What Are Beacons And How Could They Impact Marketing For Health Clubs ?

March 2, 2015

By Bryan K. O’Rourke, MBA

You might have read the latest Wall Street Journal article  Facebook Tests Bluetooth ‘Beacons’ to Feed Users Local Content”. This technology, termed “place tips”, is another example of the emerging digital presence concept, created by the ubiquity of smartphones continuously broadcasting user locations. Beacons so far have been tested to send promotions and ads to people in and near stores. Facebook with its 1.3 billion members, is experimenting with expanding the use of Beacons at select locations in New York and the potential for fitness facilities is enormous.

Some will think this type of technology is irrelevant at this point. Consider that a recent inMarket study on the use of beacons showed millions of these devices, with many costing only $5 a piece, implemented in retail stores resulting in a 19x increase in interactions with advertised products and a 16.5x increase in in-store app usage. The technology enables location based engagements by knowing when a customer is within a few feet of a specific location. For fitness facilities this could mean alerting members near the studio when a group fitness class will be starting, or promoting an available small group training spot through their mobile device when a member walks in the door. With “contextual buying” the opportunities are limitless.

In a world where competition for attention continues to intensify and where more traditional efforts like direct mail, email, banners and even paid search are losing their effectiveness, beacons are yet another example of how technology is fundamentally changing marketing. The less people see ads as pitches and more as information customized to meet their needs, including where they are and when they are, the more effective engagement will be.

As with any new technology there will be winners and losers who attempt adoption. Winners will help users phones act like concierges with personalized answers and advice as needed. Others who just push out promotions and messages will have trouble engaging audiences and will ultimately turn people off. Since connectivity and social media make “consumer experience” the ultimate marketing, beacons, among other technologies, will create an opportunity for brands to embrace new methods of delivering value.

So what does this mean for fitness facilities ? Why is it important ? To be successful brands must embrace the fact that consumers are changing and thus marketing is changing. With nearly 7 out of 10 fitness facility customers having smartphones and with many of them being used in facilities, having a specific strategy for how to effectively incorporate these technologies into business models will become increasingly important.

So what do you think ? Is contextual buying an important trend ? Should fitness businesses spend more effort on determining their strategies around marketing given the advancement of technologies like beacons ? Feel free to write and let me know at bryankorourke@gmail.com, or tweet me @bryankorourke.com .

Bryan O’Rourke serves as President of the Fitness Industry Technology Council, is CEO of Integerus Advisors and CSO of Fitmarc and the Flywheel Group. These organizations collectively serve over 800 fitness facilities in the US, dozens of global organizations and over 5,000 instructor professionals. Bryan’s an entrepreneur, consultant, executive, investor and former club owner who has worked in the health club and fitness industry for 18 years. IHRSA named him one of 13 to watch in 2013. He has presented at industry and corporate conferences on four continents and is widely published and quoted in periodicals like Inc. Magazine, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. To learn more visit bryankorourke.com and follow him on twitter @bryankorourke.