Build a Brand from Scratch: 4 Tricks

My company set out to revolutionize the workout. But first, we had to put our name on the map.

Six months ago, I launched a company with two partners in an industry that I love: Fitness. Our goal wasn’t modest. We were going to revolutionize the gym.

We looked at market trends and consumer behavior and saw an increasingly specialized, customized world in almost every consumer segment. In the fitness world, this new era was reflected in the proliferation of boutique workout studios. Consumers were rejecting their traditional gyms—and traditional, annual memberships—for elite, specialty workouts. So we created an online platform that gave members access to the best boutique studios in NYC and LA. We called it FITiST.

FITiST is one of the many new companies that takes the offline and packages it in online. The age of the Internet makes this possible, but this new type of hybrid company proves many challenges. First and foremost, how do you market?

I have a classic marketing background—big brands, national scale, bricks and mortar distribution. But the classic tools I was accustomed to using—CRM, events, bag-stuffers, print and TV advertising—were irrelevant for a lean, online start-up. Six months after our launch, I realize that, in our new online-offline world, there are no new rules.

Still: Great marketing is still cutting through to the customer, creating a reason to want/need/buy (and, for us, to work out).

Even though I live online, I still sell a brick-and-mortar product: a new form of fitness membership. In my former life, I considered my 1,000-plus Victoria’s Secret stores my biggest marketing assets. Now, it’s my 80 studio partners. Just like sales associates, they are in a position to touch every customer and engender loyalty every day. There is nothing more valuable.

So, how do you motivate a sales force of 80 who are not on your team full time? Here's what we've learned in our first six months.

1. Get on the ground. I think of it as a store check. My FITiST team spends significant time each week going to meet with our partners - taking classes, stopping by studios, checking in on add-on services. We are not just an aggregator, but also a partner. These actions create ownership, accountability, and excitement.

2. Educate. Just like a sales associate, my partner businesses must be well educated on the FITiST offering and value proposition. It is my job to arm them with the tools and knowledge. Knowledge is powerful: It sells and, more importantly, gets people excited to be part of something that is changing the game.

3. Keep it interesting. We are always thinking of new ways to engage our partners and get them involved in the brand. Among our biggest successes have been partner events that drive brand engagement for the partner and FITiST.

4. Create community. Not in the traditional sense, but as a network for the partners. Make your partners feel like our part of a club, a chosen group. Think of a Zagat sign in the window: It's a sign of approval, a sign of belonging. It empowers.

So, that's four learnings in six months—not so bad. We'll keep you posted as we learn more. And come back soon to follow the additional trials and tribulations of a new brand—making its way in a world that, as it turns out, is not entirely new.

Up next: The PRSA may be on the verge of redefining the term 'public relations,' but what I have learned takes it back to its roots. Stay tuned.

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