How to Maximize Guerilla Marketing to Drive New Clients to Your Gym

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How to Maximize Guerilla Marketing to Drive New Clients to Your Gym

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Have your paid ads been converting fewer and fewer customers lately? If so, you're in good company. As fitness industry coaches, we regularly listen as studio owners lament their lack of success with paid ads over the last year. Or they find that their ads are delivered, but the customers that click on the ads don't necessarily convert. Are customers tired of paid advertisements? That's a savvy place to start, as 78 percent of surveyed adults think there are too many ads. If your target demographic is Millennials, that percentage increases to 84 percent. Finally, to add to the confusion, a study referenced by Harvard Business Review found that search ad effectiveness was overstated by 4,000 percent on Facebook. That means that while your reports may appear successful on paper, the margin of error could drastically alter your actual engagement figures. All this goes to show that while paid and boosted posts were a relatively safe bet a few years ago, we've seen an industry shift back to guerilla marketing and creative marketing campaigns. Should you throw out your digital marketing strategy? Not if your ads deliver tangible sales and clients- especially if you use a brand manager who knows the ropes, but it shouldn't be your entire marketing strategy. Let's look at effective alternative marketing techniques that are becoming more mainstream.

What is Guerilla Marketing? 

The term first was introduced to the marketing scene in the 1980s and, although marketing looks vastly different now, it still features many of the same elements now as it did initially. It's based on the definition of guerilla warfare, in which non-tactical or civilian armies take on a larger force through creative or low-budget strategies. Sounds scary, but in this case, the non-tactical army is your fitness studio, and the larger force is the giants in the industry who have marketing budgets the size of the average local studio's entire annual revenue. The main ideas behind guerilla marketing are unconventional, inventive, and low-cost advertisements that get noticed. Often, they engage their ideal target customer in creative ways and land because of their whimsical, imaginative nature. If you've ever taken a picture of a funny or remarkable ad and sent it to a friend, that was likely a successful guerilla campaign. 

Why should you try them?

Your potential customer is bombarded with marketing and tired of it-especially if they are under 40. If you can get them to look twice and engage with your brand, you've already won half the battle. Better yet, guerilla marketing is usually less expensive than traditional print and digital ads, so your risk is smaller. This marketing style is generally centered around product or brand awareness rather than conversions or clicks. However, executed correctly, a successful guerilla campaign will make sure your studio is front of mind when the customer thinks about your modality. Better yet, it may even send the customer to your social media page or website where they can purchase.

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Before you Guerilla

Although this is the fun, whimsical cousin of traditional marketing, it still requires a strategy and a plan. Start with your goal and analysis, as always. 

Decide - are you:

  • Trying to raise brand awareness in general
  • Let the public know about an upcoming event
  • Reach new leads to market your intro offer
  • Something else that needs a dedicated plan

Each of those goals will require a different approach, but they'll all start with a customer analysis. 

First, consider where your target customer hangs out. There's no point in hosting a flashmob in the mall if your ideal client hasn't set foot in a mall in five years. Grab a notebook and write down anywhere you see your clients hanging out - stream of consciousness style. Although we're not talking specifically about paid ads, social media isn't exempt from this list. An excellent example of guerilla marketing online is the fast-food dueling Twitter accounts. Once you complete your "what" (the goal) and "where" (your clients can be found) lists, you can move on to "how."

Next, determine what your client is most likely to engage with. Are you aiming to make her stop and laugh? Catch his attention, so he pulls his phone out to screenshot? Reshare it on their own social media? You'll also want to consider your brand's personality. If you're a serious yoga studio, slapstick humor will likely feel unnatural or forced, so consider your brand's tone as well as your audience's perception of you. Your marketing voice and your mission statement should align. 


Before we get into examples, here are some reminders to keep in mind. 

  1. It's important to note that aside from low cost both creativity and innovation are cornerstones of a successful guerilla campaign. Take inspiration from anything on this list, but make it your own so that you give your campaign the best possible chance to get noticed. This flyer technique for a dance studio is eye-catching, but if every dance studio creates the same one, we're back to where we started. 
  1. Guerilla marketing is often thought of as an "ask forgiveness rather than permission" marketing style. Temporary signage or spray painted sidewalks may seem like a good idea until you receive a bill from the city for vandalism. Before you go guerilla, decide where your personal risk-benefit threshold lies and consider calling your city planning office to check before you go wild. 

Guerilla Styles:

According to the guerilla marketing company Alt Terrain, there are four main categories that your guerilla campaign will fall into.

