Spend three rounds of Cindy thinking about this question:
Why are we different?
Now that you’re warmed-up, let’s get going. Click the play button below to listen to today’s session.
3 Big Ideas
With more context now, spend a few more minutes pulling out the most important concepts in this session:
The differentiation of early CrossFit was not only the What, but the How.
→ The class environment was branding. Keeping score was branding. The sense they were the David to the rest of the industry’s Goliath was branding. The celebration of discomfort, the embrace of the counter-cultural, & the claims of elitism were all efforts of branding. They were all the ways CrossFit kept the promise of making people fitter. In short, Greg & that early group in Santa Cruz kept their promise by making the right people feel part of special club.
By drawing a clear distinction between “us” & “them,” CrossFit HQ created a vibrant brand.
→ People who wanted to join the revolution didn’t want to exercise in their living room. That was a good thing. That was in line with the Values & Personality of the brand. That was in line with the sense that there was an “us” & that there was a “them.” Those in the “us” category got curious. They raised their hands & showed up. Those in the “them” category ran for the hills. Slowly & with ankle weights on.
Identifying & embracing your exclusivity is how you create a tribe filled with the right people.
→ There’s nothing wrong with these concessions, & there’s nothing wrong with the people who want something other than what you’re offering. They believe what they believe, & they want what they want as a result of it. The job of your marketing is not to convince the unconvince-able. Instead, the job of your marketing & branding efforts is to attract the right people when they are ready.
All the Words
So far, we’ve examined a handful of the building blocks that form the foundation of your brand. We’ve considered the nuts & bolts of what you do, we’ve thought about the values that underpin them, & we’ve put on paper the uniqueness with which you bring them into the world.
In other words, we've begun to articulate those things that differentiate your gym.
What you do, why you do it, & how are the essential ingredients that make up the meal that is your business. In the next session, we’re going to look at one final ingredient. For now, I want to make sure we have a solid appreciation for the value of your differences.
The good news is we don’t have to work very hard to identify much of what makes CrossFit - & by some extension, your gym - unique in the marketplace. In almost every way, Greg Glassman built CrossFit as a counterargument to what the fitness industry had become after Arnold Schwarzenegger convinced the world to chase form over function in the 70s.
I recognize I’m preaching to the converted here, but it’s important to state at least some of the major tenants of CrossFit as it relates to everybody else. I’ll be brief. Here’s an abridged list in no particular order:
The prioritization of full-bodied rather than isolated movements
The reliance on free weights over machine-assisted exercise
The insistence on constant variance
The emphasis on relative intensity
The focus on measurement & performance
The mixing of modalities
Jam all those individual attributes together, plus a few more, & we have CrossFit.
It might be more accurate to say that what we have is the theory of CrossFit.
But you didn’t get hooked because of theory. The first affiliate didn’t sign up because it sounded like a great idea. The early years of L1 Seminars didn’t get filled because CrossFit looked good on paper.
The list above, that’s the What of CrossFit.
What about the How?
It’s not an accident that we CrossFit in a class setting. You know all the reasons why. Among the most important is that people work harder when surrounded by other people working hard. They also tend to work harder when a coach they'd like to make proud is watching. In the particular case of CrossFit, all that hard work conveniently leads to better results.
The What & the How - in this case, the theory & the environment - gave way to the Values & the Personality.
Those early seminars were especially popular in the military & first-responder communities. They were brutal, three-day slugfests designed to see how far they could push. Watch the OG Nasty Girls video & you'll know that what was happening in that small gym in Santa Cruz was no joke.
If we had to articulate them in hindsight, the Values underpinning those early days were perhaps "competitiveness," "challenging," & "scientific.” The Personality traits perhaps "disruptive," "exclusive," & "fearless."
Think of all the ingredients they were throwing into the mixing bowl. High intensity, shared suffering, the excitement of inventing something, barbells, gymnastic rings, & the motivation of keeping score throughout it all. Sprinkle in the low cost of handheld video cameras, fit people with no shirts on, & the growth of this thing called the Internet.
