How can content marketing on social media channels be used in order to increase the level of customer engagement for the UK fitness industry?
Social media channels represent the new phenomenon, that has forced industries to change their attitude to marketing strategies, brand awareness, and customer engagement. The social media channels today pose certain threats to the traditional advertising, which treats the customers as a homogeneous crowd . In this extent, the social media channels are highly personalized presenting the versatile and verified social media content to the targeted audience.
The marketing specialists are always in constant search of more efficient opportunities to advertise products and services. The most widespread strategies implemented now to promote marketing campaigns are traditional advertising and social media . The latter is a phenomenon emerging at the end of the 20th century when the Internet technologies started gaining tremendous popularity. The word of mouth, websites, blogs, social networks and video content have become the new source of advertising able to change the level of customer engagement .
In this paper, an attempt has been made to analyze how the emergence of social media as a marketing tool affected the latest advertising trends, especially in content marketing. The behavior of on-line consumers of social media marketing will be studied in the relevance to the level of customer engagement in the UK fitness industry. The rapidly growing authority of the social media marketing has turned this phenomenon into the best computer-mediated and perspective marketing instrument, which can help the advertising campaigns in the fitness industry gain a tremendous popularity and customers’ loyalty.
This paper states the research question presents a number of objectives and outlines a relevant discussion on the topic. The proposed research is analyzed with the help of the extensive literature review, which offers theoretical and practical implications for the analysis of the content marketing used to increase the customer level engagement in the UK fitness industry.
Significance of the Study: Objectives and Research Question
The concept of the social media channels with their functioning peculiarities justify the choice of this paper topic and underline its significance. Beyond the topic choice it is important to consider the following objectives:
Analysis of the most effective ways of content marketing, which create the customer engagement in the UK fitness industry;
Establishment of the link between the active customer engagement in the UK fitness industry and the user trust;
Understanding of how the web content posted in social media by the UK fitness affect the behavior and preferences of the consumers;
Analysis of the content marketing process in its relation to the UK fitness industry and brand loyalty.
The primary research question posed for this paper requires to analyze how can content marketing on social media channels be used in order to increase the level of customer engagement for the UK fitness industry.
The UK Fitness Industry Overview
The UK Fitness industry is represented by gyms, various weight loss and family centers, outdoor group exercise companies and single trainers. In this paper, under the fitness industry, we understand the business structures, which provide training sessions, equipment, swimming pools and other space capacities for a certain membership fee (LeisureDB, 2016). The UK fitness clubs have equipment suitable for cardio, weight loss, and personal training. The new trends in fitness strive to transform the ordinary exercises into an exciting experience with the help of the new programs.
An approximate number of the UK fitness members reached almost 10 million increasing the market value on 3,2% in 2016 while the membership number has increased by 5,3% compared to 2015. According to the LeisureDB (2016) report, the estimated market value of the UK fitness industry equals £4.4 billion. The fitness market is highly competitive, yet the Pure Gym company has become the leader in the market servicing around 40% of the UK fitness members and having 60 clubs throughout the country. The UK fitness experts forecast that the industry will significantly grow during the next five years with more clubs, members, and training programs emerging on the market (LeisureDB, 2016). The good point for the nation is that at least 1 out of every British citizen is a member of the gym or is going to visit the gym in the nearest time (FIA, 2008). The sports industry penetration rate has made almost 14,3% in 2016 against 13,7% in 2015, which is a high rate compared to other European countries (LeisureDB, 2016).
The major drivers of the fitness industry growth are represented by the relatively low cost of fitness services, 24/7 availability of these services and an assortment of training programs. The private fitness sector can be referred to the low-cost market, which covers 12% of all private fitness centers, 13% of the total market value and 33% of the private sector membership (Deloitte, 2012). A good marker of the rapid growth in fitness industry can be demonstrated by an ever-increasing demand for fitness trainers and sports professionals. This tendency is demonstrated in graph 1 below.
Graph 1. Demand for fitness professionals
Based on the data obtained from the Fitness Industry Association, around 60% of fitness businesses try to pursue the targeted groups such as women, corporate members or children in order to tailor the narrow specific training programs and gain advantages from occupying the new market niches. A good example is provided with the “pregnancy training” or “body sculpt programs”, which enable the fitness market to expand searching for new opportunities. Fitness as a concept has evolved from the desire to look and feel good, be healthy or improve health problems. Gradually, this idea of being fit has to adapt to the consumer holistic approach of sports perception, which required significant diversity in service offerings. Thus, the fitness industry in the UK has expanded and will definitely continue to expand by involving the targeted groups of customers into the fitness culture.
