Do you have doubts about digital marketing potential?

By: Keith Haslam February 1, 2016

There is still a lot of discussions about the actual tangible benefits of using social media and digital marketing. My view on such matters is that on its own, it is not a silver bullet, but used as part of a well planned and executed sales and marketing plan, it can deliver real benefits.

From my dealings in the business, I still do not believe enough golf clubs, from the smallest member’s club to the big resorts (especially the smaller to medium-sized clubs), really utilize digital marketing anywhere near to the potential it could deliver for them and really cost-effectively.

The following are a few examples from some case studies of how projects utilized digital marketing, to communicate their product, services using some innovative promotional ideas to a targeted market and the results they contributed to.

The Ideas – that Delivered Results

  • Created a series of “offers” that over a period the club promoted – always having a major campaign running – to generate data and qualified leads:
    • “With Our Compliments” Campaign – during what was one of the quietest months, we ran a “With Our Compliments” offer, which people could sign up for and receive a “voucher” for a complimentary round of golf. We set the terms and conditions, (certain days of the week, certain times and you had to hire a cart). The result was over 800 qualified leads, actually generating more revenue in cart and secondary spend than in green fees the previous year and we are in control of our own campaigns, so it was not seen as a “discount” but a positive move to get people to our property.
      • Many third-party vendors are discounting your product for their benefit, why not use your assets and inventory for your own benefit and take back control!
    • As part of this opening campaign, the leads were asked what products or services they would be interested in, which generated over 200 golf club membership “prospects” to start to follow up on of which we estimate 15% were converted.

Membership Leads in CRM_2

Figure 1 – Leads Indicating Membership Interest via the Complimentary Golf Promo

  • The offers and promotions were publicized in the following places;
    • Facebook – using limited Pay Per Click advertising spend. This allowed us to target people within 25 miles of the property, of a certain age range, interested in the likes of golf, golf instruction, golf events – so was very targeted and specific. Using appropriate software, it was set up for them to like the Facebook page to claim the offer – so the club got hundreds of new likes and grew their fanbase as well. You need to consider spending a modest amount on pay per click with Facebook – growing organically is getting more and more difficult – but a little spend can go a long way.
    • A minimum daily feed of facebook posts – some facility info, some educational, some entertaining, some promotions, all trying to be engaging with your growing audience. It is recommended you “boost” certain posts with a modest pay per click spend – but very sensible targeted to your market.

Facebook Growth Month

Figure 2 – Fanbase Growth in just one month!

  • Website – the actual sign up was directed to the website with the appropriate sign-up forms and as people opted in, this automatically sent out a voucher as an autoresponder – which was used as a voucher on a day of play and provided all terms and conditions of the offer. A “hover ad” was also placed on the website for those going straight to the website or not on Facebook.
  • Email – an email was sent to the small database we had at the beginning of our work, directing people to the Facebook page.

Note: This type of offer is not for everyone and there were circumstances specific to the project and timing that made it a compelling offer, but importantly we were in control and using our assets and inventory to deliver results.

We felt it would kick start the strategy to grow the database, raise awareness quickly and it proved successful – but it is up to each project to assess what “offer” you are prepared to do – but certainly the more compelling the offer, the more response you are likely to get.

Other such promotional campaigns, were anyone opting in could participate, subsequently run included;

  • 25% discount voucher when booking lesson (had to be within a certain timescale). People could simply provide their details online and they would be sent a voucher automatically and were asked to book in advance.
  • 4 for 2 Voucher where we asked for all four names and emails – so many courses participate in 2 for 1 scheme, why not run your own and get the data and keep all the revenue – you are generating valuable data whilst generating revenue as well.

