Summing It Up
• Studying the response from e-mail blasts helps to identify trends that can make future sales efforts more effective.
For additional inspiration, look no further than the Web sites for the facilities mentioned in this article:
Welcome to the brave new world of club membership marketing, where sophisticated Web-based marketing tools can now let clubs embrace an environment of “high-touch” sales and customer service. Used effectively, these tools can help drive increased revenues through a more productive sales effort—for both membership and, increasingly, real estate—and generate higher levels of member participation in club activities and events.
As with any powerful tool, however, there is always the potential for abuse and misuse. Based on input from club marketing and membership pros, as well as software experts, here are “10 Commandments of Database Marketing” that should be followed to make it safely to the promised land.
I Thou shalt not allow garbage into your database.
This is the first commandment not only because it is the most important, but also because it may be the most difficult to keep. The biggest battle is often making sure that good information goes into the system. While it’s sometimes difficult to rebuff salespeople who want direct access to a database, a good practice is to always try to funnel leads through one person. A system will work best when there’s consistent and accurate data entry, and this will also help to automate the critical follow-up process.
II Thou shalt update the database regularly.
Even when you take great care to accurately enter member and prospect information into a database, keeping up with all the changes can still seem like a full-time job. People move, phone numbers and e-mail addresses change—there are a million ways your database can become corrupted.
“You may do a campaign that’s nearly perfect, then two months later that very same list will not be as efficient,” says one marketing software expert.
Marketers have several methods at their disposal for giving members and prospects the opportunity to update contact information. First, use the “bouncebacks” from e-mail campaigns—those e-mails that are not delivered because of a bad address—and either telephone or send a form to members via “snail mail” to get updates or corrections. Conducting an annual member survey is also a good way to keep contact information fresh. This tactic has the added bonus of providing an opportunity to gather additional information about members. But that brings us to…
III Thou shalt not try to collect huge amounts of database information all at one time.
A member survey may offer you some latitude to ask additional questions about your members’ interests, but you still need to show restraint if you want a good response. Rather than ask 100 questions all at one time, send shorter, more frequent surveys of three or four, perhaps grouped around a theme. “Collecting data is like a stalactite,” says one expert. “You collect a little bit at a time, and it grows over months and months.”
|Many golfers don’t realize that Redstone Golf Club—home of the Shell Houston Open—is open to the public. The club developed an aggressive 2006 ad campaign to change that perception.|
IV Thou shalt build groups within your database.
Aside from keeping your database squeaky clean, segmenting it into groups—by sales agent, lead source or event (such as a concert, wine tasting or member/guest tournament)—in addition to basic criteria such as last name, gender, date of birth, city or state, or the last date they played golf, can create high value for club marketers.
“These mini-databases can be used to target specific marketing needs you might have,” says one software expert. “It’s not advertising—it’s getting in touch with the right people at the right time.”
Setting up these groups is not only important because it will help you market specific events to those who are most interested in them—it will also help you from breaking the fifth commandment…
V Thou shalt not burn out your list.
The reporting features in many software tools usually indicate when you’re nearing “list fatigue.” For example, if you send out 500 more e-mails than usual one month, and your response rate is lower than normal, that’s a pretty good sign you need to back off or begin to segment the database.
“We’re sending out e-mails only for the things we need to push,” says Kirk Smith, Director of Marketing for Savannah Lakes Village & Golf Club, a 400-acre community on Lake Thurmond, 45 minutes north of Augusta, Ga. “We’re not sending a message every time the bridge club gets together, or for every tournament. We use [the system] to promote our signature events, where having a sellout is imperative for us. That’s where it will help the most.”
VI Thou shalt use your marketing software to keep score.
No, not your golf score, but the metrics that build your prospect e-mail database. One industry expert recommends calculating what percentage of your prospects you can reach by e-mail, and then noting that number at each week’s sales meeting. “Keep score, and people will begin to generate ideas to capture e-mail addresses,” he says. The ability to track almost any metric in real time is one of the big advantages offered by the new breed of Web-based software tools.
