Establishing a 'Brand' for Your Business

What do your clients feel when they think about you and your services?

Nothing can take your personal training program or facility to the next level like creating an environment and an operating system that cause your customers—and potential customers—to perceive your business in a positive light. True brand creation has been accomplished by relatively few in our industry. Curves®, Crunch Fitness and 24 Hour Fitness are the first three that pop into my head. But what is all the buzz about brand anyway? Professionals in every industry seem to throw around the terms brand identity, brand creation and brand differentiation, and people just nod their heads, thinking they understand what is meant. But, really, what is a brand?

Brand Defined

A lot of misunderstanding exists about what a brand is and why it is so important. Marty Neumeier, in his excellent book The Brand Gap, identifies three things that a brand is not:

  • It is not a logo.

  • It is not a corporate identity system.

  • It is not a product or service.

Neumeier defines a brand as “a person’s gut feeling about a product, service or company” and goes on to explain, “When enough individuals arrive at the same gut feeling, a company can be said to have a brand.” His contention is that creating a brand comes down to trust.

So what gut feeling do your clients have when they think about your business? Do they trust you? The past three installments of this series in IDEA Fitness Manager have covered ways you can build trusting relationships with your clients through new-member orientation programs; educational workshops; and individual training options, such as buddy training, small-group instruction and specialty clinics. Once you have established a trusting relationship with your members, the next step is to transform your newly implemented operating model into a cohesive brand by creating a message that is clear, crisp and inspiring.

Send a Clear Message

In too many facilities, the personal training program has little or no cohesion. Pricing may have no consistency or structure. Sessions may be bundled into packages of five, 10 or 20 with no apparent reasoning, and free sessions may be given away without being accounted for. This type of chaotic environment doesn’t allow you to project the clear message needed to brand and sell your programs.

Bundling personal training sessions is a tried-and-true way of decreasing the cost per session. But are your trainers really inspiring your members by saying simply, “I think you should purchase 20 sessions”? Take your offering to the next level and give your program cohesion by creating packages that meet members’ specific needs and then giving these packages thematic names. For example, the Westerville Athletic Club in Westerville, Ohio, calls its 18-session package for new personal training clients QuickStart, and couples it with a program guarantee, enabling its trainers to say, “Based on our conversation, I recommend our QuickStart program. With this program, you’ll meet with me three times each week for the next 6 weeks. The great thing about QuickStart is that if we meet 18 times over the next 6 weeks, we guarantee you’ll see results or we’ll refund your money.” That’s a pretty inspiring message, don’t you think? And it’s a message that creates trust. This type of packaging allows for a clear message that is easy to brand.

Project a Crisp Image

To effectively create a brand, you need to make sure that all aspects of your club and fitness department convey a message that is not only clear but also crisp. This begins on the floor with your personal trainers and floor staff, and it extends to the logo and tag line you use on all your printed marketing materials and in-house forms.

Personal Trainers and Floor Staff. Many facilities have trainers with wide discrepancies in appearance. One trainer may be professionally dressed in a neat uniform, while another might wear baggy “gym rat” attire—definitely not the definition of crisp!

The subject of uniforms can be a touchy and contentious issue with trainers and other gym staff, but requiring uniforms ensures a crisp and distinguishable appearance. Implementing a uniform policy can be eased if you choose the right uniform. First, ditch the catalog full of unisex apparel and choose attire that trainers love, from a company such as Adidas or Nike. The Three Stripe Instructor Program from Adidas allows trainers to buy fashionable gear at cost. Second, decide on clothes that will complement the colors and theme of your facility.

Logo and Tag Line. Your logo is a visual representation of your company—a symbol, a monogram, an emblem or some other graphic design; and your tag line is a short phrase that summarizes the key elements of your company (Neumeier 2006). Once your brand is established, the tag line often becomes instantly recognizable. Everyone can match “Just do it” to Nike and “Don’t leave home without it” to American Express. So why is all of this important? Because in this era of mass customization, organizations must differentiate themselves from the competition. By investing $300–$1,000 in a professionally designed logo, even a small business can convey a bigger, more professional identity.

A personal training program within a club can develop its own logo complementary to, yet distinct from, the facility’s logo. Your facility can even take it to the next level by having logos designed for popular programs within each department. Once each logo is designed, it should be incorporated into all printed in-house and out-of-house marketing materials, including but not limited to the following:

  • business cards

  • stationery

  • fliers and brochures

  • forms and contracts

  • signs and banners

  • website

  • media kits and press releases

By creating a professionally designed and solid corporate identity system and integrating it into every aspect of your club’s marketing plan, you ensure that your brand is identified with your logo, and you convey a crisp message at all times.

Use Inspiring Testimonials

Results sell. It’s as simple as that. Your personal training department’s branding message must be backed up by the results experienced by current and past clients. Once you implement a membership integration system and definable training programs, results are easily quantified by comparing clients’ results to their initial evaluations. We all know that happy clients refer new clients, but you can further leverage that credibility by creating an inspiring message through a testimonial campaign. Testimonials from happy members are a sure-fire way to show potential clients the success that others have experienced by participating in your programs.

The best way to get testimonials is to ask for them from clients who have achieved significant results. Testimonials can come in the form of comments, before-and-after photographs, and lists of athletic achievements. In my opinion, clients shouldn’t be compensated for testimonials—either monetarily or with free sessions. The testimonials should be genuine, without any air of impropriety. Incorporate testimonials in both your in-house and out-of-house marketing materials. As mentioned above, be sure that your logo and tag line are visible.

A Brand to Be Proud Of

Creating a brand on a national level may be beyond the scope of some organizations’ goals and aspirations. Yet by building trust with members through good service delivery and by marketing that trust with a clear, crisp and inspiring message, you can build a brand that is well-known locally and in which you can take pride.

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Scott McLain, MA

IDEA Author/Presenter
Scott M. McLain, MA, is the owner of Five Star Fitness Training, a company that conducts fitness ... more less
Levinson, Jay Conrad. 1998. Guerrilla Marketing. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Nuemeier, Marty. 2005. The Brand Gap. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.
July 2006

© 2006 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

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