Should you use free trial memberships or discounts for your gym?

Should you use free trial memberships or discounts for your gym?

The fitness industry has been using the same strategies of free trials and discounts for a long time, and this is because they work! Free trials for new members and discounted rates are tried-and-tested ways for both attracting and retaining members. But which one is right for you? 

Should you choose a ‘free trial’ membership system?

Gyms usually opt to offer free trials for new members or create ‘limited time only’ promotional offers. The larger the gym, the more cash flow available to absorb short-term losses from having ongoing free trials. This is seen as an investment to get new members in who will eventually become paying members. 

Smaller gyms may choose to offer promotional free trials on a regular basis, but only for a limited time. This can give them a selling point for their marketing and create a sense of FOMO for potential new members. However, it risks damaging the perceived value of the gym if potential members keep seeing promotions for free trials, so be strategic in when/how you market them. 

Pros of a free trial

As a core marketing strategy within the fitness industry, free trials have proven their value. Some of the pros for running free trials for your gym are:

  • They’re easy to market. People instantly recognise the messaging of a free trial and it’s easy to quickly convey the nature of the promotion (i.e. how long it lasts and what’s included). 
  • Potential members feel less fear of being locked in. Free trials tap into a person’s psychology to alleviate any fear of being locked into a membership that will cost them in the long-term. 
  • You can tie conditions with your promotion, such as a post-promotion survey to understand the participant’s experience of your gym. This can give you a clear strategy for what factors to tackle to improve your gym. 

How to convert free-trial members into paying customers

The most important thing to remember when trying to convert free-trial memberships is to follow up. This includes both a human touch and automatic messaging. Consider implementing the following strategies once a person reaches the end of their free trial:

  • Automatic emails or text message. Emails can be sent out one week before the trial ends, immediately after completion and a month later if the person does not renew their membership. The messaging you use will differ for each one. 
  • Phone calls. Don’t feel afraid to get on the blower and sound those members out. Did they enjoy your gym? A personal conversation can be a powerful tool for learning about your own business and converting potential customers. 
  • Entice members about what happens after the trial. Your follow-up strategy should include informative messaging, making sure the potential member gets a clear sense of what’s coming up in your gym (i.e. competitions, events, new equipment, classes). 

Should you choose a ‘discount’ membership price? 

You might opt to go for a one-off discount membership price as an ongoing strategy for attracting members. Couple this with a tiered membership platform, where long-term members are rewarded for their membership, and you can use this to communicate value to your customers. A 2021 survey by Upswell Marketing found that 70% of respondents were most interested in ‘value’ when choosing a gym, above things like amenities and convenience (location). 

Pros of a discount rate for new members

Discount rates are an easy way to create perceived value in your gym. Some of the most important pros of a discount rate are: 

  • You can differentiate yourself from your competitors with a relatively small discount.
  • Targeting corporate partners is easier with whole-company discounts, giving you access to a large pool of members and their friends
  • Offer a range of discounts throughout your members’ journey with you – from sign up through to rewarding them for their commitment to your gym. These can then be used for marketing and drive word-of-mouth signups. 

Which marketing strategy works better – free trials or discounts? 

Free trial memberships and discounted memberships can work equally as well. They can both create a sense of urgency and FOMO in potential members and are great ways for getting people into your gym so you can then convert them by providing a great experience. 

Cost will be the leading factor that decides it between a free trial or discount. As we’ve said, if you’re a larger gym or you have smaller overheads for whatever reason, you might have the flexibility to offer ongoing free trials for all new members. 

Smaller gyms or those that have tighter margins might opt for a range of discounts on memberships, with greater discounts offered for a larger initial investment in a membership. 

Whichever you choose, free trials or discounts, as a gym owner – make sure you apply them strategically and don’t risk devaluing your perceived brand value in the market. Use cloud-based software to track memberships and measure the value of your promotional programs, and make sure you have a strategy for turning ‘trial’ memberships into long-term customers.

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