Attract More Members Using These 6 Psychological Principles

Aug 20, 2015 - 7 min read
child attracting attention with a megaphone

There are many tips and tricks which can help you to attract more clients out of the same amount of people that see your website or your brand. Influencing people to become clients or to extend their existing membership can be challenging, so it’s important to understand some psychological principles behind this process.

In 1984, Robert Cialdini wrote about persuasion and marketing in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion . Even though Cialdini wrote his book over 30 years ago, these principles are still highly relevant and are applied by many successful companies. Maybe you haven’t heard of these principles yet, but I’m sure you’ll recognize some of the examples in this article. I’ll just focus on examples that are being used within the fitness industry. There’s no copyright on these tips, so feel free to use them!

1. Reciprocity

What is reciprocity?

People tend to return a favor. So, do something small for them to get in their good graces. People often feel obligated to do something back for you. Think about it, if someone would cover your shift, you’d be more likely to cover your co-worker’s shift next time, wouldn’t you?

Examples of using reciprocity for your business:

There are multiple ways to do this. You could offer something to everyone, or individually. Some ideas:

  • Offer a free consultation with your nutritionist when someone signs up for a membership
  • Reward your members after a certain amount of visits. For example:
    • After 10 visits, give members a free towel
    • After 25 visits, give them a free water bottle
    • After 50 visits, offer a free personal trainer session
    • After 100 visits, give your members a full month for free
  • Create a booklet with workouts people can do. Maybe even at home, or outside. It doesn’t directly need to have to do something with your business.
  • Keep in mind that reciprocity is more than a technique to get new members. The key is to create a feeling of debt, and to maintain that feeling. Offer something extra, something that your members didn’t ask for. Deliver more than is expected of you. And continue to give!

Tip: change it around a little bit. Figure out what works. Maybe offering a free day pass is not appealing enough, so a week pass would possibly work better. Or, if you work with yearly memberships, give members an unexpected reward a few weeks before their membership ends. They might feel bad about quitting! As always: just test it and see what works best.

2. Commitment and Consistency

What is commitment and consistency?

If people commit to an idea or goal, they will be more likely to honor that commitment. If they promise something to themselves or to others, that promise becomes part of their self-image, and breaking that promise will feel wrong. Even if the original incentive or motivation is removed after they have already agreed, they will continue to honor their agreement.

Examples of how to use the commitment principle for your business:

  • Always do an intake with new members. Let them share their goals with you. Ideally, they would need to share it with their friends too. Why not ask them if they want to share it on social media, and reward them with something small if they do. This way, you combine both reciprocity and commitment.
  • Ask your members how many times a week they want to work out. Are they coming less often than they promised? Ask them if something’s wrong, and see if you can help out.

3. Social Proof

What is social proof?

People often do things they see other people doing. It’s like whenever you want to go to a restaurant, you’ll pick the busy one instead of the quiet one next door. When a lot of people go for a certain option, that option gains trustworthiness - if so many people choose an option, it must be good.

Social proof examples for your business: facebook like

    • You could add a Facebook like box to your website. If visitors see many people like your gym, you must be doing something right. - Use before and after pictures. They’re proof that you help people to get results and achieve their goals! - Let your members write testimonials. Dirty trick: use testimonials from people who switched from your competitor to you. Those tend to be more convincing. - Keep track of your members’ collective results. You could say something like “in total, my 500 clients lost 27841 pounds together in 1 year” on your website.

4. Authority

What is authority?

People often listen to authority figures. According to Cialdini, they even do this if they are asked to perform acts which they normally wouldn’t do. You’ll recognize this principle in several ways. For example, if you read an article in a trusted fitness magazine, it’s more likely you will believe the content than when you read it on a website you’ve never heard of. Or when a doctor tells you to quit smoking, you’ll heed their advice sooner than when a colleague tells you.

How to use the authority principle for your business

      • For personal trainers there are multiple professional organizations worldwide where you can sign up to become a certified trainer. And as a health club, you can become a member of a trusted association. Use this in your communication to generate trust.
        • Someone who’s really experienced can be very trustworthy as well. If someone tried multiple diets and failed, but lost 50 pounds by following your methods, ask this person to share their story with you.
        • Any famous people working out at your location? Make sure people know about it, especially if those celebrities happen to have great bodies. If they work out at your location, surely it must be a good spot!

5. Liking

What is the liking principle?

People are easily persuaded by other people that they like. When someone likes the person who tries to sell them something, they are more likely to buy.

How to use the liking principle for your business:

      • Set up an ‘invite a friend’ campaign. If someone brings in a friend, give this person a small discount. This makes it more likely that a member will invite others, and at the same time this person helps you to sell more memberships.
        • Are you doing something different? Perhaps you’re generating electricity with your treadmills? Do you have a different vision than others? Share it!

[caption id=“attachment_1129” align=“alignnone” width=“905”] Air BnB Referral Airbnb’s referral program is an excellent example of a “tell-a-friend” campaign.[/caption]

6. Scarcity


If a product has limited availability, this will create more demand and a feeling of urgency. People are more likely to decide right away, and won’t delay a decision.

Examples of how to use scarcity for your business:

      • Offer a free personalized nutrition plan for the first 10 people who become a member at the start of a new month
        • Offer 20% discount if someone becomes a member before tomorrow 8PM (ideally with a timer, too).

Combine these principles!

If you really want to persuade people, combine Cialdini’s principles. For example, do something like this (it’s a bit extreme, but you get my point):

Free month for the first 50 people who share their fitness goal on Facebook or Twitter with their friends. Offer ends in 2 days and 5 hours. 18 winners left. Tag our company so we can reward you!

In this example, you combine the following principles:

      • Scarcity (limited amount)
        • Scarcity (valid for a short period of time)
        • Social proof (offer claimed by many other people)
        • Reciprocity (give something, get something)
        • Commitment (share a goal in public)

Now it’s time to persuade your leads and existing members. If you have any other examples that work well, feel free to share them!

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Tommy Klouwers

My name is Tommy Klouwers and I’m Marketing Manager at Virtuagym. I’m always looking for new ways to grow our business internationally. I’m a huge fan of data. I love soccer and like to beat my co-workers at a game of FIFA after work :)