Recently I wrote an article sharing some of the lessons I have learned as a non-fitness professional and how I think they can relate to what you do. There was one topic that I wanted to expand on, and that was the idea that each and every one of you is your own brand. But that begs the question: what is your fitness brand?
You Can’t Define Your Brand
Even though it sounds counter-intuitive, you can’t define your own brand. You can try, but ultimately other people define your brand for you. To understand what I mean by this, let’s look closer at what a brand actually is.
Forbes has a good article from a few years ago where they examine what the word “brand” even means. Initially, a brand was simply a name identifying a non-generic item. Ford is a brand identifying a specific type of car; Coke is a brand identifying a specific type of soda. But as time went on, marketing minds such as David Ogilvy began realizing there was more to a brand than just a name. We now recognize that a brand is the sum of everything someone thinks about when they hear that name. Or in the case of an individual, when someone hears YOUR name.
That’s the important part. It’s what someone thinks about when they hear your name.
Yes, you can do things to influence how people think about you, but you can’t always control it as much as you would like. Nobody wants to build a brand that has negative connotations, but it happens. Some companies want to build a brand based on value and end up being known for low quality. Some brands want to be seen as a luxury brand but instead come to signify pretentiousness.
The decisions you make affect how people see your brand, but so do the decisions other people make. Sometimes brands are destroyed simply by trying to maintain their identity while other companies innovate right past them. In less than 10 years, Blackberry has gone from being THE hot device (everybody wanted their Crackberry) to teetering on the edge of bankruptcy as iPhones and Androids have pushed forward the cutting edge.
I Have A Brand?
Yes, you have a brand. Or at least I’m assuming you do. Maybe you’re content just being an anonymous instructor at some gym, but if that was the case you probably wouldn’t be on this site in the first place.
Often, group ex instructors are classified as contractors. You are hired by a gym to come in and teach a specific class (or classes), but you otherwise are rarely involved in the day-to-day business of the gym. Many of you teach at multiple gyms, filling needs that you specialize in at different facilities. And the goal is to build a loyal, devoted following that is excited to see your name on the schedule and come to your class.
So what is happening at this point is that people see your name on the schedule, they think about other experiences they’ve had with you and conversations they’ve had with other members about you, and they form a mental image about whether or not they want to come to your class. Congratulations, you have a brand!
What Is Your Fitness Brand?
I said before that we can’t define our own brand, but we can try to influence it. You’ve already influenced your brand, whether you realize it or not. The real question at this point is whether or not your brand is what you want it to be. And the answer to that depends entirely on you.
There are many different directions you could aim when crafting your brand. I’m going to talk about two broad attitudes that many have and let you decide where you fit.
The first mindset that many instructors have is that they just want people in their classes. Well, every instructor wants people in their class, but this mentality is more that they just want their participants to have fun and like them. I think that anybody who chooses a profession that requires they constantly be in front of people has to be a little bit narcissistic (I was a music major, so I’m putting myself right there with you), and this approach feeds into that.
Teachers with this mindset are ok cutting corners when it comes to quality if it means participants enjoy themselves and come back. They often adopt the mindset that any exercise is better for their participants than no exercise. If something in their class is ineffective (or worse yet, contraindicated), that’s ok as long as their participants are still moving and in the gym (yikes!).
The second, contrasting, mindset is that everything a participant does should be done for a reason. Every exercise should have a purpose and a goal and should be designed to help your participants grow in a certain way. They will not cut corners in their workouts. Technique and good form are uncompromisable.
For these teachers, if you’re going to do a certain number of reps, there should be a reason for it. They believe that there is never an excuse to use a contraindicated move and ensuring participants do not injure themselves is paramount. These teachers still want to be liked and want to grow their followings, but they’re not willing to sacrifice the quality of their classes to get there.
Are You A Twinkie Or An Apple?
I think of the first group of teachers as the Twinkies. Alternatively, you can call them the Marlboros. And like Twinkies or cigarettes, people like them. They’re popular and have strong fan bases. But they’re not particularly good for you. They may make you feel good for a while, but in the long run you are running a risk of creating physical problems.
The second group I think of as Apples. Not long ago, Apple, the infamous computer technology brand, had the slogan “it just works.” These teachers are like that. They’re dependable, don’t cause problems, and you know that they’re going to help make things a little bit better. And, as we’ve seen with Apple fanboys, can have just as fierce and fanatical a fan base as anybody else.
Which group you fit in largely depends on your own beliefs, ideals, and standards. From a business standpoint, it’s hard to argue that either is better than the other. People in classes mean money for the club, which means continued employment. Twinkies, Marlboros, clickbait…they may be lacking in substance but that doesn’t reduce their popularity. They stick around because they are successful at attracting people. Being an Apple is harder and takes more work. It requires having a deeper understanding and knowledge of what you are doing. As we’ve discussed in other articles* here on GXunited, having that deep understanding of the science behind your classes will improve your participants experience, and thus the overall product you can deliver.
And this isn’t necessarily a binary choice. You may not be all one or all the other. Maybe you fit somewhere in the middle.
I’m sure that many people will have strong opinions on the virtues and vices of each side, and that’s an argument that I’m going to stay out of here. I’m not going to tell you that you need to believe in one mindset over the other. But I do think that you need to take the time to think about where you stand. Simply understanding better what underlying philosophy you skew towards can help inform the decisions you make when preparing for class and moving through your career.
So, what is your fitness brand?