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Opinion Editorials

Brand lessons from the CrossFit cult

(EDITORIAL) CrossFit has been criticized heavily, but perhaps this spotlight of negativity makes fans even stronger in their resolve that they’ve made the right choice. Your brand can do the same.

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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):

  1. Why I Quit CrossFit Jason Kessler, which spawned…
  2. CrossFit’s Dirty Little Secret by Eric Robertson (the #1 post), which appears to have inspired…
  3. 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.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. marc_h

    October 25, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    Lani,

    You can do Crossfit. Even with your joint issues. We call it “scaling.” All the workouts can be modified to fit any individual’s capacity. Give it a shot. You’ll be glad (and amazed) you did.

    • Lani Rosales

      October 26, 2013 at 4:28 pm

      Thanks, Marc – we have a nutritionist and a private trainer who we see regularly, so I’m all set, but I think a lot more people WILL join the CrossFit movement, regardless of risk 🙂

      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment!

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Opinion Editorials

The actual reasons people choose to work at startups

(EDITORIAL) Startups have a lot going for them, environment, communication, visible growth. But why else would you work for one?

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Startups meeting led by Black woman.

Startups are perpetually viewed as the quintessential millennial paradise with all of the accompanying perks: Flexible hours, in-house table tennis, and long holidays. With this reputation so massively ingrained in the popular perception of startups, is it foolish to think that their employees actually care about the work that startup companies accomplish?

Well, yes and no.

The average startup has a few benefits that traditional business models can’t touch. These benefits often include things like open communication, a relaxed social hierarchy, and proximity to the startup’s mission. That last one is especially important: While larger businesses keep several degrees of separation between their employees and their end goals, startups put the stakes out in the open, allowing employees to find personal motivation to succeed.

When employees find themselves personally fulfilled by their work, that work reaps many of the benefits in the employee’s dedication, which in turn helps the startup propagate. Many aspiring startup employees know this and are eager to “find themselves” through their work.

Nevertheless, the allure of your average startup doesn’t always come from the opportunity to work on “something that matters.”

Tiffany Philippou touches on this concept by pointing out that “People come to work for you because they need money to live… [s]tartups actually offer pretty decent salaries these days.”

It’s true that many employees in their early to late twenties will likely take any available job, so assuming that your startup’s 25-and-under employee base is as committed to finding new uses for plastic as you are may be a bit naïve—indeed, this is a notion that holds true for any business, regardless of size or persuasion.

However, startup experience can color a young employee’s perception of their own self-worth. This allows them to pursue more personally tailored employment opportunities down the road—and that’s not a bad legacy to have.

Additionally, startups often offer—and even encourage—a level of personal connection and interactivity that employees simply won’t find in larger, more established workplaces. That isn’t symptomatic of startups being too laid-back or operating under loosely defined parameters. Instead, it’s a clue that work environments that facilitate personalities rather than rote productivity may stand to get more out of their employees.

Finally, your average startup has a limited number of spots, each of which has a clearly defined role and a possibility for massive growth. An employee of a startup doesn’t typically have to question their purpose in the company—it’s laid out for them; who are we to question their dedication to fulfilling it?

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Opinion Editorials

How Peloton has developed a cult-following

(OPINION EDITORIALS) How has Peloton gotten so popular? Turns out there are some clear takeaways from the bike company’s wildly successful model.

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Man riding Peloton bike with instructor pointing encouragingly during workout.

Peloton is certainly not the first company to gain a cult-like following–in the past we’ve talked about other brands with similar levels of devotion, like Crossfit and Yeti. Now, full disclosure: I’m not an exercise buff, so while I’d vaguely heard of Peloton–a company that sells stationary bikes–I had no idea it was such a big deal.

I mean, it’s not really surprising that an at-home bike that offers the option for cycling classes has grown so much during the pandemic era (a sales growth of 172% to be exact). But Peloton has been highly popular within its fanbase for years now. So, what gives? A few factors, actually.

Vertical Integration

If your company really wants to guarantee the vision and quality you’re aiming for, one of the best ways to enact it is through vertical integration, where a company owns or controls more than one part of its supply chain. Take Netflix, for example, which not only distributes media, but creates original media. Vertical integration lets companies bypass areas that are otherwise left to chance with third-party suppliers.

Peloton uses vertical integration–everything from the bike to its Wi-Fi connected tablet to the classes taught are created by Peloton. Although this may have made the bike more expensive than other at-home exercise bikes, it has also allowed Peloton to create higher quality products. And it’s worked. Many people who start on a Peloton bike comment on how the machine itself is well-built.

Takeaway: Are there any parts of your business process that you can improve in-house, rather than outsourcing?

Going Live

But with people also shelling out $40 a month for access to the training regimen Peloton provides, there’s more going on than simply high-quality craftsmanship.

Hey, plenty of cults have charismatic leaders, and Peloton is no exception. Okay, joking about the cult leader part, but really, people love their trainers. Just listen to this blogger chat about some of her favorites; people are connecting with this very human element of training. So much so that many people face blowback when suggesting they might like training without the trainers!

The trainers are only part of this puzzle though–attending live classes is a large draw. Well, as live as something can be when streamed into your house. Still, with classmate usernames and stats available while you ride, and teachers able to respond in real time to your “class,” this can simulate an in-person class without the struggle of a commute.

Takeaway: People want to see the human side of a business! Are there any ways your company could go live and provide that connection?