As an alternative to the above format, you can run some more “competition” based campaigns were an eventual winner is selected, such as;

  • Win a Membership – in a specific promotion with another client, to test the response rates, the competition was publicized in the local newspaper for a week. The response was 24 entries. The following week the same promotion was publicized on Facebook and spent just £20 on targeted pay per click – this generated over 140 responses!
    • The club presented one complimentary golf club membership (PR coverage), which really cost the club a limited amount (more just opportunity cost) and generated 150+ responses of which approximately 30 had some real interest in memberships and they converted 6 of them into full paying members.
    • All who entered received a thank you offer, which brought more people to the project – because they are engaged with you.

Lead Capture Membership Promo_2

Figure 3 – Lead Capture in Action from Win Membership Promotion

Membership Promo Email French

  • Win a Driver – the clubs suppliers helped out on this with the prize. This was a random draw of all entrants – but sent a voucher to all who entered as a thank you (with T&C’s).
  • Win a “Society Day” for 24 people – the winner actually brought 48 (paying for 24) in the end and they had to buy an F&B package. With over 60 entries, this generated for the club valuable data for future campaigns for golf society bookings and got great awareness.

Again, there needs to be an appropriate approach by each club so that it fits with their strategy and business model – but these methods can work and are extremely cost-effective and ensures you control your own inventory and promotions.

Also, use non-digital media to promote these campaigns as well – any adverts, posters etc that were printed at the same time, had the promotion and the website URL for people to go to and enter – this also has the benefit of seeing which leads came from different channels, giving you valuable information on future decisions.

Email Marketing

The database building that the previous campaigns created then allowed the club to market directly to qualified leads and people who had given permission to communicate with them in the future. Take a look at software such as MailChimp, Zoho Campaigns, Constant Contact, etc – many start with a free allowance and you pay more as you generate more contacts / or send more emails. They are really simple to use, can help build your lists and ensure you respect data protection guidelines – people can unsubscribe or opt out

They are really simple to use, can help build your lists and ensure you respect data protection guidelines – people can unsubscribe or opt out anytime they like. With digital media, small clubs can look as professional and innovative as much bigger golf clubs with bigger budgets.


Figure 4 – Database Growth

The 90 Day Game Plan

Our “way” is to have a “90-day Game Plan” – every quarter, in advance, we would prepare our email marketing campaigns (plus our FB, Opt-In Promo’s and actually any sales/marketing activities that could be done in such a time frame).

Now I am not one for quoting studies that say this or that – as many contradict each other and there are stats to prove anything – yet we find 90 days is a manageable period that the team could work in.

Activities and offers are planned around the specific time of year, notable dates – ie Valentines Day, Mothers Day, etc, sporting and other events i.e. the Majors, Local events that influenced our business, off-peak / peak times – you get the drift.

This ensures a well-planned approach and a stream of emails, once or maybe twice per week, which were sent to the database. Try to “segment” your database to some extent ie members, visitors, those who identified or responded to certain specific products ie weddings / functions etc – the more you can do this the better response rate and more likely to keep your opt-ins – but this does depend somewhat on the time and resources you may have at your disposal. Usually keeping it simple works best!

Try mixing golf related news, with interesting stories, caption competitions, club newsletter, upcoming events, opt-in promotions and some just general entertaining fun stuff. It is not always about selling, it is about engagement with your audience – but this allows you to sell products/services to an audience who are interested in you.


It is important to ensure your communications are tailored and personalized for your club. So try not to use stock shots and use great images of your course. For a Society Day promo, get some images of happy clients on your golf course. People will engage and relate to tour communication far more if they relate to it.

Also, use images of your members and guests (if they give permission) enjoying themselves at your golf course. People love to see themselves on Facebook, in newsletters (most do anyway!) and they will do your marketing for you by “sharing” and “forwarding” and this just increases your audience hugely.

The Follow Up

What you must be prepared to do is follow up on the success of any campaigns that you run. A lot of this activity creates leads and prospects – but you have to be prepared to follow this through as it may take weeks, months or even longer for people to finally buy from you. But if you don’t try, then the only sure result is nothing will happen.

