Top 12 Advertising Errors By Wellness Businesses

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Most health and wellness advertising 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 and how to fix each problem.

1. Blah 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. Of those three items, 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.

What they should’ve done is develop the “fitness made easy and fun for everyone” theme with more details—what does that look like in practice?—and underscore the benefits of anytime access.

And use a great, representative photo of actual members in the club rather than a stock image of a cardio display.

2. A “so what” headline

Marketing 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 20XX with (business name)—uninteresting
  • Spring into Savings—trite and vague, and the pun is a waste of words
  • 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—who cares? Mostly, just owners, perhaps employees, but not potential customers

3. Woefully inadequate call to action

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

“Ask about specials” and “Call for more information” aren’t strong calls to action either. They’re wishful thinking.

The whole point of pay-per-click Google Ads and Facebook Ads, magazine and newspaper ads, flyers, 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 and obvious to your prospects and at this point in the process and make sure your call to action is aligned with that.

For example, a tour or limited-time offer may be seen as premature sales pressure for people who are still early in their decision process. A free public seminar, free health assessment, free downloadable healthy lifestyles guide, healthy kids panel, or a weight loss case study might appeal to them more.

4. Idealized stock photos

Stop the madness! No more idealized, unrealistic stock photos! (Unless your customers really do look like these Stepford people—in which case, skip this section.)

For everyone else: your customers look like your neighbors and coworkers, the people you see at your grocery store, right?

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. They represent many age groups. They might use a cane, or have glasses, or wear an insulin pump, or use a wheelchair, or have a prosthetic. Depending on the community, they represent many cultures and ethnicities, from white European to Asian, Middle Eastern, Hispanic and African descent. And in the real world, families aren’t just a man and a woman with two cute kids.

You want customers to see your ad and think “Yeah, I’d feel comfortable there.”

So choose stock photos that look like the real people who patronize your business. 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 aspiration, 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. And your ads will start to convert prospects to paying customers!

 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 advertising 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:

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

Look at your website or 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.

Good marketing isn’t patting yourself on the back and paying your business compliments!

If you want to say complimentary things about your business, use a quote from a customer. For example, which is more convincing?

  • “We are experts in trigger point massage.”
  • “I am back on the tennis court for the first time in a year thanks to their trigger point therapist. Sara is a rock star!”

And uf you want to impress customers with how much your business has accomplished, convert your years in business to a meaningful metric. Which is more convincing and meaningful?

  • “We’ve been in business 10 years.”
  • “We’ve trained 1000 Boston Marathon qualifiers.”

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 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 yoga studio class card.

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

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 freelancers) 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. Running an ad once—and only once

Marketing and advertising is additive.

I said “additive,” not “addictive!” In other words, it works best when it’s cumulative, when people have multiple exposures to it.

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.

Would you water plant seeds only once, and give up when they didn’t grow? Of course not.

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. Not saying enough

I’ve seen three examples just recently 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 had literally received no response at all—not a single call or visit—to any of these ads. Not even one.

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 for a free webinar.

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 do not sell. They just don’t.

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.