Getting Competitive

Pandemic aside, you can get a decent bike and workout class at an actual gym. But the folks at Peloton have one other major trick up their sleeve: Competition. Whether you’re attending a live session or catching up on a pre-recorded ride, you’re constantly competing against each other and your own records.

These leaderboards provide a constant stream of goals while you’re working out. Small accomplishments like these can help boost your dopamine, which can be the burst of good feeling you need while your legs are burning mid-workout. With this in mind, it’s no wonder why Peloton fans might be into it.

Takeaway: Is there a way to cater to your audience’s competitive side?

Conclusion

At the end of the day, of course, Peloton also has the advantage of taking a unique idea (live-streamed cycle classes built into your at-home bike) and doing it first. Plus, they just happened to be poised to succeed during a quarantine. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from what Peloton is doing right to build your own community of fanatics. There are plenty of people out there just waiting to get excited about a brand like yours!

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Opinion Editorials

How a simple period in your text message might be misinterpreted: Tips to improve your virtual communication

(OPINION/EDITORIAL) Text, email, and IM messages may be received differently depending on your communication style and who you’re communicating with. Here’s some ways to be more mindful.

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Black woman smiling in communication talking on phone and laptop in front of her.

Life is full of decisions, learning, hopefully some adventure, and “growth opportunities” through our careers and work. One that some of us may have never considered is how our text, email or IM communication comes across to the receiver – thus providing us a growth opportunity to take a look at our own personal communication styles.

It may have never occurred to us that others would take it a different way. After all, we know ourselves, we can hear our voices in our heads. We know when we are joking, being sarcastic, or simply making a statement. The way we communicate is built upon how we were raised, what our English teachers stressed, and even what we’ve been taught through our generational lens.

NPR put out an article recently, “Are Your Texts Passive-Aggressive? The Answer May Lie in Your Punctuation”. This article discussed what to consider in regards to your punctuation in text.

“But in text messaging — at least for younger adults — periods do more than just end a sentence: They also can set a tone.” Gretchen McCulloch, a linguist and author of the book Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, told NPR’s All Things Considered last year that when it comes to text messaging,”the period has lost its original purpose. Rather than needing a symbol to indicate the end of a sentence, you can simply hit send on your message.”

While it may seem silly that the receiver would think you are mad at them because you used a period, here are some things to consider in our virtual communication now that we are all much more digital:

  • There are no facial expressions in a text except for emojis (which, even then, could be left up to misinterpretation)
  • There’s no sound of voice or inflection to indicate tone
  • We are emailing, texting, and sending instant messages at an alarming rate now that we are not having as many in-person interactions with our colleagues

Gen Z (b. 1995 – 2015), who are the most recent generation to enter the workplace, grew up with much quicker forms of communication with their earlier access to tech. They’ve had a different speed of stimulation via YouTube videos, games, and apps. They may have never experienced the internet speed via a dial-up modem so they are used to instantaneous results.

They also have quickly adapted and evolved through their use of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and now TikTok. The last two platforms are designed for pretty brief attention spans, which indicates our adaptation to fast communication.

Generational shaming is out and uncomfortable but necessary conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion are in (which includes ageism). You can’t just chalk it up as “those kids” don’t understand you, or that they need to learn and “pay their dues”.

So if you are of an older generation and even a manager, here are some considerations that you can take regarding your virtual communications:

1. Consider having yourself and your team take a DiSC assessment.

“The DiSC® model provides a common language that people can use to better understand themselves and to adapt their behaviors with others — within a work team, a sales relationship, a leadership position, or other relationships.

DiSC profiles help you and your team:

  • Increase your self-knowledge: How you respond to conflict, what motivates you, what causes you stress, and how you solve problems
  • Improve working relationships by recognizing the communication needs of team members
  • Facilitate better teamwork and teach productive conflict
  • Develop stronger sales skills by identifying and responding to customer styles
  • Manage more effectively by understanding the dispositions and priorities of employees and team members

This quiz is designed to help you identify your main communication style. It helps you to be more conscious of how your style may come across to others. Does it builds relationships, or create silent conflicts? It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to change, but you can adapt your style to best fit your team.

2. Always ask your direct reports about their preferred method of communication (call, text, email, IM, meeting).

Retain this information and do your best to meet them where they are. It would also be helpful to share your preferred method with them and ask them to do their best to meet you where you are.

3. Consider putting composed emails in your drafts if you are fired up, frustrated, or down right angry with your team.

You may feel like you are being direct. But since tone will be lost virtually, your message may not come across the way you mean it, and it may be de-motivating to the receiver. Let it sit in drafts and come back to it a little bit later. Does your draft say all you need to say, or could it be edited to be a little less harsh? Would this be better as a meeting (whether video or phone) over a written communication? Now the receiver has a chance to see you and have a conversation rather than feeling put on blast.

And finally, be curious.

Check out Lindsey Pollak’s books or podcast on the best ways to work with a variety of generations in your organization. Lindsey is a Multigenerational Work Expert and she does a great job explaining her research to drive multigenerational workplace success. She gives ideas on what all employees, managers, and even corporations should consider as we experience so many generations and communication styles in the workplace at the same time.

You may laugh that your children or employees think you are mad at them when you use a period in a text. But there’s a lot more behind it to consider. It may take adaptation on all sides as communication styles and the “future of work” continue to evolve.

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