This is the meat & sweet potatoes of your business. To some extent, your answer should come easily no matter how long your gym has been in operation. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some pitfalls we want to keep an eye out for. They will often be representative of challenges we’ll face as we define & refine our branding.
The first challenge is when our businesses become unfocused. Simplicity tends to win, & the businesses that succeed are often determined to keep things simple. Think about Apple, Uber, Amazon, & Starbucks. Simple products & product lines, simple messaging, simple experiences. That’s what we’re aiming for. It’s a subject we’ll come back to time & again. (In fact Section 3 will be all about working to simplify what we do & how we talk about it.)
The writer Ryan Holiday has a formula he likes to use when thinking about this kind of question. The formula is “This is a [blank] that does [blank], which helps people [blank].” We don’t need to stick with this formulation, but it’s worth playing around with. It will help focus you in a way that hits on all the major ingredients while keeping you from going too far astray.
Throughout this program, we’re going to use three differing, imaginary gyms as examples & illustrations that I hope will give you a speed boost as you work through your own Brandwork document. Let’s introduce them now by looking at how each would answer the question at hand.
First, our community-focused gym. These guys have a diverse population & are more often than not located within a few hours of city living. Their answer could be:
“We are a full-family gym that creates a vibrant environment for our group CrossFit classes. Our music is almost as loud as our laughter. We pride ourselves in reducing the intimidation factor that keeps too many people from getting healthy."
Second, a competition-focused gym. This gym puts a priority on working with athletes & teams, both inside the sport of CrossFit & out. They have a wide range of members, but skew younger than our community gym does. Their answer might be:
“We are a cutting-edge CrossFit gym that is pushing the boundaries of what is possible through strength & conditioning. Our coaches & our program will help you smash your goals & elevate you amongst your peers. Our mission is to help you redefine where you thought you could go."
Third, our corporate-focused gym. These guys are often located in the city & are focused on professionals & white-collar workers, as well as the occasional college student who can afford the membership. Their answer might look like:
“We are a conveniently-located CrossFit gym offering forty-five minute, coach-led classes throughout the day. Our program will get you fitter than you’ve ever been, increase your energy so you accomplish more, & get you back to the office looking & feeling better than ever.”
However you answer, remember to keep simplicity in mind. If your first pass finds you saying something like, "We do this, & also this, & for some people we offer this..." then I urge you to keep revising with an eye toward clarity.
A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that most people, most of the time, are looking for reasons to say no. Saying no is how a person gets to maintain the status quo & stay comfortable. These are powerful forces for many people.
When Coach Glassman talks about getting people off the carbs & the couch, what is he saying about CrossFit? He’s saying it aims to convince people to discard the thoughts & actions that are working against their health. He’s hoping to convince people to embrace the kind of discomfort that leads to growth & change.
When somebody says no to your gym, many times they’re saying no the changes you want to instigate. Most people aren’t ready to change their definition of exercise. Most people aren’t ready to change how they eat, how much money they spend on their own health, or their belief that barbells & pull-ups aren’t for them.
You'll lose them if they don’t receive a simple message presenting them with a clear & obvious path to success. Especially in the early stages of a relationship. It’s too easy to say no, to move onto the next thing, to look for something or someplace else they feel they better belong. Confusing them hands them an easy out.
The second challenge is similar but slightly more narrow. It happens when gyms slip into jargon-mode. They’ll throw out terms like “mixed modalities,” “relative intensity,” “metcon,” or even “WOD,” as if these were common phrases. They’re not, of course. We need to be careful to stay away from them everywhere outside of our coach’s meetings & continuing education courses.
This bad habit can be especially rampant in CrossFit. Many affiliate owners are trainers, movement experts, & (with all due respect) gym nerds first. You are building your gym & your life around a desire to help people move better. You’re not building your life around marketing or copywriting. You love the jargon, the science & precision of the words. But the people you are seeking to serve don’t. They need plain language they can understand.
Don’t make them work too hard to know what you do & how you do it.
Imagine your answer today as the one you would give a stranger at a party when they ask what you do. You’ve likely been in the situation before - on both sides of the question. What happens when the answer drones on? What happens when it’s confusing or boring or laced with industry-specific buzzwords?
What happens is that the questioner looks for an immediate exit from the conversation. Don’t be boring & don’t confuse people. In a world of increasing noise, clarity is king.
After you’ve spent some time thinking through this question, take a 30,000 foot view of your business as it stands today. Now armed with a two to three sentence answer to what you do & how you do it, can you identify areas of your gym that don’t line up? If so, make a note. We’ll want to ask ourselves some tough questions about those areas soon.