This editorial was originally published in October, 2013.
Last month, three of the top 10 posts on publishing platform, Medium.com were about CrossFit – much of it negative, some positive, but more importantly than the popular topic is the fascination behind the brand.
Noting that nearly one third of all popular posts were focused on the camps for and against CrossFit, I wondered to myself what lessons businesses could learn and how they can build their own bulletproof cult? Dedication, shaking off haters, and empowering consumers appears from the outside to be their success formula in expanding from one “CrossFit box” to an international sensation.
A popular topic online
Last month, the following three posts on Medium were in the top 10 most popular (you should take some time to read all three for the best level of insight on the topic):
- Why I Quit CrossFit Jason Kessler, which spawned…
- CrossFit’s Dirty Little Secret by Eric Robertson (the #1 post), which appears to have inspired…
- Why Do People Hate CrossFit? Kevin Lavelle
I read every single one of them in fascination. In full disclosure, I’m not in CrossFit, but friends who are CrossFit loyalists ask me all the time why I’m not involved, and the answer is simple – I have extensive joint damage from various injuries, and I already use the foam roller every day just so I can do a normal workout. In short, my body can’t take it. Sure, I’m on the same Gold Standard Whey Protein as the CrossFit folks, and I have a nutritionist and personal trainer, so I’m not against working out at all – I have no horse in the CrossFit race.
So why even write about CrossFit?
Because from the outside, it looks like a cult, and my friends in CrossFit all think I’m a moron for not giving it a shot. It’s not a cult, it’s just something people are excited about. We’re all that way. For example, at the grocery store, I play Tetris on the conveyor belt with grass fed beef, organic berries, and raw almonds, but I silently plead for the person in front of me to change their ways as they load up on Doritos, Hi-C, and hormone-filled ground chuck (“don’t they know what they’re doing to their bodies!?” my brain screams, “don’t they know they can eat well on nearly the same budget!?!”).
But it’s not just fitness, it’s any industry. If your favorite designer is Chanel and you’re obsessed with high fashion, you’re going to judge the wide girl wearing KMart garb – that doesn’t make you a fashion cult member. If you are a productivity junkie, who has streamlined every second of your day, you’re probably judging the guy in your office who has a 1984 dayplanner with post-it notes falling on the ground when he opens it (the same guy that’s always late). Alternatively, if you’re a couponer, you probably cringe that someone in a retail store is spending full price – what an idiot, right?
See? We all have affinities that we’re willing to judge others on.
Your brand is no different
Regardless of the professed dangers of CrossFit (and I’m not endorsing it by any means – I’m pretty sure I’d literally die if I did CrossFit, and you might too, according to the founder), the brand has spread like wildfire with hundreds of thousands of loyalists, and even a major competition covered by ESPN with hundreds of major sponsors.
So how does your brand emulate CrossFit? Maybe there’s something about your brand that others (competitors?) criticize publicly. Maybe your fans are bored and unwilling to go to bat for you. Perhaps no one has a reason to care about your brand.
It doesn’t matter what your brand is, you can get people as enthusiastic as the CrossFit enthusiasts. Seriously. I know you’re thinking in your head “but I’m an insurance agent, what’s exciting about that?” Tons!
First things first, you need to circle the wagons. Know who your fans are, or create them. How? While there are thousands of articles on this topic, the easiest way to explain is to find who is interacting with you most frequently, either online or offline.
CrossFit circles the wagons not only through building a tight-knit team environment at their facilities, but their main website is jam packed full of resources for anyone interested in CrossFit all the way to those who are veteran CrossFit competitors. Forums, online journals, blogs, videos, and more are available to help people to learn, and with that information, they are armed with what it takes to defend their being a fan of CrossFit. They’ve built a strong community, both digitally and offline.
Is your website filled with materials that people can learn from, and does any of it give consumers a reason to circle the wagons around your brand? Have you built a community worthy of people getting excited about, interacting with, and committing to memory so that they understand how your brand works better than any other?
I challenge you to try this
Evaluate your website, your social media presence, and all of your marketing. Does your marketing say, “we sell things and stuff,” or does it explain why you’re disruptive, and why you’re rocking harder than anyone else? Is your language enthusiastic and fan-worthy, or is it dry and boring? I would speculate that 99 percent of all business rhetoric isn’t worthy of the fandom CrossFit has created.
So after evaluating your brand, step it up a notch. Try something new. But above all, I want to issue a challenge to you – anywhere in your company that you witness complacency, snuff it out, whether it is in print marketing, the appearance of your desk, or your assistant’s attitude. Give people a reason to judge others for not choosing your brand – it’s human nature, as people naturally defend their choices by criticizing anything opposite that choice. It’s the secret ingredient of loyalty.
Complacency is your enemy, and it is what will sink you. With a tremendous amount of effort, perhaps someday, your brand will elicit as strong of a response as CrossFit has.