How much does your Health Club really know about each generation?

In this article, I seek to share my views on how Health Club Operators can really capitalise on the distinguishing qualities and characteristics which separate each generational group. 

We will look at the following cohorts; 

Babyboomers: – Born between 1944 – 1964
Gen X: – Born between 1965- 1979
Millennials: Born between 1980 – 1994
Gen Z: Born between 1995 – 2015

Before I go on, I want to make it clear that just like everything in life, there are exceptions. 

You may have an 18-year-old member who behaves more like a 30-year-old. Likewise, you may have a 60-year-old who behaves more like a 45-year-old. 

I will leave that to you and your data to discover who those anomalies are.

In the meantime, I’ll just try and give my best advice based on what the research out there shows.

Babyboomers (55 – 75 years old) 

Before the blossoming of Millennials, Babyboomers held the accolade as the largest generation. 

People belonging to this generation have typically accumulated a lot of savings and are now ready to retire. 

Time to bust the first myth…

This does NOT mean they are ready to spend money on whatever. They have worked hard throughout their life and they are now focused on protecting their wealth. With this mindset, they like to get their ‘money’s worth’ when it comes to choosing Health Clubs. 

As a result, Babyboomers favour brands which look expensive but have bargain prices. 

If you’re a budget gym operator, you should be able to attract this generation with your offering, providing your quality is also up to standard.

If you’re more of a premium gym operator, you must demonstrate the true value of your facility to this group. Babyboomers have more leisure time than other groups and within that leisure time, they are looking to improve their lifestyle in order to prolong their quality of life. 

If your high-end facility can cater to this generation through specific classes, specialist ‘active-ageing’ equipment, tennis courts, swimming pools, spas and jacuzzis then you may be a more attractive option than the budget gyms. You will need to ensure that your price point is lower than your direct competitors if you want to convince the Babyboomers in your area that you offer the best value. 

The second myth is that this group don’t respond to modern-day marketing.

This is not the case. 

Babyboomers may remember when computers were first-ever installed, but that’s not to say they don’t have the foggiest about modern technology. They do actually use Text Messaging, Basic Apps on Smart Phones and more importantly Google, Youtube, Email and Facebook. So actually, you may be better off using a mix of methods.

I would bear in mind that this group use Facebook to connect with their family and friends so they may be more unresponsive to advertisements on this channel when compared to their younger counterparts. If your Facebook Ad creative focuses on the value of your Health Club and highlights exactly how other Babyboomers enjoy your amenities within it, I would suggest it is still worth giving it ago.

If you ignore that advice thinking no harm will be done and instead decide to settle for targeting the Babyboomers with the same generic advert creative you use for your younger audiences, you can wave goodbye to any chances of success. Go the extra mile on facebook advertising and you’ll reap your rewards.

As far as other channels are concerned, due to their age and the era they were brought up in, Babyboomers may well be the last generation to be responsive to Direct Mail and other traditional methods of advertising such as Radio, TV and Billboards. I would say if you have the marketing budget and you want to attract this cohort, it’s certainly worth exploring the ‘old-school’ techniques.

Whatever channel you decide on, Babyboomers do favour well-written content, so whether you hit them with facebook, email, or direct mail, you should put as much effort as possible into your content to explain why your Health Club is right for them. 

As this group have more to spend than others, it may well be worth investing a little more money into your advertising if this is the audience you are after.

Generation X (35 – 54 years old) 

Although this is not a view of my own, Generation X have been dubbed by many as the ‘Slackers’, primarily because they never had to try as hard when they were younger. As I said at the beginning of the article, I’m only going on what my research tells me and I appreciate there will be exceptions, so all you ‘slackers’ out there – don’t shoot the messenger! 

The first myth about Slackers, (I mean Generation X) is that they don’t have any money to spend.

Right now, this is not the case. Although this group may not have had the same wealth as Babyboomers, right now they are at the peak of their buying power so if you attract them in the right way they may be interested in Health Clubs. 

Let’s take a closer look at how Generation X’ers have been brought up regarding the health sphere.

This group grew up with the Aerobics, Step and Dance movement so they are more likely to enjoy these fun, high energetic, 80s toning type of classes. They also were the first early adopters of much of the more conventional gym equipment such as the treadmill, the cross-trainer and the exercise bike, so they will not be averse to a gym floor with the most basic of equipment. 

