By Cathie Ericson
There are some things that most of your clients of any age can probably agree on. For example, burpees are unpleasant yet satisfying, and a playlist that includes Beyoncé can make just about any workout fly by. But you might find that your millennial clients don’t quite understand the elegance of a grapevine maneuver or that your baby boomer–age members are mystified by millennials’ desire to post sweaty selfies.
As much as there has been a generational melding—particularly when it comes to an uptick in fitness as a lifestyle among all demographics—there are still fundamental differences in the generations that can’t be ignored, especially in your marketing.
“I’ve seen fitness professionals make the mistake of failing to identify exactly who their target audience is before diving into their marketing and sales efforts,” says Jennifer Pippin, fitness marketing professional and owner of Pippin Performance in San Diego. “This is incredibly important because there are major differences in how we speak to each generation.”
The solution lies in employing “generational marketing,” which means that you use different marketing communication vehicles to appeal to the overarching characteristics of each generation. In this article, we define a generation as “a cohort of people born within a similar span of time who share a comparable age and life stage and who were shaped by a particular span of time (events, trends and developments)” (Lister 2018).
Of course, no generation is one monolithic group of people who all behave exactly the same way, points out Lindsey Pollak, author of The Remix: How to Lead and Succeed in the Multigenerational Workplace (HarperCollins 2019). However, she adds, “Members of each generation do have traits that differentiate them—a combination of characteristics largely based on the circumstances in which each cohort came of age.”
In addition, different generations have unique preferences and interests that you can use to your advantage when trying to reach them, so why not incorporate those into your fitness marketing? Get started by recognizing the main characteristics of each generation, along with the suggested strategies for marketing to them.
QUICK GUIDE TO MULTIGENERATIONAL FITNESS MARKETING
Many of these strategies appeal to all age groups when you add text and images appropriate for each generation.
|Millennials (ages 23–38 in 2019)||• Encourage clients to post images and reviews on social media.
• Make the studio or gym a pleasing backdrop for selfies.
• Use your social media to share reviews and tag clients.
• Publicize your support of causes and charities.
|Generation X (ages 39–54 in 2019)||• Build a detailed, informative website.
• Focus on specific benefits; avoid sales pitches.
• Offer sample sessions or experienced workout buddies.
• Shoot videos and post them online.
• Develop a robust social media presence.
|Baby Boomers (ages 55–73 in 2019)||• Maintain an active website and social media presence.
• Use images that show people in the boomer age group.
• Offer several sample sessions.
• Employ instructors and trainers in 40+ age groups.
MILLENNIALS (BORN 1981–1996, AGES 23–38)
According to Pollak, millennials often show these characteristics:
How can fitness professionals market to millennials?
1. CREATE AN EXPERIENCE
An overwhelming 78% of millennials would prefer to spend money on “experiences” over “things,” finds an Eventbrite poll (2014). That’s one of the reasons they’re drawn to new fitness adventures, which feed their desire for the unique. In fact, Club Industry’s report Trends That Will Affect the Fitness Industry in 2019 credits millennials’ interest in specialized fitness experiences “that offer variety and energy and that feed into their sense of adventure” and their “tribe mentality” for the continued growth of boutique fitness studios (Dobbs 2019).
To capitalize on this trend, fitness professionals should go the extra mile to make a class or a workout session feel “share-worthy.” Already this generation is known for its love of social media—and, of course, the requisite selfie—so encourage them to snap away to share their #fitspo Instagram inspiration with their audiences. You might rearrange your studio to add a fun, everchanging backdrop for their pics, or create a leaderboard with their stats, which they can easily pass on to their audience. Or, sponsor a contest that rewards clients who tag and share by entering them in a drawing for a free session or branded merchandise.
2. REALIZE THE VALUE OF WORD OF MOUTH
Millennials tend to buy and decide collectively, says Pippin. One report stated that three-quarters of millennials had made a recommendation in the past month and that millennials are 50% more likely than other groups to recommend a service (Teague 2019). Since your loyal clients respect their peers’ opinions, encourage them to post online reviews in all the places they hang out, such as Yelp, Google, Facebook and Yahoo, she suggests. Sometimes all it takes to spur participation is sending a text or posting a sign asking members to post a positive review.
Then, use those reviews in your digital marketing by sharing them on your social media channels; you could even tag clients who took the time to write a review and give them a shout-out for the way they motivate their peers through their hard work putting in the reps in your class. By encouraging them to share their positive opinions, you create an organic cadre of influencers.
3. PROMOTE YOUR VALUES
Being a good citizen is no longer a value-add; it’s an imperative. In fact, an overwhelming 81% of millennials expect companies to be good corporate citizens—and to be vocal about it (Bolden-Barrett 2017). Whether you incorporate a “green” ethos into your fitness facility or support a cause your members care about, focus on sharing your story publicly.
