Democrat and Chronicle, YMCA challenge legacy brand perceptions


Editors note: Brooke brought in guest blogger and Gannett colleague Dennis Floss, director of marketing at the Democrat and Chronicle Media Group, for this weeks post.

In Rochester, New York – like many communities across North America – two of the most easily recognised brands, and perhaps least understood, are the YMCA and the local newspaper.

Both share legacy perceptions by their communities that do not reflect their current business models.

So, when the YMCA of Greater Rochester teamed up with Gannett’s Democrat and Chronicle Media Group, one of the first things put on the table was the challenge of leveraging 160+ years of brand recognition while bringing a message of change to the market.

In Rochester, the challenge was to help the client stop losing members.

The YMCA had experienced a significant decline in membership in just two years. This was due in part to aggressive pricing from increased competition in the fitness club segment, exacerbated by the perception that the Y was a place for older folks and kids. 

First, Democrat and Chronicle Media Group performed a deep situational analysis of the YMCA organisation, its membership, and its competition. It conducted deep pricing and competitive analyses utilising the full breadth of Gannett’s marketing toolbox: market analytics and insights, customer surveys, and advertising effectiveness studies.

This included obtaining the Y’s membership and transactional database, from which it did an in-depth audience segmentation analysis.

This led us to understand who the current members were so we could identify the best prospects – three high-potential audience segments and their associated behaviours.

From this, the Democrat and Chronicle Media Group developed a precise, actionable solution that included revamped YMCA messaging focused on the personal and community connections unique to the Y. The integrated media and messaging strategy focused on a personal connection between the consumers and their local YMCA branches.

To position the Y as a preferred choice for gym memberships, we promoted the organisation’s three pillars: youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility. Effectively communicating this message to the right people at the right time would allow the client to take back market share that had been lost to the competition.

This was brought to market by deploying integrated tactics across channels (direct mail and e-mail, social media, high-profile print display, high-engagement digital advertisements, a custom lead-capturing micro-site, and even out-of-home and broadcast components).

While the Democrat and Chronicle has used a client strategy approach for key retail accounts for the past year, this campaign is a powerful example of collaboration that has changed perceptions. It meshed the work of the sales and marketing teams with the YMCA’s communications teams (local and national).

Through our client strategy process, the YMCA came to view Democrat and Chronicle Media Group as more than a “newspaper.” Now the organisation sees the client strategy team as experts, trusted to achieve marketing goals. 

The initial campaign results are exceeding expectations. The campaign has already been credited with reversing the two-year decline in new memberships – producing an 8% year-over-year increase.

The results from the membership campaign have prompted the client to make an incremental investment in additional programmes, further proving that the YMCA truly sees the Democrat and Chronicle Media Group as its marketing partner for today – and the future.

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