Generation X also grew up in an age where they were subject to an array of conflicting messages about the right diet and nutrition. From Rosemary Conley DVD’s to Slim Fast, Weightwatchers to the Atkins Diet, there has been so much misleading information out there, that it has been difficult for this group to make the right choices. 

A large reason for inactivity among Generation X, is their perceived ‘lack of time’ as they are trying to balance work and family responsibilities. They lead very busy lives (absolutely nothing to do with slacking, of course) so they view their Health Club as a place to relax and relieve tension. They also value the social element that a gym can provide.

In my opinion, Health Clubs should aim to offer shorter, fun classes at lunchtime or before work to really appeal to Generation X and their limits on time. From Yoga to Aerobics, and Zumba to Boxercise, sessions focused on fun and reducing stress are key to attracting this group. Offering services which promote quality nutrition education and expel confusion caused by the influx of deceptive 90s ‘health’ products will also be well received. 

Family fitness is another major attractor for this group, which right now I only see Premium Gyms offering. A budget gym with a focus on allowing parents and children to exercise may well be the first to win the hearts and minds of the Generation X. 

Generation X, can be extremely loyal customers. Research reveals they are more likely to stay at a gym than any other age group and they are likely to spend more on brands that give back. It’s definitely worth taking the time to initially attract this age group, and once converted, the focus should be on further rewarding them for their loyalty throughout their membership tenure so they remain fully engaged.

In terms of marketing, unlike the Babyboomers before them, Generation X do not like to read large amounts of content (slackers, aren’t they?). They do however like email as a channel, just not long winded, heavy text. Shorter, snappier emails which are direct to the point will be key to gathering the interest of Generation X. 

This group also like Facebook and Youtube, so using these channels may be very prosperous. Like other age groups, they are turned off by hard-core sales tactics as they have been exploited most by this type of marketing over the years, so make sure your social media adverts are image led with only the relevant, important information displayed.

I personally believe Generation X are the forgotten generation and Health Clubs need to start putting much more effort into appealing to this group, after all, they make up 33% of all Health Club members.

Take my advice on board and you’ll start to see your strategy paying dividends.

Millennials (18 to 34 years old) 

Millennials or ‘Generation Y’, today make up the largest bunch of people. 

It’s fair to say the majority of this group did not know the world prior to mobile phones and the internet. 

Before we delve deeper, it’s important to understand the disparities which exist between millennials.

Some Millennials have children and are proud home-owners, some still live with their parents and go out drinking literally every weekend. Many are young professionals who and are very career-focused. It’s clear that based on their individual circumstances, there are likely to be key differences in how each Millennial behaves. 

Dissecting the data much further between this group to really understand your Millennial members’ behaviour should be your prerogative. 

Despite their inconsistencies, most if not all Millennials are very capable with technology, so it is important your Health Club is set up in a way which will appeal to this group.

Offering interactive machines in the gym will be a hit with this group, as will wearable technology. 

Millennials are often members of more than one facility, as they favour a variety of experiences over a long-standing subscription. In fact, more than 3/4 of Millennials spend money on experiences rather than items. As a Health Club Operator, it may be wise to allow Millennials to feel your brand by offering them day passes. 

72% of Millennials also view gyms as too expensive, which may explain why Millennials are more likely to use market aggregators. If you want to capture this cohorts attention fully, owning your strategy with aggregators may be key. 

Millennials are very results-focused and want a quick and effective workout. As a result, they prefer High-Intensity Interval Training over other types, and they also enjoy the community element of fitness. It is no surprise that both CrossFit and the boutique sector as a whole has seen a surge in growth in the last 5 years – they have largely benefited from the rise of the Millennial.

If you deliver it well, even within a larger facility, Small Group Training can be your ‘Boutique’ solution. The HIIT and ‘community based’ elements of Small Group Training suggest it may be a powerful offering for any Operator wishing to attract today’s largest generation.  

As for their other interests, 4/5 of Millennials say they buy from companies with a social purpose. They are passionate about causes which protect the environment and when they find a brand they love, they will tell everyone about it on social media. Having a floor kitted out with cardio machines and equipment which protects the environment may go down exceedingly well with this generation.

Millennials also like authentic products they can trust, and it’s likely they’ll look for approval from others on social media before purchasing a product. Your brands’ review scores on search engines and social media play a vital role in the decision-making process of the Millennial so make sure your reputation is optimised and is not tarnished online.  

With regards to marketing, Millennials are active on all forms of social media, particularly Instagram and Snapchat. They like videos, filters, emojis, memes and hashtags. Your marketing strategy should reflect this. 