So, if it is a membership lead, invite them to the club for a complimentary 9 holes to try the course (and let them bring 3 guests – as long as they give you their contact details), be there to meet and greet and give them a club tour and see if you can convert.

Send follow up emails, call them, give them a further offer, provide an incentive to buy, etc.

The Results

The following are actual results from a golf club in Europe – members and visitors. Not all results can be attributed to “digital marketing” and there were certainly other factors such as improvements in agronomy/golf conditions, investment in staff, better business planning, etc – but there is no doubt that using Digital Marketing and Social Media as a central tool to the promotional efforts allowed the club to deliver these results.

If you get into the discipline of using the CRM system, you will actually see some conversion information, helping to make future decisions on what you do with your valuable time and resources.

Database FB and Website Stats Graph

Members Growth Graph

Rounds Growth Graph

Revenue Growth Graph

The “Housekeeping” Bit!

Before getting to the actual front-end stuff, there is a need to put in place a bit of back of house structure. Key to digital marketing, or any marketing to come to think of it, is to generate interest ie “Leads” or “Prospect” who may now or some point in the future buy your services or products.

So, it is critical to be able to record them and track them. This does not need to be overly sophisticated, but it needs some structure. You would be surprised how easily you can find simple CRM or even list management tools, which are cost-effective and easy to use.

Like anything, it takes some dedication and discipline to actually implement and utilize these systems, but in no time at all, they become second nature and part of your companies “way” of doing things. You wouldn’t have a process to follow for opening up operation, or closing it down on a daily basis – well using a CRM system is no different than that – it becomes part of what gets done.

For small business’s these tools may even be free to start with, sure with no bells and whistles, but let’s face it, how many of us use all the bells and whistles with tools such as Word, which I am using to write this article! Then you can spend more resources as the systems grow, which probably means they are delivering benefit and a return on the investment.

Take a look at Zoho CRM, Salesforce, Insightly for example. The data in these systems is yours, so you can export, import into a new system, upgrade, etc – your choice. Speak to your golf software supplier, they may have built-in systems you can use, or they may work with 3rd party software to integrate the process more.

This CRM system, if nothing else, is the place where any leads that are generated digitally (ie people filling in forms online) will be dumped and are then available for you to follow up on. Plus you can upload or add manually as well, so they are all in one place.

Other systems you need to have set in place and get you started;

  • Website – old hat these days I know, with the likes of Facebook, Instagram, etc, but still a vital online presence for anyone doing reasonable research of your product. I won’t go into the intricacies of what design works, SEO, etc – but you need a good one and think of it as a lead generator, not just an online brochure. So, make it easy for people to pop in their email or contact information, and sign up for offers, newsletters, interesting downloads, competitions, coupons, etc. Every time someone does this, it will dump into your CRM system and even send you a note!
    • Make sure your website is mobile responsive so it looks great whether viewed on a desktop, laptop, tablet or phone – well over 50% of people will view on a mobile device and it needs to work for them.
  • Data is vital and valuable, so you have to work hard to get it. Sure you can buy a database, but if someone goes to the trouble of providing to you directly, then they are probably a qualified lead with interest in your product and likely to be within your geographic target market.
    • Start to build a database – with automated harvesting of data from numerous touch points on a website, Facebook, email and print media campaigns and on the property.
    • Look back at what contact data exists in the bookings system -export it and upload. You are allowed to send an email to them asking them to opt in for future emails.
    • Put a cheap tablet at reception (or other places in the clubhouse) and incentivize all players to input their email address. This simply dumped the information into the CRM system again.
      • Offer a weekly draw and make sure you tell everyone about who won – you have their emails after all and makes sure you follow through on our promises.
    • Business card drop at reception and in the hospitality areas.
    • Guest questionnaire – got valuable feedback as well as data.

This started as an article and a case study on the benefits of using digital marketing, but as always it tends to come back to using this as part of a wider approach and the effort, activity, and imagination you and your team put into it.

Activity breeds activity – it is infectious!