Empirical evidence proves that the health benefits from physical activities are enormous bringing the improvement of cardiovascular, mental, social and psychological conditions as well as relieving the tension, depression, and anxiety . Yet, it should be noted that the fitness professionals and fans are often exposed to the risk of overstimulation by excessive physical exercises or unprescribed diet and supplementary. There is no link between sport and healthcare while the majority of fitness clubs do not provide or are not qualified to provide any medical or health advice on rehabilitation issues. It means, that the people with the special needs are often left outside of the fitness industry. The Fitness Industry Association in the UK pays a special attention to the necessity to provide the targeted fitness programs for people with physical or mental disabilities guided by specially qualified fitness professionals . The role and importance of fitness industry in the UK should not be underestimated, yet its subsequent growth will not be as high as expected if the newest marketing technologies are not employed. These technologies being an integral part of the modern marketing strategy will be discussed further in this paper.
The Role of the Social Media Channels in Promotion Campaigns
The research of the social media channels and their influence on the UK fitness industry represent the significance of the study. The social media concept is often identified in the scientific marketing literature as the process of traffic attraction aimed to promote the brand or product via the social platforms. It also represents a range of measures, which engage various marketing instruments as channels of information sharing . The basic idea of social media is concentrated on the creation of certain content; which other network participants will independently spread across the network. It is commonly accepted that the messages spread by customers themselves are more reliable than the recommendations of the company experts. This effect is achieved via the distribution of recommendations in social media through the friendly links, which compose the core of any social interaction .
The most interesting fact about the social media is that it is the customers, who express initiative to contact the brand or require the service. Besides, the loyal customers are eager to share the personal information, opinions, and experience with the service or brand . Such a personalized approach to customer engagement and meticulous analysis of the consumer preferences allow building tight emotional relations between the users based on trust. This trust enables rapid linking of the contacts within the network with subsequent recommendations of the service or brand .
Thus, even new and unpopular social media channels can be turned into an efficient advertising tool. Such a multiplicative effect of social media channels promotes a significant increase of communicative and linking opportunities for all the network users. A favorable combination of insufficient marketing resources and multiplicative linking effect create a powerful tool for marketing promotion and customer engagement . Social media channels are oriented on certain capabilities of the Internet during the promotion of any service in any industry. These capabilities are represented by the personalized information in the network participants’ profiles, the opportunity to use their connections for recommendations of services or products and rapid exchange of information within the network groups .
The social media channels begin with a small self-organized community group or circle, which freely discuss any product or service allowing the brand owners to create a favorable marketing environment engaging more and more participants into the discussions . An easy access to the targeted audience represents a major difference of the social media from the traditional advertising tools. The advertising campaigns using the social media channels for product/service promotion receive impressive results despite the fact that the marketing specialists are not able to dictate terms and conditions to the users of the network .
It is obvious that the social media channels, be it a network, web-site forum or messengers do not represent a fully functioning supply chain or communication channel. The efficiency of social media is estimated via the embeddedness level of the network participant or the brand owner promoting certain service or product . In other words, the effective use of this tool is possible only if the promoted service/product/brand within the marketing campaign represent the informed choice of the network participant (Keller, 2005; Dahl, 2015). The informed choice turns the social media channel into a significant marketing panel, feedback mechanism and promotion tool utilized by the targeted audience. This idea can be associated with the McLuhan’s media theory stating that media is a kind of message, which changes media environment and society . The fitness industry in the UK may be perfectly referred to the “hot” media under the McLuhan’s theoretical classification for its ability to boost senses without much effort from the marketers. The content marketing is, therefore, an efficient tool of consumer preferences transformation not due to the peculiarities of the content these consumers post but rather due to the communication mode they choose .
In order to analyze the research question and objectives, a substantial literature review will be performed addressing the growing importance of content marketing.
Literature Review: Social Media Marketing for the UK Fitness Industry
In order to answer the question of what kind of marketing is essential to the UK fitness industry, it is necessary to address the needs of the loyal customers together with the service quality perspectives. In a highly competitive environment when the market is oversaturated with the supply of services, the fitness industry in the UK strives to seek the ways not only retain the existing clientele but to attract the new loyal customers . This desire requires a high level of service quality in UK fitness and overall in the sports industry. Moreover, it is significant to underline what the customers perceive as quality in sport .
The literature concerning the primary quality dimensions in fitness is scarce while the sports services represent a unique sphere compared to other service industries or corporations. The primary factor of the customer engagement is the quality of the provided services . Traditionally, the customer involvement is associated with the sales figures showing the performance result of the industry. According to Cohen, et al. (2006), the perceived customer engagement represents an outcome of the estimation process, when the clientele compares the provided services/their quality with own expectations. Afthinos et al. (2005), support the same concept stating that the customer engagement is a form of satisfaction perception resulting from the personal comparison of the provided fitness services with their personal expectations.
