional tournaments? 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 they might not have a process in place to capture and engage with their most interested prospects. That means high-quality leads keep falling through the cracks, despite the club's stellar reputation.
If this sounds like you, 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 That Needs to Turn Traffic into Leads
Many private clubs have brand awareness and a lot of website traffic, but very few clubs know how to turn those website visitors into membership leads.
If a prospect comes to your site to learn more about your members, explore your membership categories, and see what you're all about, can they find those answers easily or are they left waiting for a response to their ignored “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 your first step toward meeting 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 That Needs to Stand Out
It can be hard to make an impression in the club space – particularly when you don't have any laurels to rest on. If you're having a hard time getting eyes on your club, you need greater brand awareness online. You need more website traffic, more social media “likes,” and more ideas 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. It can be regular blog posts that showcase your club’s culture and unique differentiators or video stories that give your prospects “inside access" – but quality is the most important aspect of content.
Quality content is what will turn a prospect into a visitor, and it's foundational to increasing your digital footprint. Creating content that addresses your prospects' questions and shows them how you're different will position you to capture and leverage the attention of those who are searching.
THE BOTTOM LINE: DIGITAL MARKETING FILLS THE PRIVATE CLUB PIPELINE FOR LESS
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 the year you take control of your club growth and begin converting prospects online – more, quicker, and for less?
The private club industry is still playing catch-up with the marketing tactics of the rest of the world. 2021 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.
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