April. The gyms that once were swarming with New Year’s resolution-ers are back to their normal pace. But for me this year, something is different. The reason: CrossFit. After becoming a member late last year, and having quickly assumed the role of proselytized junkie, I wanted to take my experience as a CrossFitter and understand from a marketing standpoint, how CrossFit has been able to distance itself from the competition and create legions of brand advocates. Here is what I’ve learned:
1. Acquisition – To overcome the reluctance associated with doing anything new, especially joining a gym, CrossFit not only provides the first class for free, but also goes out of their way to acknowledge you and welcome you. Prior to my first class, I received a confirmation email, a follow-up phone call, and upon arrival the first day, was greeted by name at the door, shown the lockers and told to change. Compare that to the standard ‘gym tour’ where you are paraded around the gym in your street clothes, looking every bit the complete and utter neophyte. There is also little commitment to joining CrossFit. There’s no membership contract, and anyone can quit at any time. Once you decide to join, you have basically 2 membership options to choose from. Since CrossFit is a premium priced service, they offer 2 classes a week at a cost that is relatively comparable to a good gym and an unlimited class program for roughly 2.5X that price. They know from a psychological standpoint that offering 3 per week at an incrementally higher price than the 2 per week, they would see fewer upgrading to the unlimited, because hey, 3 workouts per week is probably all most people need. It’s important to note that they feel extremely confident in their product and that although many members do start off with the less expensive option many do ultimately switch to the higher priced unlimited program.
2. Gamification – Ok, I’ve been told this term is played out, so let’s call it sustained motivation, (susmotification?). Regardless, this is a primary reason that CrossFit becomes so addictive and effective for people because you are competing against yourself and others. Workouts are repeated every so often, giving you an opportunity to beat your previous best. There is also an unspoken competition with others as well. Since everyone does the same workout each day, everyone’s times are posted on the board. You are able to see that the hundred pound girl from the 5:30AM class completed the workout in 21 minutes with a 55 pound weight and you are hell bent to beat her. Within the class themselves, they often pair you up with someone who you want to beat head to head, or team you up, motivating you to both beat the other team and work harder so as to not let you own team down. As a result of this competition, you give more than you would by exercising alone, have more fun, and get better results.
3. Community and engagement – In most gyms, people go about their own workout, rarely interacting with each other, even in the group classes. CrossFit creates a much more personable and intimate experience. The classes are typically small, and everyone at the gym is doing the same workout of the day (WOD), and can thus converse and moan (wallballs anyone?) with each other about the experience. They further establish the sense of community by creating ‘inside’ names. For example, a CrossFit gym is called a ‘Box’ and the workouts have female names (Diane and Barbara) and are also named for fallen soldiers, which drives a sense of purpose among members. Because of the community atmosphere, it is not uncommon for CrossFitters to get together outside of the gym, furthering the loyalty towards CrossFit.
4. Advocacy – When was the last time someone said to you, “You really need to join my gym, it’s amazing”? Probably never. Most people instead are trying to sell the remainder of their locked in membership contracts on Craigslist. But CrossFitters are like the Apple fans of the gym world. They will talk on and on about CrossFit and the paleo diet and tell you how it changed their life and that you should try it, all while dressed in their CrossFit hoodie. This army of walking testimonials promotes CrossFit much better than any corporate marketing campaign could. This is why when you can’t get away from the ubiquitous gym advertising in December and early January, you never see a CrossFit ad. They don’t have to, which of course helps in acquisition (see bullet point 1), creating a virtuous cycle.
CrossFit has created a unique niche in a very crowded gym marketplace. We as marketers can learn a lot about how CrossFit has been able to create a unique and powerful brand and separate themselves from their competition in an extremely competitive and established fitness space.