Tim Bainton

Tim Bainton is the President of Blue Chip Sports Management based in Washington D.C. Tim is a published author and frequent industry contributor.

This month: Part 2

4. Building Your Brand

5. Your Brand Persona

6. Your Brand’s Mission and Voice

MAY 2020

Alex Planes

Alex Planes is the CEO of FoundEdge, a content marketing agency. He has worked with some of the world's largest brands and has published or syndicated thousands of articles in The Motley Fool, Business Insider, USA Today, the BBC, Fox Business, and elsewhere. 

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Alex leads all content strategy and development for Blue Chip Sports Management and has been integral in developing BCSM's market authority through content creation.

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Club Management Mastery

A Full-Spectrum Guide to Building Better Fitness Facilities

Part 2

 

4: Building Your Brand

 

Branding is critical to the success of a fitness business.

Most people think about “branding” as the basic look and feel of a business, with a logo and slogan at the center.

The market and persona analyses covered in the last section are important tools that can help you develop or refine a brand with a strong appeal to your ideal audiences.

But branding -- and the marketing efforts that work to build and sustain your brand -- is far more complex than a logo and a few words printed beneath it. The best branding is consistent and comprehensive. It can cover everything from the colors of your weight machines to the look of the flyers you send to your prospects. It involves the way your employees interact with your members, the range of services you offer, and even the hours you’re open.

Consumers are far more sensitive to inconsistencies than many businesses give them credit for. An inconsistent brand simply isn’t an appealing brand.

Your audience expects something specific, and they expect it to be specifically the same every time they show up. If your marketing screams “MORE WEIGHT” but your facility is full of yoga mats and Pilates machines, you won’t appeal to either the weightlifters or the Pilates and yoga enthusiasts.

Remember the brands from the earlier section? Lifetime Fitness is a brand, and so is Equinox. Peloton and P90X and CrossFit and Nike are all winning fitness brands.

Each one evokes an idea and a set of expectations through its name. A brand that can evoke emotion and create immediate perceptions through its name alone is one that’s spent a lot of time doing a lot more than simply thinking of a great brand name. You have to earn a consumer’s emotions. Consistency isn’t enough, but it’s essential.

You’re probably not running the only health club in town, and you may not have the only health club in your neighborhood, either. A distinctive, memorable, and consistent brand can be the difference between beating your competitors and getting your butt kicked.

A brand begins with a name and a logo.

You may already have both.

However, there’s no reason you have to retain a name or logo which doesn’t reflect your brand’s purpose and values, or which doesn’t appeal to the audience you’re really trying to attract. If you discover, through developing buyer personae or even through simply talking to your members, that your logo (or even your name) isn’t working in your favor, you can always go back to the drawing board.

If you’re in it for the long haul, you should certainly consider working with a branding professional to develop your ideal logo. This relatively small investment in expertise can pay dividends for decades.

When developing a brand, start by considering your prospective members and clients, rather than simply thinking about what you like.

Are you trying to attract hardcore weightlifters? Is your ideal client base comprised of affluent middle-aged homeowners?

 

Will you cast a wide net or laser in on a small but untapped fitness niche?

Your branding should have strong appeal with whomever you’re trying to attract. Developing buyer personae, as we covered in the last section, will certainly help you figure this out.

The first thing most people will see of your brand is your business’ name and logo. If your brand name and your logo aren’t aligned with the interests of your target audience, you could wind up driving prospective members away and leaving money on the table.

Try to avoid overly long, complex names for your brand or facility. Not only will it be easier for your customers to remember, it’s easier to present in a logo or in any other design.

If you already have a long brand name, you and your members and/or clients are probably shortening it when you speak and write, or you might have even turned it into an acronym.

This isn’t to say you should eliminate descriptive words like “gym” or “health club” or “fitness center” from the overall brand name, but you should probably focus your branding efforts on the distinct word(s) in your brand name.

For example, Tim’s full business name is “Blue Chip Sports Management,” but its branding focuses on “Blue Chip” or occasionally “BCSM.” This is an example of both shortening your brand name and focusing on the distinctive aspects of it.

We’ve banged on about the importance of branding consistency throughout this section, but you’re probably wondering how to create and enforce a consistent brand. The next section in this series will help you do so by developing a brand persona.

