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How to Steal Your Competitors’ Members with Online Ads

Actually, no sketchy or underhanded black-hat marketing tactics here — just clever ways to use online advertising tools to your health club’s greatest advantage.

1. Use competitor names as keywords

Include THEIR business name in your search keyword list and you’ll probably catch some traffic that would otherwise have gone to their site.

One underutilized and potentially effective technique is using “Did you mean…” in your AdWords ad copy. That way, when someone searches for “John Doe Chiropractor Miami FL”, they get “Did you mean” followed by “MyChiropracticClinic Miami FL.”

Now, make sure you choose the right competitors. If you’re a small local health club, bidding on a national gym chain’s name in your AdWords campaigns is almost certainly a bad idea, as they can easily outbid you, or worse — you’ll end up outbidding someone with very deep pockets.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Do not include your competitors’ business names, brand names, or other trademarked or copyrighted terms in your actual ads. This can expose you to copyright and trademark infringement lawsuits. Talk to an attorney or a certified AdWords specialist if you have questions.

2. Use former employee names as keywords

If you lose a former employee to a competitor — especially if that employee had a long list of clients or a particularly high-profile — add that employee’s name to your Adwords keyword list. Anyone searching for them will get your ad instead.

You can also use a retargeting campaign that displays ads only to people who have visited your site AND are searching for that former employee on Google.

3. Use competitor’s employee names as keywords

Add high-profile or popular instructors, trainers, doctors or clinicians to your keyword list. It’s another way to increase awareness of your business among people who might not know you exist.

You can use the same tactic if they have programs or classes with nationally or locally well-known names. Just add those names to your keyword list — assuming you have a competitive program, of course!

4. Target your competitor’s geography

For example, if you’re in Plano, TX just north of Dallas and your competitor is in Far North Dallas, set up an ad group that specifically targets searches in Far North Dallas. You’ll increase awareness that you serve that area, and you’ll be able to pick off at least some of the traffic that might have headed their way otherwise.

5. Use review extensions in AdWords

Chances are pretty good that someone somewhere LOVES your fitness club. Whether that’s on Yelp, Google Business, Facebook, Angle’s List, BBB, or another site, AdWords Review Extensions allow you to feature that review in your advertising.

Review extensions can let your customers talk for you. For instance, a customer may say, “Barb’s Kickbox Klub is a small, no-nonsense place totally focused on fitness over flash. Not as big or as shiny as Bigbox Fitness, but they pick up their towels and it’s half the price of Bigbox. Plus the front desk actually knows my name.”

You might not get away with that degree of bluntness, but customers can.

There’s no truth like customer truth, and this lets your customers make the argument against Bigbox.

6. Highlight your credentials

Put a spotlight on your team’s credentials. Even when you have very little space (for instance, PPC banner ads), phrases like “Doctor of Physical Therapy” or “USAT Level 3 Certified Trainer” or “Disordered Eating Expert” communicate worlds of meaning.

You don’t actually have to say that your competitor lacks anything. Simply make sure that your team’s important and specialized experience, expertise, and education is highlighted in your ads. The lack of these special capabilities in your competitor’s ads speaks for itself.

7. Play on doubt about their brand

Use that in your ads, with either a negative or positive spin:

“Stinky Locker Rooms? Never!” or “Sparkling Locker Rooms”.

“Tired of Annual Dues Increases? or “Super-Affordable”.

“Tired of Overpacked Classes?” or “Small, Personal Classes”.

8. Position their specialty as overly narrow

If you’re a full-service spa with three different kinds of massage therapists and they’re a $39 franchise chain, use Google’s AdWords features to spell out your special features.

Use the specific terms that potential customers actually search for. You can get a lot of mileage on search ads with simple phrases such as “Sports Massage – Deep Tissue – Trigger Point – Active Release”, or simply “Full Service Spa” followed by a short list of the most popular services you offer.

Terms with special significance or unique industry meaning can be very helpful here, like “all levels” for a yoga studio or “24-hour card access” or “no judgement” for a gym.

A word of warning — don’t exaggerate your capabilities in your online ads. You’ll  just disappoint the “fish” you catch.

9. Use visual imagery strategically

This is especially true of Facebook ads, and videos specifically.

Is your competitor too far to drive? Not in a safe neighborhood? Too cold, impersonal or judgmental about newbies? A big anonymous gym with high staff and member turnover and poorly maintained equipment? Use images, graphics and custom and stock photos to communicate a positive message about your business while hinting at what’s negative about  your competition.

A video that briefly shows a big red “x” superimposed on a picture of a sterile, empty, overly bright gym stuffed with rows of identical equipment that quickly transitions to wonderful, warm, lingering pictures of your members and staff happily using the gym’s facilities creates the perfect contrast with “the other guy’s club.” It really is worth the proverbial 1000 words!

Ad imagery that includes recognizable local spots is another great way to gently remind folks that you’re a community business, not a one-size-fits-all chain.

Just remember: images, color, and music communicate intangible positives about your brand such as warmth, community, trustworthiness, safety, empowerment, and professionalism. Different imagery can communicate subtly different messages, so it’s worth the extra effort to put your club in your prospects’ hearts, and send your competitors to the dark recesses of their minds.