I’m not sure you can combine those & get anything but what came out of Northern California in the early 2000s. To imagine something other than Pukey the Clown & “Your Workout is My Warmup” t-shirts is comical. To imagine Greg trying to deliver CrossFit on DVD like it was Beach Body or P90x is hilarious.
For one thing, it would have been terrible branding.
Marketing is the making of promises, & branding is how we keep or break those promises. The early promise CrossFit made was that by following this training & diet protocol, you were going to get fitter than you’ve ever been before. The promise was that you would perform better, look better, & stop wasting your time with calf raises & tricep kickbacks.
Everything else was branding.
The class environment was branding. Keeping score was branding. The sense they were the David to the rest of the industry’s Goliath was branding. The celebration of discomfort, the embrace of the counter-cultural, & the claims of elitism were all efforts of branding.
They were all the ways CrossFit kept the promise of making people fitter. In short, Greg & that early group in Santa Cruz kept their promise by making the right people feel part of special club.
A late night infomercial does not make someone feel special. A late night infomercial is not a middle finger to the status quo. It’s not an act of rebellion. It makes people feel safe. If we can order it at two a.m. for three easy payments of $29.99 & we can do it alone in our living rooms, how hard can it be?
People who wanted to join the revolution didn’t want to exercise in their living room. That was a good thing. That was in line with the Values & Personality of the brand. That was in line with the sense that there was an “us” & that there was a “them.”
Those in the “us” category got curious. They raised their hands & showed up. & those in the “them” category ran for the hills. Slowly & with ankle weights on.
With the wrong people scared off, CrossFit could celebrate, encourage, & engage the right people. The ones who were willing to get uncomfortable. The ones eager to learn. The ones attracted to the crazy. The right people, they brought in more right people. Together, they worked harder. They saw the results CrossFit had promised them.
They got fitter. They looked better, felt better, performed better. When a brand is able to fulfill its fundamental promises, people want to talk. When the fundamental promises are transformational - when they are about self-actualization or self-transcendence - people can’t stop talking.
I should know. I was one of those people.
We wanted to open our own gyms & teach our own athletes. We wanted to buy the t-shirts, travel to the seminars, & compete in the dirt & heat of Aromas.
We wanted to do all these things & much more because we had found something different. We had found something that kept its promise & did it in a way that made us feel like we were weird in all the right ways. That we were part of a special club.
To some degree, you know all this. You may have right there with me those days. So why am I telling you all this?
I’m doing it for three reasons:
First, because there’s a misconception that CrossFit HQ never did marketing & branding. That’s BS. What they never did was advertising. Not understanding this distinction is costly on the affiliate level.
Second, because I want you to start thinking about how much of the original promise & the original branding of CrossFit you are borrowing - on purpose or not - & how much of it is appropriate to borrow given the Values & Personality of your gym.
Third, because the right people for your gym have more choices than ever before. You need to figure out how to identify & amplify those things that make you different so you can stand out from the pack.
In the early days, putting CrossFit on the door was differentiation enough. There were so few affiliates back then that options were limited. Either you joined the one within an hour of you, or you tried to make due with mainsite workouts at the local Gold’s Gym.
With more CrossFit affiliates in the United States than Starbucks franchises now, that’s no longer the case. People have options. You need to show them what makes your gym different than the other two or four or six they’re considering.
When I say that, I’m not talking about making the case for why your CrossFit gym is better than the CrossFit gym across town. What I'm talking about is doing the kind of work I've engaged you in so far. I'm talking about making the concerted effort to understand & articulate your unique offer. Your gym is not like the gym up the road. It might be the perfect place for one person & not at all the right fit for another. You’re leaving it up to chance that the person for whom your gym is perfect will choose you if you don't lean into that reality.
The reason for this is simple. As the number of options increases, the tipping point for one decision over another can become more & more personalized.
