Plus Fitness’ digital strategy scored 18,000 new members online

How did Plus Fitness last financial year drive an additional 18,000 website conversions, a 24.15 per cent increase in organic visibility through SEO work and increase organic visibility more than three times that of the closest competitor? 

How does a franchise avoid delivering fragmented digital strategies that fail to serve the best interests of the overall business? 

Reaching the right balance means a clear top-line strategy and leveraging the economies of scale inherent in franchise networks, however it is also crucial to take advantage of local area differences; market, weather, demographics, competition, community and much more. 

While there is no one size fits all approach, there are digital marketing responsibilities which are typically best kept at head office, whilst others that will drive better value when done at the local level.

Setting the digital strategy

The fitness franchise is a tested model in the Australian franchise landscape. Plus Fitness, with more than 200 locations, is a great example of a business thriving both online and offline. Its digital marketing strategy overseen by my Sydney-based digital agency Rocket, has over the past three years, won or been shortlisted, for a raft of the most prestigious digital marketing awards in Australia.

Plus Fitness is currently a finalist in the soon to be announced 2019 Google Premier Partner Awards which are amongst the most competitive of all awards in the digital marketing space. 

Over our time working together the core objective of the campaign has been to drive sign-ups at Plus Fitness locations with a secondary driver to build brand awareness online. To put together this strategy, head office takes charge of top-line digital strategy, website oversight, SEO, national remarketing/retargeting campaigns, brand social media profiles and the roll-out of national campaigns digitally.

At the local level, franchisees are in charge of Google local listings, store specific social media profiles such as Facebook and Instagram, review management, local promotions and localised paid Google search campaigns.  

Channels best activated by head office

Head office generally controls channels where a centralised system makes sense for consistency or economies of scale. The Plus Fitness strategy has been driven by aggressive improvements in SEO visibility across competitive location + gym search terms as well as general fitness related terms. 

The centralised top-line SEO oversight means every gym in the network now ranks on the first page of Google’s search engine results page when the name of the suburb and the word gym are combined in a Google search. These results could not have been delivered via a fragmented SEO strategy because Google favours consistency both in terms of on-site and off-site optimisations. The same applies to local SEO factors where Google wants to see consistency around local business listings, citations and location data. 

YouTube, display and social remarketing have also been centralised under this strategy. Remarketing is better done where larger audiences can be built, and segmentation can be rolled out at scale. This also applies to the use of lapsed customer data to roll-out remarketing strategies in Google and Facebook. This relies upon accurate and up to date data coming from a centralised database rather than relying in inputs from hundreds of locations. 

Like most multi-location businesses, the Plus Fitness website is the biggest single digital asset in the business, which is naturally best managed by head office. Central management means one code base to optimise, one place to perform conversion rate optimisation and customer experience updates as well as a single point for consistency around tracking and data.

Segmented acquisition campaigns

The campaign being short-listed as a finalist in the 2019 Google Premier Partner awards was in large part due to revamped digital acquisition campaigns. These were broken into the three core segments:

  1. former paying customers
  2. previous leads that never converted to sale
  3. new contacts actively in-market for a gym membership

A separate acquisition strategy was devised for each segment.

The first two groups were heavily targeted through remarketing and retargeting strategies. This focused on Facebook Custom Audiences via Retargeting and Google Display with Google Customer Match. Members within each segment would receive different messaging. The third segment were prospected via heavily geo-targeted Facebook and Google search, display and YouTube campaigns. 

The audience was driven to separate landing pages on the website, allowing head office to capture leads for individual franchisees to convert.

A multi-funnel strategy included YouTube to spread the message among those not yet ready to make a decision. The ability to track store visit data from video campaigns played a crucial role in helping attribute performance and improve the overall user journey. 

Ceding remarketing/targeting control to the franchisor level was key to success. It was agreed that these tactics were better deployed from a holistic viewpoint, with deep segmentation when relevant. 

Franchisee responsibilities

Broadly these fell into two areas. Firstly, activities which would perform better when ran with a local feel; location specific social media, local content strategy and local competitions being examples.
Secondly, initiatives which were micro in nature and not likely to be undertaken by all locations at the same time. For instance local Google Ads campaigns which would be run at the discretion of individual franchisees.  This clear and smart delineation is the gold-standard for multi-location businesses that we have worked with. 

The way forward

Why has this digital strategy been successful? Sensible strategic decisions were made, and then stuck to in a disciplined way. Head office has successfully taken the reins for much of the top-line digital advertising strategy and investment. This allows for economies of scale not feasible at a local level and takes advantage of the power of the network. 

Conversely, autonomy is handed over to individual locations where local differences can be dealt with in a way that drives local engagement, creates advocates at the local level and takes advantage of local community and area differences. This model should, or a close variant of (depending on industry/persona differences), be applied to most franchise digital marketing strategies in Australia.

James Lawrence is the co-founder of multi-award winning Australian digital marketing agency Rocket, which works with national multi-location and franchise brands like Plus Fitness. James is co-author of best-selling marketing book Smarter Marketer which was published in July 2019. He is currently a finalist for Australian Marketer of the Year in the prestigious B&T Awards.