What is Branding?

Find the gnarliest, most bearded, most tattooed biker in the most seedy of local bars. Ask him if he’d like to take a spin on your Yamaha Star Venture. What would he say? Likely you wouldn’t know. You’d be too distracted by the swift way he was tossing you into the parking lot by the back of your gym shorts.

He doesn’t ride Yamaha. He’s got a Harley.

That’s branding.

Imagine that you & a buddy were grabbing coffee at your favorite local shop. Toward the end of your red-eye with three extra shots he said, “I’m heading to this great new Barre studio I just found. Join me for a class?” 

How would you respond?

I'd like to think you’d be polite about it, but chances are you wouldn’t be caught dead in a Barre studio. Same goes for SoulCycle, Orangetheory, and Planet Fitness. Why?

Because you’re a CrossFitter.

We can make the reasoned argument that it’s because we know the effectiveness of constantly varied, functional movement performed at high intensity. We can recite Greg Glassman’s 100 Words of Fitness by heart & we have the sneakers to prove it.

But really it’s because CrossFit has become part of our identity. It’s become part of the story we tell ourselves about ourselves. We're not yogis, bodybuilders, marathoners, or people who cycle with all our soul. “We believe what we want to believe,” writes Seth Godin, “and once we believe something, it becomes a self-fulfilling truth.” 

It doesn’t matter if CrossFit is the most effective strength & conditioning program ever devised if you don't believe it to be true. It doesn’t matter that Yamaha makes fantastic touring motorcycles if you think everything short of a Harley is a waste of metal and rubber. What matters are the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. What matters is how those stories match or contradict the story a business is telling us about themselves. That cross-pollination of stories is branding. 

The result of consistent & effective branding is something to which people want to attach their identity. You know it's happened when someone says, “I’m a CrossFitter,” or, “I’m a Ford guy,” or, “I could never use an Android phone.” As author David Sax has written about the rise of the Moleskin brand: “The notebook became a symbol of aspirational creativity, a product that not only worked well as a functional tool, but that told a story about you, even if you never wrote on a single page. Like a Patagonia jacket or a Toyota Prius, it projected someone’s values, interests, and dreams…” 

The aim of my work is to walk through the most prominent areas of your business where you can develop & strengthen your brand in an effort to do the same. These areas work on related, but ultimately separate levels, dependent on whether we’re talking to a current or a prospective member. (Presumably, current members already believe the story you are telling about health, fitness, and the business you are running. What they need is something different than what a prospective member does.)

Branding well means being able to speak to both audiences with the appropriate story at the same time. To paraphrase Glassman, we do that by sending the right signals, to the right people, for the right reasons. As Coach says, “It turns out that’s handsomely profitable.”

Patrick Cummings