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Written by Josh Unfried

Digital Marketing for Fitness

What if we could show you how to double or even triple your marketing ROI while also increasing gym membership by 60%? Sound too good to be true? Well hold onto your free weights, because in this post we’re going to give you the secret to achieving results like this.

It comes down to investing in the right digital marketing strategies and striking the appropriate balance between your digital marketing and direct mail marketing budgets.

We most recently helped Gold’s Gym SoCal achieve these results with digital marketing campaigns, and we want to share our key takeaways with you! But before we get started, let’s answer a prickly question.

WHY Is Direct Mail Killing Your Marketing Budget ROI?

Maybe that question surprises you. Maybe you’re not so sure direct mail is the problem. But consider this statistic: 40% of marketers have trouble demonstrating the ROI of their marketing activities. If you’re depending on a marketing strategy that you can’t track, how can you possibly increase leads, drive more traffic to your website, and sign more customers up for memberships?

The problem in a nutshell is this: With direct mail marketing, you pay more for less. You’re paying for deliverables, not results, and that means you can’t capitalize on changing consumer needs and values as quickly or accurately as you can with digital marketing. For example:

  • Direct mail leads can’t be accurately tracked. Therefore, you can’t glean or act on the deep insights we’re able to capture with digital campaigns.
  • Consumers are less interested in traditional mailers. Most designate them as junk mail and immediately throw them in the trash. There might be one premium print piece that stands out amid the thirty other promotional mailers in a person’s mailbox, and even then it doesn’t necessarily increase ROI.
  • Direct mail campaign expenses include mailing lists, printing, and distribution costs that can quickly add up to $4/unit up to $10/unit—and you pay the same for all of them regardless of their conversion. Digital Facebook ads, by contrast, cost between $0.75 and $2/unit on average and you only pay more for activities that generate higher quality leads.
  • Direct mail has a smaller potential reach than digital marketing campaigns.
  • You can’t make last-minute changes or modifications to your offers once the product has been printed.

Convinced? Now, don’t go ditching your direct mail campaign just yet. First, you need a viable plan to reduce direct mail to an appropriate level. And that’s what we’re going to talk about next.

WHAT Digital Marketing Strategies will Outperform Your Direct Mail Campaigns?

Let’s be clear, not all digital marketing programs are created equal. You probably already understand that digital marketing is becoming increasingly more effective in attracting new contacts and converting leads, but what’s going to drive real results for a fitness business?

WindFarm's digital marketing program for fitness, which we’ve been executing and refining since 2011, integrates two key digital marketing strategies—the cornerstone to success for Gold’s Gym SoCal: Inbound Marketing that provides long-term, sustainable online growth and Social Media Marketing that accelerates the results of Inbound via targeted social advertising.

Our fitness marketing program focuses on driving results in four key digital marketing activities:

  • Traffic Generation via effective keyword research, blogging, PPC, and social media sharing.

  • Fan Follower Generation via targeted page like ads and shareable content that engages prospects and members.
  • Lead Generation via compelling offers, landing pages, and forms.

  • Member Generation via lead nurturing campaigns using email, automated workflows, and social media engagement to prepare, educate, inform, and guide key prospects at the top and middle of the funnel toward becoming members.
  • Member Engagement & Retention via member segmented nurturing campaigns using email, automated workflows, and social media to engage and up-sell members with educational content and compelling offer campaigns.

The primary objective of any successful digital marketing program is to deliver the right content, promotion, or offer in the right place, to the right person, at just the right time. And targeting your buyer personas in every phase of the buyer’s journey is where you need to start. If you want to dig deeper into the specifics of inbound methodology, download our Beginner’s Guide to Inbound Marketing.

As you develop and apply these proven digital marketing strategies, you’ve got to effectively scale growth and plan how to transition from direct mail in a way that will produce more memberships and increase ROI.

HOW Do You Balance Digital Marketing and Direct Mail to Maximize ROI and Increase Memberships?

So, it’s not necessarily a good idea to completely ditch your direct mail campaign(s). Direct mail is still valuable for supporting your local brand recall. However, in order to maximize your marketing budget across all channels to drive the greatest results with lead volume, ROI and new memberships, digital marketing needs to be your primary marketing strategy.

But how do you trim down direct mail without losing your current momentum with lead volume and new memberships? Here’s how we helped Gold’s Gym SoCal do it:

1. Invest in Building a Robust Digital-Inbound Marketing Program and a Connected Technology Platform

Partner with an experienced digital marketing agency who has demonstrated results in the fitness industry and if you don’t have marketing automation software that will seamlessly integrate with your gym management software (e.g. ABC Financial) and CRM (e.g. ClubOS, GymSales), get one now.

The right digital marketing strategy and a connected technology platform go together like nutrition and exercise in order to deliver results. By combining strategy and technology, website pages and integrations can move leads quickly and seamlessly through the member’s journey on the back end and deliver properly qualified leads to the sales team quickly, increasing membership conversion rates dramatically.

Lastly, it provides you with critical benchmarking data that then track results in real-time. Why does this matter? This data provides deep insights and actionable takeaways that you can use to continually hone your fitness marketing strategy to drive better results and re-invest your marketing budget to increase ROI.

2. Drive Results with your Digital Marketing Program

An appropriate Digital Marketing strategy, executed properly, yields greater ROI on its own than Direct Mail. But before you go trimming your direct mail, make sure you are driving new membership results from your digital strategy first.

Your marketing strategy involves testing and adjusting to see what results in the greatest number of conversions at the lowest cost. The ability to make these quick adjustments is why having an agile digital marketing agency in your corner is so important.

Targeted social media strategy is a part of your overall digital strategy that can help boost community growth, helping drive traffic and leading to increased conversions and greater ROI.

3. Trim Down Direct Mail in Phases

Rather than shift all of the budget away from direct mail right away, move toward the shift in phases. To begin with, you can take some of your direct mail budget to apply to getting your digital marketing strategy off the ground.

As you achieve increasing revenue from digital marketing, start reducing direct mail accordingly… 50/50… 60/40… 80/20…and so on. As you transition your fitness marketing budget to be heavier digital versus traditional, your ROI will begin to increase. Eventually you may decide to move away from your direct mail campaigns altogether!

In short, building trust in your brand digitally takes time. So, start by building a solid foundation online, expand your influence and reach beyond your current audience to drive leads and new memberships, and then gradually reduce your direct mail campaigns.

Transitioning into a Digital Marketing Program isn’t going to be a sprint, but it’s not going to be a marathon, either. Think of the duration as a 10k run. You not only have to go the distance, but you also have to find the right cadence and intensity or you’ll never make it to the finish line. How long will this take? Plan on a 12-24 month process. But the results will be worth it. For example:

Gold’s Gym SoCal Results in the First 18 Months

  • Quadrupled overall leads each month
  • Increased gym memberships by 61%
  • Saved $50,000 in direct mail costs in the first month of testing phase out

And we can help you do it too.

Do you have the courage to invest in digital marketing and reduce your direct mail campaigns? Wondering how to put a digital marketing strategy in place? Give us a call and find out what digital marketing can do for you!

Inbound Marketing


Josh is the founder and CEO of WindFarm. Josh enjoys helping brands navigate the transition from traditional to new media and preparing their organization for digital-social marketing lead generation and success.