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Co-marketing in fitness centres, what it is and how it works

Among the marketing activities that a fitness centre can implement to develop its business, co-marketing is probably among the most useful and less invasive both in terms of budget and working time. Recent developments in the fitness economy have in fact forced many players in the market to find ways to bring forward their business through different economic levers. But what is co-marketing? How does co-marketing work specifically for the fitness centre? What is the difference between co-marketing and sponsorship? When should this be done and when should other marketing levers be used?

Etymology and definition of co-marketing

Thinking about the etymology from which this term originates, everything becomes simpler and more contextual: cooperative marketing (co-marketing, marketing partnership  or co-branding) defines a collaboration between actors (individuals, enterprises, etc..) in the form of an investment agreement (not necessarily economic) on one or more marketing variables managed with the collaboration itself.
Co-marketing includes collaborative activities with the aim of obtaining benefits in the approach to one's own reference market by using marketing initiatives of a different type [...].

Initiatives can be limited in time and in this case they can be defined as tactical actions, but they can also foresee developments over time because they have decisive effects on the partners' core business and its long-term strategy. In this case, they can be defined as strategic operations".

The substantial difference between these forms of marketing and sponsorships or sponsorships, in turn very well known in the world of sport (more than 60% of investments take this form) and also in development in the fitness, is linked to the bi-directionality of the former compared to the others: sponsorship is considered as a business agreement between two parties. The sponsor provides money, products, services or know-how and in return, the sponsored party (individual, event or organization) offers rights, evidence and visibility that the sponsor uses commercially. One party gets the investment, the other party gets the marketing and promotion.

Some questions to asks

Let's assume to operate as a multifunctional fitness centre in an area of the province, in a context of competitive freedom, with a communication infrastructure that includes social media, blog articles, a direct marketing plan on the database, the organization of one-off territorial events for promotion and / or demonstration. In this case, the search for collaborations must aim to identify an added value for the public shared or shared with another brand:

  • Do we target the same audience or can the businesses partially improve each other's territoriality?
  • Are the consumers/users/customers of the potential partner in line with those in our database and can they potentially help to increase the numbers?
  • Are consumers/users/customers useful to make our service known but are they not yet part of our reachable database?
  • Will the brand / service proposed, if combined with the service of the fitness centre, be consistent in perceived value or will our benefit in terms of awareness and recognised authority?

The 4 criteria for choosing a co-marketing partner

For this reason, it is essential to choose the product categories well, to prepare the list of "actions" first that can be implemented, recalling some fundamental principles:

  1. 1. It is always necessary to remember that this is an investment by all the parties involved, which are not just two. It invests our centre (and our resources), it invests the shop with its own, it invests its reciprocal histories and territorial reputation, it invests in the relationship with the consumer, who, in any case, must always be at the centre of everything, and must enjoy concrete advantages to justify active participation;
  2. 2. Strategies do not always correspond to operations: it is necessary to draw up a paper of the experience to be created, of the roles of the parties and measure progress from the beginning, so as to take measures on collaboration and not to ruin it over time. Every lasting relationship is born from a test or from a first time: often things don't continue, not for the not goodness of the idea but for the lack of control of the phases of realisation;
  3. 4. The two parties that collaborate do not necessarily have to have the same goal: a fitness centre or a personal studio can aim to increase the number of users, moving from the test of service to the subscription with a goal of acquisition. A brand collaborating with a clothing store which does not manage a database but only wants to get visibility can decide to collaborate but measuring the return in other ways (reaction on social, positive word of mouth).
  4. 4. For this reason, we do not necessarily talk about collaborations on the same media / channels of communication but we can talk about co-marketing at the same level of investment perceived by the parties.
Promotions, exclusive offers and co-marketing are widely used formulas in most product sectors to attract new customers and increase sales. Beyond the canonical periods of summer and winter sales, events dedicated to offerings of products and services at very advantageous conditions are multiplying. Just think of Black Friday or Cyber ​​Monday, two of the events coming from the United States that kick off the unrestrained purchases of Christmas shopping.

Shopping days

Web sales channels have revolutionized sales dynamics thanks to an important reduction in costs for different product categories, including services. For products we think of Amazon, which publishes new daily offers with often with zero shipping costs. For services we can instead think of Booking or Air BnB: two companies with different business models that have the common objective of proposing hotels or private homes at exclusive terms.

