Going Vertical:  Selecting and Marketing Aquatic Exercise Programming

Lori Sherlock, Ed.D, ATRIC, AEA Training Specialist, CSCS, WaveMaker Coach

West Virginia University


Link to:            https://waterexercisecoach.com/




There are a multitude of ways to market an aquatics facility to draw more members into the facility while keeping existing members happy and engaged.  One of those methods is through selecting and marketing the right aquatic exercise programming for your members, facility, and community.  Vertical aquatic programming comes in all shapes and sizes, depths, and purposes.  Shallow or deep, small or large group, cool or warm water, high intensity or mobility focused, there are so many options to choose from!  With so many choices, how can you be sure that you are selecting the right programming for your facility?

Studies suggest that perceived value is one of the most impactful themes of marketing for user loyalty and satisfaction (1).  Perceived value revolves around the consumer’s belief that a product or service has the ability to meet their needs or expectations.  In other words, the potential member or participant must feel that they need the service or will gain some benefit from it.  Moreover, in order to uphold this perceived value, the product or service must continue to provide benefit in some capacity.  Satisfaction of the instructor can also factor into perceived value (1).  The instructor can reflect a positive (or negative) perception of the facility while offering outcome driven programming with a personal approach.

Using the context of perceived value, we can construct the concept that our class selection should meet the needs of our current and potential members and yield beneficial outcomes.  So how can we determine what our members want and need?  One of the most effective means of collecting this information is through surveys.  Electronic or paper surveys can provide facilities with the means of collecting demographic, health, and programming data.  Demographic and health data alone may lend to programmatic decisions.  For instance, if 40% of your members are over the age of 65, an assumption could be made that arthritis, mobility, or cardiovascular-focused classes would succeed.   This can be deduced by understanding that nearly 50% of individuals over the age of 65 have arthritis (2), 40% have mobility issues (3), and 22% have cardiovascular disease (4).  Additionally, program-focused surveys could allow your facility to ask members about their interest in specific program offerings while bolstering excitement and eliciting a feeling of autonomy.  Utilizing free and simple tools such as Google Forms, Survey Monkey, or Qualtrics to create and distribute your surveys can be simple for facilities with an e-list or online presence.  Asking members to complete a short survey (online or hard copy) upon facility entrance can also be effective.

Collecting information beyond your facilities walls may be more challenging.  Gathering demographic information from your community is a great start and it could be as simple as Googling your town’s demographics.  As an example, when I search “Morgantown, WV demographics” I am able to find population numbers, average income, ethnic breakdown, as well as other population characteristics including age, sex, and reported disability.  Additionally, Morgantown is home to West Virginia University, multiple K-12 schools, numerous senior centers and assisted living facilities, as well as blue and white  collar workers.  These simple findings can help to guide decision making for programming based on the accessible population.  With this information, facilities in Morgantown could seek to partner with schools to provide after-school programming that is fitness focused, energy-infused classes to target college-students, mobility classes to engage older adults, or work-hardening programming to benefit blue collar workers.  Further data collection could stem from email and social media campaigns containing survey links.

Another approach to programmatic decisions is utilizing SWOT analysis.  Identifying the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats of your facility can be eye-opening.  Outlining what your facility, programming and community has and what it doesn’t have can be a phenomenal starting point for programming design.  Considering opportunities, if your facility has an underutilized warm water pool, capitalize on it with programs such as Ai Chi, mobility, aqua yoga, Peyow, water walking, Arthritis Foundation Aquatic Exercise, and aquatic personal training.  If your competition pool has periods of down time, consider higher intensity programs such as water aerobics, HIYO, high intensity interval training, water walking, deep water running or vertical to horizontal training.  Maybe you have a diving well that sits empty for a portion of the day and could be used for deep water aerobics, running or suspended mobility.  These vertical exercise classes could add tremendous value to your facility in reference to both community service and the bottom line.

Lastly, various fitness organizations publish annual fitness trends.  Organizations including the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) and the International Health, Racket and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) conduct national and international surveys that pinpoint the fitness trends for the coming year.  Fitness trends for 2022 include strength training, exercise for weight loss, personal training, high intensity interval training, and fitness programs for older adults to name a few (6).  These fitness trends are a great indicator of what current and prospective members are looking for when it comes to fitness.

Once program offerings have been identified, marketing the programs for success is paramount.  Marketing should focus on three variables: 1. The facility, 2. The instructor, and 3. The program.  Each of these three variables should be marketed within the existing facilities customer base as well as in the external community to the target market.  To determine the program’s target market, consider the goals, purpose, mission and who would benefit from the program.

  1. The Facility: Consider that the condition and amenities of the facility have been noted to contribute significantly to driving membership and participation (1). Highlight what your facility has to offer, what makes it stand out, why it’s perfect for the program on offer as well as the safety and cleanliness.
  2. The Instructor: The instructor can play a major role in the success of a program.  When marketing the instructor, highlight certifications, degrees and experience.  It may be powerful to include a picture of the instructor on the advertisement to initiate a connection.  Moreover, you may consider having the instructor film some short promotional videos to post on social media.
  3. The Program: Consumers look for many things when seeking out a fitness program.  The short list includes health, wellbeing, safety, convenience, friendship and socialization.  Consider these factors when reaching out to your target market.  Does your program promote these factors and if so, how?  Teach your market about the positive influence water exercise and immersion can have on the body to lead the consumer to water.

Lastly, remember that the term “aquatics” can be ambiguous and subject to a wide variety of interpretations.  When marketing your program, it is necessary to appropriately identify the program with both the title and description.  Note if the program will require swimming skills and the type of aquatic environment it will take place in (shallow, deep, warm, cool).  The greater the understanding of the program, the higher the likelihood of participation.  With these tips and tools, you can take your aquatics facility vertical while increasing revenue, retention and participation.

  1. Prado-Gascó, V., Calabuig, F., Crespo, J., & Nuñez-Pomar, J. (2018). Satisfaction of users of aquatic activities: Free swimming vs. guided activities. Journal of Physical Education and Sport, 18, 1427-1434.
  2. Arthritis Related Statistics (2021). CDC.gov (https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/data_statistics/arthritis-related-stats.htm#:~:text=Of%20people%20aged%2065%20years,ever%20reported%20doctor%2Ddiagnosed%20arthritis.
  3. Coronary Heart Disease, Myocardial Infacrction, and Stroke – A public Health Issue (2019) CDC.gov  https://www.cdc.gov/aging/publications/coronary-heart-disease-brief.html#:~:text=14.2%25%20of%20adults%20aged%2045,aged%2065%20years%20and%20older.
  4. Mobility is most common disability among older americans, census bureau reports (2014).  https://www.census.gov/newsroom/archives/2014-pr/cb14-218.html#:~:text=Mobility%20is%20Most%20Common%20Disability%20Among%20Older%20Americans%2C%20Census%20Bureau%20Reports,-December%2002%2C%202014&text=Nearly%2040%20percent%20of%20people,the%20period%202008%20to%202012.
  5. Thompson, Walter R. Ph.D., FACSM. Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2022. ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal: 1/2 2022 – Volume 26 – Issue 1 – p 11-20

doi: 10.1249/FIT.0000000000000732

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