The study dimensions on the customer engagement in the sports industry remain vague while the literature sources did not come to any agreement on what these dimensions are . All fitness organizations are absolutely service-oriented possessing the characteristics of the unique assets such as intangibility, heterogeneity, and nonseparability . Yet, the unpredictable patterns of the consumer behavior contribute to the major differences between the fitness and other service based industries. The existing empirical evidence suggests that the uniqueness of the UK fitness organizations is supported by such factors as human performance, customer motivation, deep engagement of customers in co-producing of fitness service, social fundamentals of the service, customers’ habit to take the service, the so-called after-use benefits and immediate outcomes after fitness activities .
Considering the complexity of the topic, the fitness industry in the UK should pay attention to the new advertising tools able to attract the customers making them loyal to the organization. Evidence refers the content marketing as to one of the most efficient instruments. It should be noted that the sport service consumers today are more demanding and sophisticated while an average fitness consumer knows his rights, can easily contact the management of the organization, file a complaint and ask a question about the provided service . Such an advantage in communication was granted by the content marketing possibilities, which allow the fitness bands to increase their recognition, build trust networks using recommendation options and enhance customer engagement level. The content marketing enables UK fitness organization to listen to customers’ thoughts and desires. According to Keller (2005), content marketing represents a social media marketing strategy aimed to create and spread the significant, relevant and interesting content about the product or service to the targeted audience. The content marketing strives to provoke the profitable customer action, the decision to learn more about the service and to get involved in getting it . So what are the ways to attract customers into the fitness industry using the content marketing tools? According to Majewski (2014), there are the three basic ways to do it. First, the content advertising the fitness company gives all the network members precious information to read. It means that the companies paying attention to the content about the lifestyle, recovery techniques, diet, supplementary advice and interviews with personal trainers are able to reach the targeted audience much faster using blogging format or social media .
Another important tool of customer attraction is an ability of content media to spread the information about the uniqueness of the fitness program, club, trainer or whatever else, which differentiates the company from the competitors. Having a consistent blogging platform is a good way to pop up the information about the company when the potential customer is looking for the best barre class or trainer using any search engine .
Finally, the content marketing is able to keep the information about the fitness company up-to-date. The fitness customers are constantly in a search of new classes, routines and training able to shake their bodies. Therefore, it is expected from the fitness company to be on the cutting-edge of newest trends. The best idea to spread the information about the new service offerings is to use the content marketing tool .
It should obviously be stated that content marketing represents a phenomenon of the modern marketing technologies. There are numerous theories explaining its successful application for the fitness industry. The psychological ownership theory, called in scholarly sources as word of mouth, can perfectly explain the phenomenon of content marketing in the promotion of various campaigns as the powerful source of information utilized by the customers in their decision-making process . The precious information communicated by community members, colleagues and friends are perceived as credible and reliable more than the same information presented by advertisers. Technological advancements allow the users to quickly access all the detailed description and critique of goods and services posted by users and community members (e.g. blogs, social networks, etc.) .
The content marketing as an indispensable part of the social media environment can serve as an efficient instrument of the fitness service provision. Compared to the traditional advertising, content marketing represents a mechanism of communication and promotion regardless of the domain (country or region) being an effective platform for collaboration between various groups of consumers who strive to share their needs, background, preferences, knowledge and peculiarities of the product/service. Moreover, all UK fitness companies using content marketing tools can be easily distinguished from the faceless crowd being more accountable in front of their loyal clientele . Ripley (2015) considers content marketing to be the primary investment into the organization’s future due to extensive communication opportunities offered in various web-based communities, publishing the company’s content. According to Kotler & Li (2011) around 100 rapidly growing UK fitness companies around 35% actively used the content marketing strategy for the promotion of new services, which allowed them to enhance the brand equity, increase transparency and engage more customers.
The various methods used by content marketing in order to engage the customer loyalty aims to achieve the primary goal of positive feedback posting. The loyal customers are eager to post positive reviews on the service in their micro-blogs or forums . According to Dirks, et al. (1996), the desire of the loyal customer to express an authoritative opinion and advice through communication brings him intrinsic pleasure and satisfaction. From this viewpoint, the word-of-mouth theory comes perfectly in line with the social media strategies of the fitness industry because helps the fitness organizations to improve the perception of the psychological ownership and efficiently manage the loyal clientele through service recovery programs .
It should be noted that today’s fitness facilities in the UK are sharply distinguished from other service companies in terms of product and value . Evidence suggests that fitness club consumers prefer mainly the outside content such as external websites and blogs, where they have access to the precious information concerning the diet, healthy lifestyle and fitness training . The primary interest of the experts who collect followers and give advice on fitness topics is to expand their content marketing opportunities. The followers contribute to their traffic volumes building tight connections with the clients. Content marketing in UK fitness represents a diverse strategy including blog stories of success, posting video materials about the workouts, sending emails using pull or push marketing, accumulating reports, making advertising through Instagram and other social media .