The new strategy in fitness centres

In recent years, even the fitness world has adapted to these strategies, generating great successes, but also some unpleasant situations as it often happens with important changes. It is undoubtedly indisputable that the new needs of the consumer need a revolution both in terms of marketing and communication and of commerce. Non-optimal planning, lackluster development and failure to monitor these phases do not allow the wellness operator to take advantage of these powerful, effective and lethal tools.

Extreme couponing

For example, let's think of the boom in purchasing groups a few years ago. I refer to those B2C portals that guaranteed (and still guarantee, but with lower traffic flows) goods and services at extremely convenient prices. An "Annual subscription in a fitness centre at £ 270 instead of £ 650" is a clear example. Assumed the extreme convenience on the part of the purchaser to make the purchase, what assessments should the fitness centre in question make? Bearing in mind that the fees retained by these portals normally range between 42 and 50%, it is clear that the structure makes no profit from using the aforementioned sales channel; indeed, it probably does not even cover living costs.
Should buying groups be pilloried? No, but they should be used very carefully and only in very specific cases, such as with the launch of a new structure, or a particular service that you want to make known, or even the revival of an activity that seems to have lost the vivacity it once had. But it is clear that we are talking about a marketing tool, not a sales channel, which must be used sparingly.
Many will therefore be wondering what other valid channels could be used. I see 2 great macro-categories: the first one includes all those forms of advertising that require an economic contribution. From leaflets to Facebook ADS, from the local daily listing to Google ADW.

A bridging balm

Let’s remember two well-known companies (Kleenex and Ricola) that in April 2017 launched a co-marketing campaign to support KleenexBalsam handkerchiefs.  Revolving around the topic of balsamic, Kleenex found in Ricola, a leading company in the field of balsamic herbal candies, the ideal partner. The mechanics were very simple and immediate: by purchasing a KleenexBalsam package in a Tigotà sales point, the consumer immediately received a pack containing 3 sachets of Ricola candies of different tastes, including the new Ricola Herb-Caramel
It is evident from the example this type of activity brings a huge advantage to both brands that otherwise could not have obtained, if not with higher investments.

Now at least 2 questions become spontaneous: how do you decline this formula in the fitness industry? Could a local reality like a fitness centre ever join nationwide large brands?

Case History: Grandi Salumifici Italiani

I respond to both with the following example: during the summer of 2017 the prestigious Italian company Grandi Salumifici Italiani (henceforth GSI) which launched a mixed competition to encourage sales of its line of healthy products, labeled with the brand "Liberamente - Casa Modena". As in the previous case, this mechanism was also simple and quick to execute: with the purchase of two products in promotion and the upload of both your personal data and the receipt certifying the purchase, you had the right to an entry into a centre fitness of your city or a treatment of your choice in a beauty centre. All free of charge for the end consumer. But it did not end there: the luckiest ones were awarded with a wellness weekend for two people in a location of their choice and five annual passes to a gym.

Wellness as a drive for experiential marketing

This is a classic example in which the two counterparts (large retailers and local companies) create a partnership that brings advantages to both their core businesses. In fact, the large retailer encourages the sale of its products, promising safe gifts and lotteries. The wellness reality instead allows the consumer to live a unique experience, while at the same time making the exclusivity of their service recognized without any marketing expense. Going upstream, we analyze what the roles were in the previous example:

  • GSI: organization of a nationwide campaign on a well-defined target and focused to a healthy lifestyle;
  • Wellness centres: free of charge or favourable conditions for services that characterize their core business.
The common factor outlined above is the opportunity of both parties to concentrate on their core business, avoiding on the one hand (GSI) the need to engage directly with professionals to provide services to customers, and on the other hand (wellness centres) the need to invest money in external communications to attract new users.
Another aspect that allowed the success of this operation was the presence of two intermediate operators, which supported company and centres behind-the-scenes. On the one hand, a communication agency specializing in lottery events designed the mechanics and managed the relations with the Ministry for regulation practices. On the other hand, a structured network involved its own independent structures to guarantee a widespread service throughout the territory with remote assistance, in order to resolve doubts and critical issues of those entitled to the prize.

Unquestionable advantages for fitness centers

The exciting element of the entire process described above is embodied in the fact that each wellness centre had exclusively the task of doing its job: providing wellness services to new users, pampering them and building their loyalty. Nothing more.

It goes without saying that co-marketing brings clear benefits to wellness professionals. The necessary and sufficient condition is that all the actors involved, from the agency to the company, are serious and specialized realities in their sector. Otherwise, even if only one gear did not work well and in synch with the rest of the machine, no one could speak of a successful case.

Yes to co-marketing, with selected partners.

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