Marketing is a lion. It’s wild, sometimes unpredictable and, to most of us, a little terrifying. But like a lion, there are ways it can be tamed. Here are some tools and strategies to bring your marketing “beast” under control.

Traditional media

Billboards, print and broadcast advertising still exist because they work. But these opportunities are expensive.

If you are going to use these vehicles for advertising, make sure your ad will get noticed; otherwise, you’re wasting money.

Generally, successful use of traditional media is based on the old principle of location. You have to find opportunities that cater to your market. For example, look for billboards placed in high-traffic areas or — if you’re in an area with a large Hispanic or Latino community — Spanish language  radio stations. 

Beyond advertising, traditional media also offer public relations opportunities. Share timely information and encourage journalists to develop positive stories about your facility.

Online communication channels

No matter what type of facility you have, your market needs the Internet, and likely uses it daily. First and foremost, maximize exposure through your Website by making sure you provide ample amounts of information. There is nothing worse than clicking on a Website and discovering that the information you need is not included. Focus on basic information such as facility hours. Also talk with your IT person or Web site manager about increasing your market exposure via your Website. Search engine optimization (SEO) is one of the most common tools for expanding online visibility. Strategic SEO makes a site more visible to search engines such as Google. It involves taking your existing Web site and tweaking wording and other factors to trigger more responses when someone   types key words into a given search engine.

Finally, don’t overlook social media. Millions of people use it and you should, too. It’s a convenient way for patrons to learn about your facility.

Because social media is, by nature, an interactive two-way communication channel, it also provides a way to develop a dialogue. One smart way of using social media is positioning yourself as an expert. Stay away from the “hard sell” and focus on providing information.

Also use social media by following popular blogs in your area. Provide bloggers with information as you would any other media outlet.

Partnerships and live marketing

Don’t underestimate the value of partnerships and face-to-face “people power.”

Using partnerships is beneficial because it makes your marketing team bigger. It may seem like you will be doing more work by promoting other venues or services, but the return on your investment will make it worth the effort. Splitting the work with another facility fosters rapport with your shared customers, especially if you are partnering with a complementary service organization. Partnering with other recreation or fitness facilities can be a win-win, allowing both operations to tap an entirely new customer base.

Beyond partnerships, look for opportunities to communicate face to face. Show your market you care by encouraging your staff to volunteer at community events. You also might consider other opportunities such as sponsoring trash pickups, coat drives or food drives.

One of the best ways to stay connected is by becoming familiar with the “thought leaders” in your community. Get to know community leadership and let them get to know you, so that you can work together to find mutually beneficial ways to increase your exposure.

Promotions

People love free stuff. It’s an indisputable fact. With budget cuts, many facilities don’t have marketing budgets and shun the idea of spending money to market their facilities. However, the bonuses often outweigh the costs. Promotions are something to consider.

For example, if your market supports it, take advantage of Facebook check-in or foursquare. These services allow people to “check-in” at your facility and share it with friends. When people participate by checking-in, you can reward them by offering something in return, such as a free day pass after 20 visits. This kind of giveaway generally doesn’t cost much if you get creative. Don’t make the prize unattainable, but don’t let everyone earn it either.

If you can use these suggestions to create an effective marketing strategy, then you’ve become a lion tamer.