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Top 12 Advertising Errors By Wellness Businesses

Most health and wellness marketing fails.  It’s a voice in the wilderness, heard by no one. Here’s why your health club, yoga studio and wellness center flyers, brochures and ads don’t work.

1. Feature list

Saw a postcard from a big health club chain.

On the front:

  • “Fitness made easy and fun for everyone — 21 years in the business — 54 clubs in Texas”

On the back:

  • A close-up of a cardio machine’s screen display (huh?) and the phrase “our doors are always open”

This is basically a feature list — 21 years, 54 clubs, always open. And only the 24-hour access might matter to potential members.

Surely this gym had more to offer than the fact that they’ve been around 21 years and have clubs in lots of places I don’t even live.

What they should’ve done is develop the “fitness made easy and fun for everyone” theme.

2. A “so what” headline

"sale" tagMarketing only works when people pay attention.

That nearly always means a short and sweet, highly-visible headline that grabs the attention of your potential customer before you dive into more details.

Some common wellness center and yoga studio headlines that are NOT interesting:

  • Kick off a healthy holiday season — overused, doesn’t inspire curiosity
  • Kick off 2015 with (business name) — uninteresting
  • Fall back with (class name) — not really marketing; it’s just a pun referencing the fact that hey, it’s autumn! Nothing persuasive about it.
  • Ask about our specials — too vague to attract much interest
  • 20th Anniversary — primarily of interest to owners, managers, employees, not potential customers

3. Woefully inadequate call to action

Simply giving your phone number and website is not a call to action.

“Call for more information” isn’t a call to action either. It’s wishful thinking.

The whole point of magazine and newspaper ads, flyers, online ads, print brochures, and sell sheets is to get potential customers to take the next step towards doing business with you.

So figure out what’s logical at this point in the process and exactly what you want them to do next. A tour or free class may be seen as premature sales pressure for people who are still early in their buying process. A free public seminar, free health assessment, free downloadable healthy lifestyles guide, healthy kids seminar, or a weight loss case study might appeal to them more.

4. Unrealistic stock photos

Stop the madness! No more idealized stock photos!

These Stepford people are NOT your customers. Your customers look like your neighbors and coworkers, the people you see at your grocery store.

They are short, tall, skinny, fat, have messy hair, no hair, bad makeup, no makeup, and they’re certainly not always beautifully dressed with coordinating jewelry and not a hair out of place. In many communities, they’re also Asian, Hispanic and African-American. And in the real world, the couples and families aren’t just a man and a woman in their 30s with two cute kids.

You want customers to see your ad and think “Yeah, that could be me.”

So choose stock photos that look like real people. Better yet, use pictures of your actual customers.

Sure, they’ll look less polished. That’s OK. The official marketing term for that is “authentic.”

5. One size fits all

You want a single ad to pitch everyone — busy moms, older folks, golfers, fitness nuts. Or a single ad that sells everything you do — fitness, stress relief, nutrition, weight loss, active aging, yadda yadda yadda.

Seems smart, right? That way you only pay for one ad instead of several.

So how come that ad isn’t getting much response? Here’s what went wrong:

To reach as many people as possible, you listed all your features (health coaches! daycare! lockers! dietitian! ellipticals!) and left it up to the customer to figure out how they might use all those things.

Now, that strategy might work for grocery stores (lettuce! peanut butter! organic milk!), because most people already know how they like to eat.

But it doesn’t work in health and wellness, because most folks want YOU to give them a recipe — a plan for action — not just a list of possible ingredients. (And by the way, everyone’s got the same equipment. It’s what you DO with it that sets you apart from your competition).

You need a targeted ad. “Targeted” means it focuses on a particular customer problem or opportunity, and specifically connects what your business does to that problem or opportunity.

So: one ad per target audience, please. Then you won’t need to list everything you do on the off-chance that someone out there will see something interesting.

 6. Glittering generalities

“State of the art, world-class, cutting-edge. Caring service.”

Unfortunately, these words mean nothing because they can mean anything (and they’re overused, too).

Tell the customer WHY the cool tools matter, and be specific. Which of these two marketing messages do you think works better?