For example, offer a weekly “green” workout tip, such as suggesting the use of refillable water bottles or encouraging members to pedal or walk to the gym for a fitness boost. Or, host a workout-related charity event that raises money for a cause that resonates with you and your membership. Of course, an important byproduct will be the opportunities that these activities create for social media sharing.
GENERATION X (BORN 1965–1980, AGES 39–54)
Pollak names these characteristics as common to Generation X:
- tech pioneers
These marketing ideas should appeal to Gen Xers:
1. PROVIDE A LOT OF BACKGROUND
“Gen Xers are self-informed and liable to do comprehensive research online before making a purchase, from checking out images to comparing prices,” notes Pippin. Indulge this thirst for information by creating a website that answers all their questions: details on classes, updated nutrition and exercise news, biographies of your staff, and more.
And create a robust social media presence on the channels where Gen Xers are likely to congregate—from Facebook to Instagram to LinkedIn, which can underscore your professional credentials.
2. HAVE A KNOWLEDGEABLE SALESPERSON WHO CAN ANSWER QUESTIONS
Even though the people in Generation X are background-seekers, Pippin finds they are also less receptive to sales than other generations. That means that your staff should focus on helping them see the benefits of seeking a membership or attending a class, rather than just selling to them.
To help assuage any concerns they might have, offer sample classes or pair them with a more seasoned workout buddy who can walk them through the first few classes so they feel more confident. After they’ve visited a few times, follow up to answer questions or find out other ways you can support their experiences.
3. RECOGNIZE THE POWER OF VIDEO
While we often think of younger generations as those who prefer video, it’s actually a great mode for reaching Generation X, says Pippin, citing a study which found that three-quarters of Gen Xers stream or download video each month, making it a popular way to reach them (Koch 2018).
Whether by starting a YouTube channel or posting short snippets on social media, fitness pros can make videos of classes in action or walk viewers through a workout so they can see each move before trying it themselves.
QUICK TIP: PAID SOCIAL ADS
Are you allocating a part of your marketing budget to social media advertising? Paid social works, and targeting your preferred demographic may be more effective once you’ve identified the best platform for your needs. Make sure the one you choose is used by your target audience—perhaps don’t market to baby boomers on Snapchat, for example—and make sure you’re consistent with your campaign. Strategies for paid social are getting more sophisticated and effective; in fact, 57% of millennials and 41% of Gen Xers say that social media ads seem more relevant and “don’t feel like ads” (Standberry 2018).
BABY BOOMERS (BORN 1946–1964, AGES 55–73)
Pollak (2019) describes these common boomer characteristics:
- “forever young”
Consider these approaches when planning your marketing:
1. SPEAK THEIR LANGUAGE
Make no mistake: Boomers are just as interested in fitness as any other demographic; in fact, the number of gym members ages 55 or older soared from 8.5 million in 2006 to 13.5 million in 2016, finds the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA 2018). “Baby boomers are typically in ‘maintenance mode,’ trying to stay active and healthy,” notes Pippin.
You may be surprised that the channels you are using with other generations work for this cohort too: Most boomers embrace social media—68% and 65% are active on YouTube and Facebook, respectively (Clement 2018). But make sure that the language and images you use in your marketing don’t inadvertently discount them as a viable audience, advises Pippin. “A marketing message like ‘crush your goals and take your fitness to the next level’ isn’t likely to resonate as well with a boomer as with a millennial,” she says. The same point applies to images: A boomer might assume that a specific class or club isn’t for them if your social media channels exclusively share pictures of younger clients.
2. NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THEM
While it’s important to be inclusive of boomers in your outreach efforts, avoid mistakenly putting them off by using outdated imagery. That’s because most boomers don’t think of themselves as “old,” and they will rebel against portrayals that play into stereotypes of slowing down.
And while there’s no question they are interested in managing their fitness, they also have both time and money available to invest—a whopping 70% of the country’s disposable income (USNWR 2015).
3. ENCOURAGE TRIAL MEMBERSHIPS
Boomers aren’t typically impulse buyers, says Pippin, so they are going to conduct plentiful research before they buy. And while many might have aggressive fitness goals, they also are aware of their limitations and therefore might question whether a certain class or regimen skews too young. For that reason, it’s wise to encourage them to try various classes before they commit to a program or a membership.
And don’t overlook the importance of having a broad range of instructors and trainers to appeal to this group. Often, boomers feel more comfortable training with someone who understands their unique needs and is willing to take the time to find the functional exercises that are best for their particular life stage.
TARGETING YOUR MARKETING IS WELL WORTHWHILE
The great news is that the interest in fitness services spans age groups, indicating that your potential clientele is practically limitless. And whether you want to focus specifically on one demographic or make all potential members feel welcome, it’s wise to spend time addressing different audiences at different times. For example, implement a holistic social media strategy, but use a variety of ages in your imagery.
“Understanding who your audience is before reaching out with different advertising methods will save fitness professionals time and money and set them up to attract the customers they’re looking for,” Pippin says.