Imagine a builder who has virtually every power tool at his fingertips. That’s how the new breed of marketing software will make you feel. Here are some tips for getting the most from your power tools.
• Understand that your Web site is more than an information outpost—it’s your marketing engine. In the “old days,” clubs had more demand for memberships, rounds, events and other services than they had supply. “That’s no longer true,” says one software expert. While 75 percent of the 500 clubs that use his company’s software currently operate under a “self-managed model” in which they do their own maintenance and updating, he actually sees the trend moving in the opposite direction. Nine out of every 10 contracts his company has signed recently have been for “managed services.”
“Clubs have to really understand how messaging and spam filtering works, and they have to be able to analyze the results of their campaigns,” he says. “There is a lot of expertise required to optimize your communications. Clubs recognize that if we can save one member from leaving, attract one new member to the club, or drive increased participation in events, they will have paid for our services five times over.”
• Use “Paul Harvey e-mails.” One of the key impediments in Web-based marketing is that people tend to forget their passwords. One industry marketing expert suggests sending members a series of “Paul Harvey e-mails”—named for the radio host famous for telling listeners “the rest of the story.” These e-mails pique your members’ interest by telling them part of a story, and then linking them back to your Web site—where they have to sign in—for the rest of the information. “Do that three or four times and they remember their password,” this expert says.
• Put member statements online. “When we put statements up on the Web site, it doubles traffic overnight,” one software expert says about his clients that have done so. Members are sent an e-mail letting them know their monthly statement is available for viewing (another good way to get members to practice inputting their passwords, too). Some clubs are even allowing members to pay their bill online, though the jury is still out on that tactic. For now, adds another software vendor, “there’s a lot more talk among general managers [about allowing online payments] than there is interest from members to use it.”
• Merchandise your Web site the same way you do the pro shop. Once you determine the traffic patterns in your shop, you want to make sure you put high-ticket, high-margin items along high-traffic corridors so golfers are sure to see them. Take the same approach with your Web site. If there are announcements or promotions you want everybody to see, make sure they’re on the most frequently visited pages of your site—typically the member landing page. Maybe your members didn’t know they could get a massage at the club, or that you’ve started a new fitness program. Promoting new programming on your site can make everybody a winner.
• Speaking of the pro shop, set yours up online. No, you don’t have to load thousands of items into your Web site. One expert suggests that clubs can generate an extra $5,000 per month in revenue by offering just a couple of items—gift cards, gift packages (bundle a shirt, hat and towel)—and the ability to pay online. While this expert suggests offering only items that are unique to your club (i.e., items with your logo on them), there are other schools of thought on this. “We don’t do any search engine optimization, but if I Google ‘Burberry Golf,’ we often pop up because of the selection of Burberry items we have on our Web site,” says Erika Johnson, Membership Director at Redstone Golf Club in Houston. “We sell a huge amount of Burberry Golf clothing. If people can shop in their pajamas, it’s more convenient for them.”
• A picture is worth 1,000 words. People who don’t have the time or inclination to read two paragraphs will drop whatever they’re doing to look at a captivating photo. Want to generate some traffic to your Web site? Upload a bunch of photos from last Tuesday’s luau and send members an e-mail to let them know they’ve been posted to the site. “People love to see themselves in photos,” says one software expert. Something new happening at your club? Keep members posted on the progress through photos. Cimarron Hills in Georgetown, TX, will open its gorgeous new 46,000 sq. ft. clubhouse and spa on December 1, but Director of Marketing Kasie Noble is already generating excitement for the opening by sending out regular construction updates to both members and prospects—a backhoe digging the foundation, pouring concrete, framing and trusses, rock being laid and so on. It’s exciting—and alluring—for members and prospects to see their club rising up from the ground.
• Close the loop. The e-mail you send with a link to photos of last Tuesday’s luau should read something like this: “Had a great time at the luau, click here to see the photos, and by the way, don’t miss out on our red wine dinner coming up next month. Click here to see the menu and wine pairings and register.” Jump start reservations for the next luau by sending an advance invitation to those who attended the last one.
• Make them want more. One expert estimates that prospects will spend an average of eight seconds on your Web site, so you have to grab visitors from the get-go. Do it with compelling text and photos that make them want to take the next step—filling out a form, calling your toll-free number. Follow that up with an automatically generated letter or e-mail that provides all the information that prospect will need to make a decision, and make sure a copy of that letter gets into the hands of someone from your staff who will follow up promptly.
• Build a brand identity. Most of the new breed of marketing software tools make it easy for clubs to carry a theme through virtually all of your communications—Web site, calendar of events, e-mails, brochures and flyers, etc. Creating a brand identity helps build awareness and boost response for your club’s events. Savannah Lakes Village has found this to be especially valuable for its non-resident members—those who belong to the club but do not live in the Savannah Lakes Village golf community. “The effort we put into developing the Web site has been invaluable for non-resident members,” says Director of Marketing Kirk Smith, “because they see us as innovative, and we can communicate our core competencies to them. There is an unspoken message that’s communicated to them through the brand identity we’ve created on the Web site.”
• Ask permission. “Always seek permission to communicate with members,” offers one software expert. “Make sure you are compliant with the Can-Spam Act, and provide clear instructions on how to add your club’s e-mails on their ‘safe sender’ list.” He suggests posting these instructions for all major Internet Service Providers, such as AOL, Yahoo and others. “You need to understand where the pain threshold is for the people you’re mailing to,” he adds. “Your communications need to be relevant, targeted and requested. Once you establish the privilege of communicating with them, respect it.”
• Avoid the “ransom note” look. Some clubs yield to the temptation to use every font and every piece of clip art available to build their Web sites and communication pieces. “That could be a turnoff to some members,” says one software marketer. “If the format or d
esign is random or sloppy, that’s when people become disinterested.” With all of the templates and image libraries available to create attractive Web sites and e-mails, clubs have little excuse for having communications that look like ransom notes.
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