The analysis of the content marketing opportunities in the UK fitness industry can be started with the blogging channel. The blogging approach to market the fitness can represent a good way to attract traffic to the site. The primary idea behind such kind of content marketing is the use of the so-called search engine optimization, which helps to store the content in searching systems such as Google, Yahoo, and others and present it upon request of the interested parties . According to Clegg (2014), the sports companies using the blogging as a content marketing tool had 434% more web pages indexed by search engine sites.
In this extent, the social exchange theory originating from sociological studies can explain the success of the content marketing channel through the significant dependence of social media on the provision of the user content. It is crucial to understand why users eagerly participate in the feedback process . The social exchange theory states that under the cost-benefit framework the users tend to form tight bonds, relationships and interest groups exchanging the influential information. The major assumptions under this theory claim that customer engagement is achieved through behaviors they treat as rewarding . It means that the behaviors of consumers are extremely subjective and are based on the evaluation of the cost-benefit function, which contributes to the social exchange process.
Another content marketing opportunity able to improve the attractiveness of fitness industry in the UK is the social media. It is a tremendous place to create and store content with the active users and potential network members. The cost of this tool is extremely low while the efficiency is high. It is enough to poll the potential customers to see the social media channels they are active on. The next step is to create the presence in the most actively used social media, making use of the two-way communication option in order to attract the potential members to the promoted fitness activities . Besides, social media channels are a good way to build trust, relationship, and customer loyalty. The content posted in social media becomes rapidly reposted increasing the targeted audience. In this extent, it is very important to monitor comments, responses, and questions on regular basis.
The social media (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc.) present precious analytics, which can hardly be obtained from the traditional sources. Therefore, this option is extremely important for fitness companies in the UK. The message spread in social media immediately affects the public and attracts the interested members while in traditional media there is no feedback and personal communication . The content posted on the network can immediately indicate how many users saw the message, “liked/disliked” it, reposted and recommended, giving the fitness organization a perfect instrument of accountability and control. What is most important for the fitness industry is an ability to create trustful personal relations with the potential consumers due to the uniqueness and reliability of the recommended and personally shared content . In this respect, the social penetration theory is fully applicable to this kind of content marketing explaining how individuals strive to exchange the various forms of relationships. Yet, the levels of relationships may be different depending on the type, mode, and frequency of communication in social media channels .
Video represents the next perfect content marketing tool able to grab the attention of the audience. According to Ko & Pastore (2004), video content in the fitness industry is 60 times more likely to generate the primary page ranking than search engine optimization instruments. Creation of video clips, video instructions, and video training on fitness problematic can significantly improve the position of the UK fitness services and attract new loyal clientele. Yet, the most important thing behind the content marketing tool is consistency in campaigning. The fitness clubs or other participants related to the fitness industry should remember that a detailed plan of the idea promotion is required. Moreover, the presented content should be sustainable and be renewed on regular basis. The various tools of content marketing should be wisely incorporated into the larger company’s strategies. Video content uses simple tactics and strategy positively affecting the visual tastes and preferences of the potential customers increasing their engagement into the fitness activities. Fitness video content is able to quickly reach the targeted audience; therefore, the fitness industry representatives will have only to analyze the statistics. In this case, the social network analysis theory can be fully applicable while observing the consumer groups as perfectly connected actors applying various mathematical tools to explore the structure and peculiarities . Video content shared by users is treated by the social network analysis theory as a point of interest or the communication node uniting the consumers by ties, links, recommendations, etc. Those ties from various kinds of relations depending on the interest, beliefs, preferences and kinships positively affect the customer engagement level .
The business managers in the UK fitness have to realize that the usage of content marketing as social media channels able to increase the customer engagement should be based on the acceptance of the fundamental theoretical and social rules of consumer behavior. The content marketing tools in the fitness industry in the UK can utilize a vast majority of newest technologies and modern communication means blogs, social networks, mobile applications, chats, video stream channels, etc. An obvious necessity in technological advancements is dictated by the rapid evolution of modern society, which require new and more efficient marketing instruments to reach the targeted audience. In this situation, the fitness companies in the UK, facing a severe competition, should be able to implement these tools sooner than competitors to achieve maximum customer engagement level.
Certainly, the factor of society conservativeness and computer ignorance should be considered as well by addressing the traditional advertising tools such as TV, radio, and newspapers. The UK fitness companies should take efforts to go on-line in order to establish the personal relations with the consumers. Moreover, the efficiency of the fitness brand creating loyalty is highly dependent on the ability of the organization to analyze the interest groups addressing each of them individually.
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