  • “Shave 2 minutes off your race time with XYZ’s positronic pace analysis”
  • “The latest tools help you achieve peak performance”

7. We, we, we, me, me, me

Your ad’s all about your business, rather than the problems and opportunities you help your customers tackle. Sounds like:

  • “Our staff is….”
  • “We use the latest….”
  • “Our services….
  • “Our programs….”

Pick up one of your brochures or other marketing pieces.

Count the number of “we/me” messages. Then count the number of messages that begin with “You…”

Most of you will have far more we/me messages, like this one:

  • Our experienced staff is highly trained in providing therapeutic exercises and massage. We are experts in trigger point massage,

Believe me when I say that customers don’t actually care about the year you were founded. If a customer has chronic back pain, they want to feel good again. They want to move without fear and trepidation.

If you want to impress customers with how much your business has accomplished, convert your years in business to a meaningful metric:  “1000 Boston Marathon qualifiers trained.”

8. Decorative vs. functional graphic design

Photos, drawings, font sizes, colors — they’re not there to “decorate” your flyer or brochure. These marketing elements actually have work to do! They can’t just stand there looking pretty.

Photos, illustrations, fonts, colors, and layout are “right” when they reinforce your message, progressively guide the reader to key points,  and increase the likelihood that the potential customer responds to your call to action.

I saw a great circus poster design once. It used larger fonts at the top that got progressively smaller as they moved down the page, creating a pyramid that was bigger at the top, smallest at the bottom.

The descending font size drew the eye to the call to action in the lower right corner. You couldn’t not look at it!

9. Audience mismatch

We see a lot of health and wellness marketing that reads like an infomercial. Or a local ad for discount furniture or those neverending “final sales” at Persian rug stores.

Practically everyone has emotional baggage around their health and wellbeing, regardless of age. So buying health and wellness services is generally a pretty big deal — even something as seemingly routine as a health club membership or picking out vitamins.

Buying a late-night blender or picking out a new recliner? Just doesn’t carry the same emotional weight.

So great marketing can be fun, entertaining, humorous, authoritative or serious. But the huckster’s shout of “buy now, save now, cheap, cheap, cheap!!!” will get you nowhere.

10. Copying your competitors

Wondering why you don’t stand out from your competition? Duh! You’re copying them!

Great marketing is distinctive. It doesn’t copy the look, feel or content of the flyer for the yoga studio over on Main Street or the poster for the integrated wellness center a block away. It builds on the unique assets and capabilities and approach that only your business offers.

The job of your marketing team (whether it’s in-house or outsourced to someone like us) is to uncover what’s special about your business and create marketing materials that convey those messages.

Sure, it’s always worth noticing what really seems to work well for other businesses. The trick is to understand why it works so well, and use those same principles in your own marketing, rather than simply copying.

11. Advertising is additive

I said “additive,” not “addictive!” It’s cumulative.

Don’t run an ad once or send a single promotion, and then decide it’s a failure because nothing much happened after that single exposure.

Potential customers accumulate exposures to your business — and THEN they act.

Consistent and ongoing visibility is crucial.  If you have a limited budget, choose an advertising strategy that you can afford to execute throughout the year.

Consistently distributing sharp, well-thought-out flyers six months in a row will beat a one-time-only email blast every time.

12. Words are your friend

I’ve seen three examples just this month of wellness business promotions and ads with virtually no text — just big theatrically-lit pictures, usually of the owner or staff.

In all three cases, the businesses approached us because they had literally received no response at all — not a single call — to any of these ads.

In addition to the picture:

  • One promo had a short vague headline plus contact info.
  • The second had a very dramatic photograph of the owner, with only the company name.
  • The third had an appropriate stock photo, but no attention-grabbing text at all — just time and date information.

Your graphic designer may be telling you that these high-style pictures really grab the attention of your potential customer — but they’re wrong.

Pictures don’t sell. The best they can do is grab a moment of initial attention, IF they’re chosen wisely. But that’s all they do, unless they’re paired with the right words.

Words sell. They are  your friend. Do not fear them.

The right words – with the right pictures – add up to effective marketing.