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Opex Fitness Interview: Driving Demand in a Crowded Marketplace

Joe Mills // May 22, 2018

close up of a man's legs as he lifts a barbell off the ground

Jim Crowell spent the early part of his professional career trading commodities for a hedge fund based out of Austin, Texas; his passion, however, was truly in fitness. As the fitness industry began to take hold in the early 2000’s, Jim successfully opened and sold multiple gyms in Pittsburgh, PA, before moving to join the team at OPEX Fitness. When he joined OPEX, he had no intention of becoming the CEO—but when you understand the art of brand building as well as Jim does, it’s hard to have any end destination but the big chair.

I sat down with Jim to discuss how he goes about generating demand in the extremely saturated fitness market, how OPEX approaches differentiation, and how he has seen marketing evolve over the course of his career. At the end of the day, it all came back to being authentic to one’s true brand identity, a topic we’ve spoken on before with another lifestyle brand, Tommy John, as well as knowing your audience and ensuring you’re giving them what they want—and what they need.

Just like building a house, generating demand all begins with a well-thought-out and meticulously molded foundation.

Let’s all take a second and realize that the industry in which we work is extremely saturated. Not just marketing—sure, Elon Musk may be out on his own world (pretty much) trying to create SpaceX and take us all to Mars, but in general there is heavy competition and some level of market saturation in every industry. Take marketing agencies, for example. In the United States alone, there are over 100,000 agencies. And it’s not an industry bound by location. This means every time we work for new business, we are competing with a lot of people, nationwide and sometimes even worldwide. It gets tough to differentiate.

This is a challenge that OPEX and Jim Crowell know far too well—but not one they spend much time focusing on. According to Jim, it all goes back to knowing your message and truly committing to sharing it over and over and over again.

“We knew that personalized fitness was the key category we had to own. We have to be clear on how this is different than group training, and how it is different than personal training. We know that personalized plans give you the best chance for results, but we also know it is unsustainable. It kills the coaches. We didn’t create a message. We looked inward and asked, ‘What do we do?’ We deliver personalized fitness with professional coaches so that you get long-term, sustainable results.”

At the crux of this approach is the realization that your business does not serve every single possible person. We’ve all heard it before, but it is very easy to get wrapped up in trying to serve everyone. What is smart about being as abundantly clear as possible about what you do, how you do it, and—most importantly—why you do it is that it forces people to self-eliminate. Your sales team gets higher quality leads, the business you close actually fits into your unique value proposition, and your business produces testimonial-level results, time and time again. To put it another way, you want to generate demand, but only among people who would make good customers or partners for you.

On the flip side, you can go the route of serving everyone decently well, and fall into the cycle of serving lots of random clients work of a merely decent quality, which over the long run turns you into a commodity in your space, judging from our experience.

They say relationships define the quality of your life. They define the quality of your demand generation efforts, too.

opex fitness client philosophy

“People constantly come to us saying, ‘I want results in the gym.’ What we have helped them realize is you need to have results and growth in every aspect of your life. A lot of fitness models don’t connect in and out of the gym very well, because there is no relationship between the coach and the client.”

I can hear you saying it now, “Having a relationship with someone you’re putting through a tough workout has to be easy—they’re already open with you!” But let’s evaluate that belief. Think back to a time you had hired a coach, or perhaps the first coach your kid had in Little League. How much trust did you have in them? If it was a lot, I’d wager it’s because that coach took interest in things beyond practice.

When I look back on the mentors who have impacted me the most throughout my life, it’s consistently because they took interest in me as a person first, and only after that in how they were growing the particular skill set I needed to improve. Why don’t we take a similar approach with demand generation?

There is a myriad of tools to understand your ideal customer better, but at the very least, you must have this ideal customer defined. Then try to learn about them. What impacts their life? What challenges do they encounter in their career or personal life? How does your product or service help alleviate this pain? These are the questions we need to be asking ourselves, because when you can show a potential customer that you understand what they struggle with, they trust you more. And trust is the beginning of any relationship.

Speaking of relationships, let’s talk about awareness. Here’s a quick question to start. How are you defining brand awareness?

Brand awareness is a big topic nowadays, and it’s a big part of demand generation—after all, how are you supposed to drive demand for something people don’t know or care about? So how much does it matter? How should it be defined? These are all questions you and your organization have to answer in order to build your sales funnel correctly (but that’s a different blog post). From Jim’s standpoint, social media is an excellent driver of brand awareness, and brand awareness is the way to judge the ROI of their social efforts.

“Honestly, we don’t consider any consumer ‘aware’ until they have consistently interacted with our brand. Just liking the page or following our account isn’t enough. [Editor’s note: we actually define awareness differently here at Element Three, and recognize that many people in the industry have different ways for gauging brand awareness.] On social media, there are two things we aim to do: entertain and educate.”

Social media is really meant for consumer entertainment, when it comes down to it. No one logs into their Facebook account to be bored. Typically, they check Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or Twitter when they are already bored, and are looking to get a quick hit of entertainment. Our job then, as social marketers, is to ensure that the content being consumed is entertaining. However, it can’t just be cat videos. It also needs to be educational.

opex fitness instagram

To generate demand, you need to know what your customers want.

Jim mentioned the ideal buyer for OPEX being someone who is constantly looking to grow. To become better. At Element Three, our buyer is similar—but rather than a desire to grow in fitness and health, they want to grow their business to new heights. So, as mentioned above, we have to make sure the content we create is entertaining, but it also needs to help them achieve their goals. If both of those pieces are present, it is much more likely the consumer will come back for more content at a later date.

And who knows, maybe the next interaction will be the one that gets them to reach out to discuss working together. You never know where the tipping point is—but if you keep providing value at every turn, you’ll eventually reach it.

Joe Mills Team Photo at Element Three

“Whatever you are, be a good one.” This advice has served Joe well as he’s worn many hats throughout his career – from college soccer player to marketing expert to Business Development Manager. He’s passionate about using big ideas to build mutually beneficial partnerships, because “to help yourself is to help others.”