Thursday, May 6, 2010

Add Muscle to Your Marketing

The next time you find yourself contemplating ways to strengthen and tone your marketing strategy, you might want to consider learning from a personal fitness trainer.

Yes, you read that correctly.

I decided last year to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Although I am still a workaholic and have yet to reclaim my late nights and weekends, I am steadily inching my way to success-story status when it comes to weight loss and fitness. And I owe much of that achievement to my personal trainer.

Throughout this process, I have gained significant learnings from my trainer and from my peers (other clients) about best practices in fitness training that we can apply to our daily lives as IT marketers. Many marketing experts and modern career theorists, including my former employer, The Intelligent Career Card Sort, contend that the line separating personal from professional interests continues to blur. Social networks have burgeoned on the marketplace, creating new ways to engage communities and to share word-of-mouth experiences. One-to-one marketing is more achievable than ever.

Therein lies opportunity for marketers in all industries to engage a more informed and widely-networked customer base. NBC's edgy trainer on The Biggest Loser, Jillian Michaels, has taken the mainstream media by storm, marketing her own franchise and having been touted as the next Oprah and as a life coach in Women's Health Magazine.

But even before social media and The Biggest Loser, the most tuned-in personal trainers, herein referred to as the greats, served at the forefront of this highly individualized arena. We marketers can hone in on many of their practices for our own go-to-market strategies.

While any trainer will customize a fitness routine for you, the greats will also:

Know their products- Great personal trainers understand that the personal part of the title is the real value-add. They apply the mind/body connection and make adjustments to a client’s routine that support overall fitness goals and also day-to-day fluctuations to the client's whole being (which could entail periods of added stress, personal distractions and other issues that impact motivation, sleep, diet, and health). Many also hold college degrees in related fields, such as psychology, nutritional science, sports medicine, etc. In the case of greats, customer loyalty resides with the trainer rather than with the organization. Therefore, fitness centers and gyms that employ great personal trainers must pay particular attention to their needs and job satisfaction in order to ensure client retention.

Similarly, a great marketer also understands the need to focus on customer challenges instead of on the product itself. Customers and prospects should be segmented not just by demographics or firmographics, but also by personas. Marketing strategies must align to their dynamic, often-changing requirements. As my trainer says, “One size does NOT fit all.” How universally true.

Involve the client - The greats understand that goals and motivators vary between clients, and they solicit client input and feedback frequently. For example, my goal is backed by my unrelenting drive to meet objectives - which I channel into the gym as well as the office. While my trainer has plenty of clients who prefer to work out alone, she creates a unique program for me with the understanding that I respond best to a regimen that includes group fitness classes for peer motivation in addition to a weight lifting routine that changes often. She cheerfully accommodates my Type A personality and relentlessly high standards (lucky her), adjusting my program so that I have a different workout, tuned just for me each time we meet. This level of customization can only be achieved by checking in with the client on a frequent basis - during and between workouts.

Great marketers look at the goals and motivators of each customer persona and align offers and messaging accordingly. They solicit feedback from customers and prospects on their products, messaging, and marketing vehicles. In addition to taking pulse of prospects, we must also commit to partnering with our existing customers, recalling the Marketing 101 lesson about the cost of retention being significantly lower than that for acquisition. These interactions extend to a higher touch model with more extensive word-of-mouth impressions that engages individuals and communities through feedback and idea forums, online social networks, and customer interviews, among others.

Great marketing strategies extend beyond end users toward all influencers, who may not be in the market for a particular product or service - yet. The personal training industry does this too. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) identifies its audience as fitness instructors and trainers, and also “...broadening our reach to fitness enthusiasts everywhere.”

Cut through the noise - Personal training clients are exposed to a myriad of articles, advertisements, dietary supplements, products, and friendly advice, all promising results. This slew of information has great potential for confusing and possibly demotivating the client. As the a trusted partner, a great personal trainer puts all of these things into perspective and advises the client accordingly. This requires a level of trust that cannot be achieved if the relationship is approached as a simple business transaction. Consider the people you trust today. Most likely, in their interactions with you, they do not merely go through the motions, but rather display genuine concern for your best interests and team with you to overcome your challenges and pain points. Despite my tendency to be very analytical, intrinsic trust is my driver for deferring to my trainer's advice at face value, a clear catalyst to success.