  1. Street Guerilla Marketing- Campaigns that add to the existing environment (sidewalks, walls, statues, etc.) to build brand awareness. Like putting removable artwork on the sidewalk.
  2. Indoor Guerilla Marketing- marketing that takes place inside a private location that is publicly accessible- e.g., a flashmob in the mall or a large pop-up sign inside a bus station.
  3. Ambush Guerilla Marketing- leveraging an existing event - like a concert or football stadium - to raise brand awareness without prior permission. The Golden Globes Fiji girl is a perfect example of this
  4. Experiential Guerilla Marketing- any of the above but with public engagement or interaction. Perhaps the most well-known guerilla stunt is the Volkswagen subway stairs campaign. 

Examples in the boutique fitness industry

Street Marketing: 

  • Draw yoga/fitness poses in chalk with a poster encouraging passersby to try them out and repost to win $50.
  • Leave branded cardboard cutouts in various tricky poses (think Tree Pose or Birds of Paradise) all over a local park or farmer's market with a QR code to your studio.
  • Draw jump squat feet silhouettes on a sidewalk leading to your door with a similar poster as idea 1 (like hopscotch) 
  • Leave something oversized on a public trail (and heavy, so it doesn't walk away) with a sign that says "if you can't reach this, you should try pilates" with your logo.

Indoor/Outdoor Guerilla:

  • Studio signs that look like yoga mats or 6-pack abs like these.
  • Unusual A-Frames in a yoga/ fitness pose.
  • Sun salutations or barre class demo pop-ups.
  • Hand weight-shaped (or yoga mat/pilates ball etc.) business cards tucked under car's windshield wipers where your ideal client hangs out.
  • Turn a handrail or horizontal trim into a workout barre.

Ambush Marketing:

  • Recruit friends/clients to wear extremely obvious (and attention-grabbing) workout apparel to a nearby event.
  •  Outdoor fitness class at a farmer's market or nearby outdoor event (be prepared with a permit or risk the consequences for this one!)
  • Hand out "this way to the studio" branded bags at the farmer's market.

Experiential Marketing:

  • Plank contest on the sidewalk and grab passersby to compete.
  • Chalk art that looks like weights for bystanders to pretend to lift.
  • Invite walk-by traffic to participate in a quick demonstration (be prepared to bribe with a free class card).
  •  Juice tasting or spa-water table to bring people to a table on a hot day (check outdoor permit requirements).

How do you measure your success?

Like most advertising, it can feel like you're throwing money out into the world and crossing your fingers if you don't know how to track and define your success. Remember, you can tell the viewers what you want them to do, i.e., post a story attempting the plank challenge on their Instagram stories. Based on the goal you chose before your campaign, you'll want to consider the following:

  • Social media shares- is your business being tagged more, or are viewers posting your ad to their social media? 
  • User engagement- if it's an experiential ad, are users trying it out and participating? If you're teaching a pop-up demonstration, this will be obvious, but if you have chalk art in the park, grab a seat nearby and gauge the reaction for a while. 
  • Sales- this one is pretty self-explanatory, but don't forget to ask, "how did you hear about us?" when someone new comes in. 
  • Brand recall- It's a bit harder to measure. Brand recall is when someone decides it's time to work out, and your studio pops to their mind first. Although it's trickier to quantify, it's key to your long-term success.

What happens if it flops?

People are often worried about guerilla marketing because of the risk of looking silly or spending their money on an unsuccessful campaign. What would you do if your Facebook ad failed? Would you close up shop and hide your face? Probably not. As you experiment with guerilla marketing, you're bound to learn your voice and what resonates with customers, just like you do for any marketing. Be easy on yourself and give yourself some room to be creative. If even one client comes in from your "failed" marketing attempt, it's a win. Optimize your marketing efforts for your goals, think outside the Facebook ad, let yourself stand out, and you'll soon see your guerilla campaigns create a buzz. 

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About the author:

Niki Riga
Industry Expert
Limitless Studio

Niki has been a client, a studio owner, and a coach in boutique fitness for over a decade, and she can’t think of an industry she'd rather be in. Her favorite part about coaching and studio ownership are the same: she loves supporting clients as they push past their limits and achieve their goals. Niki became a coach because she was regularly asked, “how did you do that!?” by other studio owners who were drowning in the day-to-day responsibilities of business ownership but didn’t have the support to grow their studio to its potential. She created Limitless Studio to partner with owners who have a vision for their business and are ready to implement systems to build the studio of their dreams.