In 2008, my choice of CrossFit gyms was far more likely to be binary - I could go to the one closest to me or I could not go to one at all. Ten years later, my choice of CrossFit gyms is far more like my choice of coffee-shops. Do I want my gym to be a corporate experience? Do I want it to be competitive? Do I want death metal or top 40 played over the speakers? Do I want full locker rooms with saunas & towel service? Do I want to pay $150 or $250? Do I want to go to the gym closer to home or closer to work?
All these decisions are decisions of branding.
When we’re thinking about what makes us different, it’s not about arguing that we're the best option as compared to all the others. That sort of black & white thinking doesn't get us where we need to go. Instead, it’s about our making the case that we're the right option for the right person.
When we ignore that, when we don’t think deeply on the value our differentiation offers, when we don’t build our brand around that which makes us unique, we’re leaving a lot to chance.
CrossFit HQ is successful because it’s effective. As a brand, it keeps it promises. But it's also successful because it's kept those promises in a way that has created true differentiation. I don’t know how much of it was intentional in those early days. I don't know how much of it was Greg flying by the seat of his pants, infusing his own personality & values into the brand, & making adjustments as they went. But I do know the marketplace you’re in today will reward only those who make specific promises & who create unique ways to fulfill them. It will do so because that’s how you’ll get a community of the right people to join your gym.
You’re already doing this on some level. When you charge $150 or $200 a month for membership, you are telling a whole swath of people that you are not the right place for them. When you program workouts with a barbell, you are signaling to a certain segment of the population that this isn’t the right gym for them. When you don’t have showers or don’t offer a 10:30 class or don’t have any open gym hours, you’re making a choice to not be the right place for some number of people. When you committed to becoming a CrossFit affiliate, you made the choice to be an unappealing option to the person who wants to read magazines while sitting on a recumbent bike or who wants really, really defined triceps.
There’s nothing wrong with these concessions, & there’s nothing wrong with the people who want something other than what you’re offering. They believe what they believe, & they want what they want as a result of it. The job of your marketing is not to convince the unconvince-able. (We’ll dive more into this later on in the program, but that’s the job of your current members.) Instead, the job of your marketing & branding efforts is to attract the right people when they are ready.
When you spend the time necessary to think about what makes your gym different than the other affiliates in town, the other globo gyms in town, the other spin studios, bootcamps, & boxing classes in town, the more likely you are to say the right thing to the right person. That’s where the magic happens.
Our Pretend Gyms
[ Full Example Gym Brandwork Docs here: Community | Corporate | Competitive ]
Answers to today’s question:
Our gym is different because we take our work seriously without taking ourselves too seriously. We want our members to have fun when they come to class because we've found that the people having the most fun get the most out of our coaches & our programming. We aim to offer classes & services for the whole family, from the kids to the grandparents, because we know that the family who sweats together sticks together.
Our gym is different because we recognize that getting a workout in today is just one of twelve other priorities our members have on their calendar. Our program is designed for people who are busy, hard-charging, & seeking to maximize their time in the gym. We know how to get you what you need & get you back to work or your family quickly.
Our gym is different because we think an athlete's true potential can only come out when their efforts are matched with the best programming & the most experienced coaches. We give our members everything in our power to get the competitive advantage that they want in their sports & in their lives.
Time to Do Work
With all that in mind, revisit your original answer. Open up your Brandwork Doc & clean up the reasons why your gym is different.
Now that you’ve got your answer, stress-test it a bit against these questions:
If you put this answer beneath the logo of the two or three affiliates within driving distance, would it still be appropriate. If so, keep working to distinguish your differences.
Are your values & personality traits from previous sessions reflected in your answer? They should be.
In the next section, you’re going to ask yourself the final question needed to fully design your brand. Before you do, here’s another quote from Seth Godin worth staring at like a lava lamp:
"If you want to make change, begin by making culture. Begin by organizing a tightly knit group. Begin by getting people in sync. Culture beats strategy. So much that culture is strategy.”