There is a similar need for trust in a marketer, and no shortage of noise. This is particularly applicable with high-impact purchase decisions such as B2B IT, medical equipment, and high risk financial services offers. Consider your main personas. What keeps them up at night? What would be the cost to them of making the wrong decision? Where are they most vulnerable?

Be Innovative - Great personal trainers stay at the forefront of advances in routines, equipment, and fitness studies, and serve as the client's first point of contact for related questions. The greatest of the great will consult with the client’s orthopedist, physical/occupational therapist, nutritionist, etc, resulting in an integrated wellness program, stemming from new as well as traditional treatments with fitness tactics modified accordingly. The Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), an organization that certifies personal trainers, includes in its mission statement, “...using traditional and innovative modalities.” At this point, it should be no surprise that my trainer takes this innovative approach, and iterates constantly.

A truly great marketer remains an expert and thought leader, consulting often with other experts, such as product managers, industry analysts, and sales leaders to generate new ideas. Innovation around products is part of this, but so is new functional innovation, such as sophisticated segmentation models, new metrics, targeted field marketing campaigns, fresh guerilla marketing tactics, new ideas for leveraging multimedia, precision sales strategies, etc.

Like great personal trainers, great marketers are rare. To prevail in either field, you must generate and inspire new ideas, partner with your customers, and prove to be supportive and trustworthy.

Oh, and the next time you find yourself struggling with creativity-block, sign up for a training session. It just may induce the flow of new ideas.


Research Credits - Pragmatic Marketing, Inc; Teri Halio, Balanced Motion Physical Therapy; David Meerman Scott; Megan Reynolds, Bodies by Megan; Jean Barowski; Casey Walsh; Michael Arthur; Ben Perry

Photo credit: fitness360


Anonymous said...

Hi Sarah, the article is excellent and the analogy is perfectly relevant. I had a personal trainer and he started me on the road to physical recovery. I am much healthier than I was 10 years ago. You are right - a personal trainer is a niche marketeer and the ultimate "customizer". And you pay him to cut thru the encyclopedic load of "Men's Health" info and provide targeted advice to the client. Awesome. "One more thing", as Steve Jobs would have said (at the end of your article), "Along the way, you get a great body too!" :-) Harold Fock, Singapore

Anonymous said...

Great points made. The marketing portion of the PT profession is the fuel to keep the business going through the clients coming back as well as referring others! As a newly certified, and yet to practice PT, I am in the process of deciding who my target market will be, what to call my business, where to conduct my business, etc.
Michele Castellucci, Massachusetts USA

Anonymous said...

Excellent post Sarah! I agree with all points you made. Personalized, customized service that takes into account an individual's influencers and motivators is what marketers should strive for.

Another thing a physical trainer offers is a "maintenance plan" to help clients continue to live healthy life styles after they've met initial goals. The nature of this long term relationship is what keeps a client truly satisfied and loyal.

Congratulations on your journey. You've worked hard and you look amazing! You are truly an example to follow and as soon as I can put down this glass of wine, I'm going to the gym! :) Erin Presseau, New Hampshire

Anonymous said...

Hola Sarah, I believe your article to be perfectly relevant to today's business reality! The pillars of Personal Training Marketing, namely vision towards a goal, customization, and deep understanding of the customer's unique needs can make a world of difference for them. In fact, the strategic combination of all these aspects is what enables the "greats" to turn customers into clients and transform churn into a lifetime relationship! Nicolae Martorana - Miami, FL

Lauren said...

Great article Sarah! I am going to share this with my management team here at the store! I think it is so important to keep your customer's best interest at heart, and gain their trust. This is an excellent article for people I. The retail world as well!

Anonymous said...

Hi Sarah,

This article is a wonderful example of the synergy that exist in our non-linear world of commerce today. I think as more people embrace "cross-training" as a means to help their success, we will see more thinking out of the box as mainstream. Very well written!
Corey Queen, Louisville, KY.

KellyAnn said...

This is very well written and a very unique perspective Sarah. Cutting through the noise is particularly concerning to me as we think about the means by which we need to reach and influence our customers. There are lots of choices - particularly given our ever global world. And with the addition of social media, I think it's increasingly important to have simple yet compelling messages. Good luck with your journey to a healthier life. Remember that one of the keys of life is balance - don't work too hard!
Kelly Ferguson, United Kingdom