Unlike Generation X before them, Millennials are not huge fans of email, so prioritising social media and Google may be the way forward. However, don’t let that deter you from reaching out to the Millennials who are opening and clicking your emails. Use your data wisely to see which Millennials are bucking the trend.

My recent articles have focused on the personalisation of experiences, and omnichannel marketing, something which Millennials are big on. By reading these, you will be even better equipped to target this group, as well as the next group…

Generation Z (2001 – 2012) 

Generation Z, are the latest and youngest generation, but this doesn’t mean they should be overlooked or underestimated. With many now Generation Z attending University, they are starting to develop some buying power. The older Generation Z don’t just have their own money, but their student loans and their parent’s money to spend.

However, before you go out splashing all your cash on this group, research shows this group are cautious spenders and like to save their money more than their generational predecessors.  

This group have grown up with all things digital and they love interactive experiences. In order to attract this up and coming generation, your marketing, your operations and especially your website must be optimised visually for phones and iPads.

Your ‘in-store’ environment must also offer the right experiences for this group too. WiFi is a must, especially within the social areas of your gym. If you want to reduce the amount of time this group spend on their phones in the gym while still providing a comforting experience, phone charging outlets could be a gamechanger for all parties concerned. 

This group, unlike Millennials before them, are more concerned with body confidence rather than body shape. They have a better understanding of how mental health problems can occur through; eating disorders, body dysmorphia, exercise addiction and the setting of unrealistic goals. If you take this into account, your fitness facility may benefit from having a quirky YOGA studio or interactive kiosk which allows Gen Z to focus on their mental health. 

As this group like to celebrate diversity and ‘body confidence’, your advertising should not contain images and videos of people with unachievable body types, instead any promotional content should be more naturalistic and representational. Ditch the ‘shredded six pack’ stock imagery from your marketing and go and capture some shots of real members. 

As Generation Z have grown up exposed to so many digital advertisements, you’ll need to ensure your marketing grabs their attention. To do that you really need to tap into the interests of what this group like and market on the channels where their eyeballs and ears are fixed.

Generation Z do have some similar traits to Millennials in the sense that they use instagram and snapchat. However, YouTube and TikTok are two platforms that Generation Z spend a lot more time on. Incorporating these platforms into your marketing may be effective in targeting this group. 

Having interactive virtual tours that go beyond simply showing a viewer around the gym will go foster more engagement from this group. Perhaps having a ‘Siri’ type chatbot they can connect with or utilising virtual and augmented reality may be a more immersive experience in showcasing your gym. 

I ought to make it clear that unlike Millennials and Generation X, this group do not appreciate traditional celebrities within marketing. They prefer honest, authentic influencers and will not be convinced by paid partnerships and potentially dishonest product endorsements. Creating a YouTube series which follows younger like-minded gym enthusiasts on their fitness journey may be more of a revelation for this audience.

Like all the other generational classifications, Generation Z pose another challenge to Health Club Operators. However, with the right marketing and member experience approach, you can expect to enjoy a substantial amount of success.

Concluding comments

A great philosopher Robin Collingwood once said ‘Every new generation must rewrite history in its own way’. That’s certainly true.

This is why we so many differences in the attitudes and behaviours of each new societal wave. The environment of which each group is raised in plays a key role in shaping how they react, especially within a Health and Fitness setting. If you’re not consciously aware of which category each of your members falls in to then it’s time to make a start. 

Like with everything, data and personalisation must come first. You should initially ensure that your own insight corroborates with the findings I’ve shared this article. If your data does authenticate the generation based generalisations I’ve shared today, then follow the advice I’ve offered throughout the article and you’ll more than likely see results. Continue to do your own research on what makes each generation tick, as every day that goes by the landscape may slightly alter.

Conversely, if your data shows no support for such contentions I’ve offered throughout this article, then your next project can be to work out why – if your insight goes against the norm, it’s quite possible you’re doing something remarkable, whether that’s in a good way or bad way. 

Millennial Out.

Written by
Joe Hall
Joe is a content creator for eFitness Club Management Software. He holds a degree in Physical Education and Sport and Exercise Psychology, alongside an MA in Sport Business. He is a qualified Level 2 Fitness Instructor and Level 3 Personal Trainer and was the previously Head of Customer Engagement for a leading UK gym brand for 6 years. Nominated as an IHRSA rising star in 2018, Joe has got a lot to say on all things FITNESS!