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5: Your Brand Persons

 

A brand persona transforms a business into an identifiable entity with a distinct and consistent “personality,” which should shine through in every interaction between your health club and your target audience.

Your logo should reflect your brand persona, of course, but the persona is itself a reflection of your ideal customers’ desires and needs.

If you’re trying to appeal to young families, you won’t want a logo that looks like a ninja warrior bench-pressing a bus. A health club focused on sports-specific training can benefit from incorporating that sport’s iconography into its logo, even if it’s done in a subtle or abstract way.

Your brand might look great with an old-school emblem, or you might find it works better as an abstract symbol. The same idea, such as a tennis racquet or a symbol of strength, can be executed in many different ways and many different styles.

The BCSM logo, for example, is an abstract rendering of a tennis racquet and the skid of a clay court. It’s evolved through several iterations into the symbolic shapes we use today.

Unless you’ve got a background in graphic design, I’d recommend working with a well-qualified designer who can demonstrate their expertise through previous designs and portfolio samples. Take your time to find a designer who’ll be able to execute your ideas. As we mentioned in the last piece, the relatively small expense of quality logo design can pay dividends for decades.

Any designer you work with to create your logo should be familiar with at least several of the seven basic logo styles, and should ideally be skilled in the style of logo you prefer. These are the seven basic styles, along with their basic descriptions:

  1. Emblems
    Often resemble seals or crests and incorporate text into a symbol.

     

  2. Wordmarks
    Text-only logos that create strong brand identity around a business’s name.

     

  3. Monograms
    A text-only logo that focuses on a brand’s initials or acronym.

     

  4. Brand marks
    Uses a clear symbol or pictogram to represent a brand.

     

  5. Abstract logos
    A brand mark using a symbol that’s more evocative than literal.

     

  6. Mascots
    A character, typically drawn as a cartoon, represents the brand.

     

  7. Combination logos
    You can combine two or more of the six previous types into a single logo.

 

Text and iconography aren’t the only important things to consider when developing a great logo. The colors you use matter as well.

Savvy designers and marketers have long understood that different colors can produce varying psychological effects in their audience. The colors and text of your logo typically become the basis for your overall brand style. These colors and fonts should influence everything from the appearance of company-issued attire to the style of the walls and design of the decor in your health club.

Color psychology has been developed over decades, and the major emotions and professional traits behind each color family are by now well defined. Many businesses use one or two colors, but there are some examples of multicolored logos, such as for Google, Microsoft, and NBC. Here are the traits people most commonly associate with each color:

  • Red

    • Excitement, passion, energy, appetite, power.

    • The most attention-getting color, but can also signal danger.

    • Can raise heart rate and metabolism.

  • Yellow

    • Joy, happiness, intellect, energy.

    • Indicates cheerfulness and stimulates mental activity.

    • Overuse can be disturbing and may subconsciously suggest cowardice.

  • Orange

    • Enthusiasm, creativity, determination, attraction, success.

    • Combines red’s energy and excitement with yellow’s happiness.

  • Pink

    • Femininity, innocence, optimism, vulnerability.

    • Relationship to childhood may create cloying or silly impressions.

  • Blue

    • Peace, stability, integrity, trust, authenticity.

    • Can create feelings of connection and relaxation.

    • Often creates perceptions of quality and dependability.

  • Purple

    • Luxury, power, ambition, wealth.

    • Combines red’s energy with blue’s stability.

    • Tends to signal extravagance and is connected with royalty.

  • Green

    • Stability, endurance, nature, money, health.

    • Has a calming effect and is viewed as an indicator of safety.

    • Connotations of nature, health, and money work well for fitness brands.

  • Brown

    • Dependability, reliability, resilience.

    • Can seem dull and is rarely used as a brand color.

  • Black

    • Authority, power, formality, death, mystery.

    • Negatively connected to death and grief.

    • Typically used in “alternate” logos if a colored logo is not feasible.

  • White

    • Light, innocence, purity.

    • Connected to virginity and faith.

    • Typically paired with black in monochrome “alternate” logos.