Of course, the “score” that counts the most is the bottom line: the number of new members you add, home sites sold, event revenues increased—whatever metric you are evaluated on.
VIIThou shalt integrate marketing software with other systems.
Clubs today are differentiating themselves with high levels of customer service. Software tools can help provid
e this—and make it look easy. By asking questions on surveys, such as “What’s your favorite drink?”, marketing software can be integrated with F&B to improve dining service. For example, servers can access the survey results and be ready to say to the customer, “Good evening, Mr. Edwards. Can I bring you a bottle of Miller Lite?” Little touches like that count for a lot with your members.
At Savannah Lakes Village, new marketing software is being integrated into the club’s new POS system, which will allow club members to make dining or event reservations online—and relieve the club from having someone track them on the back end. “The system updates the reservations in real time, so we can see exactly how much space we have left for an event,” says Smith. When reservations are slow to come in—as they were for a recent “Foods of the World” event—the club can quickly generate an e-mail promotion to try and fill the tables.
|Erika Johnson, Membership Director, Redstone GC|
VIII Thou shalt link advertising to your Web site.
It may seem obvious, but linking an ad campaign to a well-designed Web site can help you build leads and sales in virtually every area of the club.
“We have experienced some marketplace confusion about whether we are public or private,” says Erika Johnson, Membership Director at Redstone Golf Club—home of the Shell Houston Open. “The public doesn’t think they can play here, but they also don’t know that we offer private club membership.”
Redstone resolved to clear up the confusion with an aggressive 2006 ad campaign featuring TV, print and billboard ads featuring such clever tag lines as, “You and Your Buddies Open” and “Open to the Public. And the PGA Tour.” Every ad drives people to Redstone’s Web site, which was redesigned to coincide with the ad campaign. Johnson says the campaign helped Redstone have a “strong spring,” with significant increases in rounds played and tournaments hosted.
Using the Web site in this way allows prospects to gather information about the club on their own time and on their own terms. And the quality of the leads that come from the site’s response form are excellent. “We get about 10 leads a week from the site, and I find that the closing ratio is better on those [than from other sources],” Johnson reports.
IX Thou shalt be diligent about maintenance.
Keeping your Web site fresh and up-to-date is almost more daunting than designing and setting it up in the first place. Most vendors will maintain and update your Web site for you, at varying levels of cost. Many of the newer software tools, however, are very intuitive and easy to use. “One of the things I like most about the software we use for our site is the user interface,” says Savannah Lakes’ Kirk Smith. “I can edit or update any page, and I can do it from my home computer at 3 in the morning if I want to. And you don’t have to be a computer genius or an IT professional.”
|Kirk Smith, Director of Marketing, Savannah Lakes Village & GC|
X Thou shalt use templates.
Time-saving software tools, such as templates and image libraries, allow clubs to take on more of the responsibility for communications and Web site maintenance. These tools are big savers of time and effort. “When we first developed our newsletter, it took us four hours to customize one of the templates with our own graphics and create an identity for it,” says Smith. “But now when we want to send one, we pop in new text and photos, and we’re ready to rock ’n’ roll in just a few minutes.”
Redstone’s Erika Johnson appreciates having membership directory templates that can be updated quickly and easily, as often as needed. “It’s convenient for members and for us,” she says, “and the electronic files have helped us keep printing costs down. If we had to print [a member directory], we wouldn’t have one.”
The 11th Commandment?
That leads us to the 11th and most universal of all commandments for club marketers: Thou shalt justify your investment. Some clubs, like Redstone, accomplish this primarily through the cost savings and efficiency associated with electronic vs. printed communications. “If your participation is increasing, and you’re not spending time or money to print, mail and track communications, that’s got to be a good thing,” says Johnson.
Power Tools for Marketers
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] th
• 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 design 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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