Your brand name, logo, and colors are only the starting point in the development of a cohesive brand identity. A great brand is one that presents a consistent personality, both internally (with your employees) and externally (with your members and clients).

The name, logo, and colors of your brand will help shape its personality-based identity, but once you’ve created that identity, you’ve still got to maintain it.

A brand’s identity, after all, is a key way of generating loyalty and commanding market share. This is especially true in industries such as health clubs, which are differentiated mainly by the amenities any given club might offer.

You can’t communicate with your audience exclusively through imagery. How can you maintain your branding in written and spoken communications? You need a brand mission and a brand voice. We’ll cover those in the next section.

6: Your Brand's Mission and Voice

 

There are two primary non-visual components of a brand identity:  its mission or vision, and its brand voice.

A brand’s mission or vision, which is typically encapsulated by a mission or vision statement, is a stripped-down and laser-focused answer to the question, “why does this brand exist?”

For example, Nike’s current mission statement is “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world,” with the word “athlete” further defined as “everyone who has a body.”

This a bit too broad and vague for just about any health club, but Nike has been evolving as a brand for more than five decades. As one of the largest companies in the world, and one of only 30 companies in the Dow Jones Industrial Average stock market index, it’s reached a level of size and visibility that allows it to be vague without muddling the identity it’s developed in the public’s mind. Your mission or vision statement should probably be a bit more focused.

Your clients may never see your mission statement, but every employee should understand it and know why it matters. It doesn’t have to be about changing the world or doing something for every single person on the planet -- so far as we know, everyone alive today has a body of some sort.

Few businesses ever aim for as lofty goals as Nike. If you operate a yoga studio in Topeka, your mission might simply be “to help the people of Topeka live healthier and more flexible lives.”

You might develop your mission statement after you’ve created your logo, or you might have thought of your mission statement first. Ultimately, if you focus on all components of your branding single cohesive concept, all of them should all reflect the same brand identity.

A skilled branding expert or brand designer should approach the development of your logo with your mission and voice in mind. Experienced branding professionals often put together a brand guide that incorporates these elements, as well as others, into a consistent set of instructions, which should help inform everything from the style of your club’s website to the way your front desk personnel greet members when they walk through the door.

If your mission is “to help the people of Topeka live healthier and more flexible lives,” your logo should reflect visual aesthetics that are attractive to the type of prospect you’ve determined will be most likely to pursue a healthier life and increased flexibility through yoga.

Your buyer persona work should inform your club’s mission statement and brand voice. Odds are, someone who’s into yoga won’t respond too positively to a mission statement that sounds like “let’s totally crush those reps, bro.”

A brand’s logo and other stylistic choices help establish its visual identity with its target markets.

A mission animates that brand, giving it a purpose.

And finally, a brand’s voice makes it unique by giving it a consistent, identifiable personality.

All great brands have a voice.

Think about Apple. Even though he’s no longer around, Steve Jobs’ voice can still be heard in the way the company and its leaders communicate with the public. Well-branded restaurants and retailers and software companies all communicate to the world in a consistent voice, and so do well-branded fitness facilities.

Equinox Fitness has an identifiable voice, and so does Gold’s Gym -- which still speaks with a slight Austrian accent, thanks to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s early but enormous influence.

Nike has an extremely identifiable voice, thanks to the ubiquity and distinctive personality contained in the three words of its iconic slogan, “Just Do It.”

Your brand’s voice generally won’t be the same as your personal voice, unless you’ve named your business after yourself and/or otherwise built yourself up as the main face of the company.

This merging of personal and brand voices is more common with coaching or consulting businesses than it is for fitness facilities.

However, there are a number of facilities whose brands have been built around a founder’s image. This can make things easier to handle from a branding standpoint at the outset. On the other hand, merging your personal voice with the brand voice of your club may make it harder to step back from day-to-day operations in the future.

If you’ve got your brand identity locked down, but you’re still getting started as a facility owner, you may not have checked off all the legal boxes just yet. The next few sections in this guide will help aspiring health club entrepreneurs get their ventures off the ground, starting with the one thing every serious business owner must tackle: incorporation.

Next month: Part 3

7. Incorporating Your Business

8. Your Business Plan

9. Creating a Complete Business Plan

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