It’s tough to get consumers to adopt innovations—and getting harder all the time. Studies say the average consumer will need at least seven marketing “touches” before they make a purchase decision. In a crowded market, once-reliable tools for introducing new products and services don’t work as well as they used to.
In the $84.3 billion global fitness business, made up of health clubs, gyms and manufacturers, the obstacles are higher even than in many other industries. Bikes, treadmills and home gyms are big-ticket items, the number of sales and marketing channels industry players have to reach consumers are limited — and exercise is a hard sell to some people!
But a handful of manufacturing companies in the business have cracked the code, with lessons for other entrepreneurs selling to reluctant consumers. There are companies that have a clear sense of identity and are not afraid to flaunt it. They try marketing channels that others might stay away from, like late-night TV. They invest in marketing and in building relationships with retail partners and distributors.
Here are four marketing hacks from the front lines of fitness. Among the success stories in fitness are companies including BodyCraft Fitness Equipment, Technogym, and BodyGym.
Establish an identity as an innovator
Before NordicTrack, Zumba, and Crossfit became household names, they were workout philosophies that some passionate and enterprising entrepreneur brought to life on late-night TV. Your marketing messages should establish an identity as an innovator—what’s new about your product? You have to hammer home, again and again, what’s new about your product, not just what’s good about it.
But it’s also important to think about the sales channel—and late-night TV is one of the few places where increasingly cynical and cost-conscious consumers are still open to buying products that promise to change their lives.
Late-night TV isn’t the only edgy sales channel: Pop-up shops carry the panache of newness, too.
Create an area of innovation
It’s not enough to be a general innovator. You need to focus. Keiser, for instance, is known for its pneumatic air-resistance machines. This innovation has allowed them to work with over 80% of the top professional teams in the world.
Technogym, an Italian wellness company, combines high-tech fitness products to its mission of wellness. Their innovative products have allowed them to serve over 30,000 clubs and public institutions worldwide.
Ohio-based Bodycraft’s innovation was to combine traditional weight training and functional cable training in a single machine. News outlets started calling it a “hybrid home gym.”
“Our products target a pretty specific niche of higher end homes and light commercial facilities. We knew what we had, and we were excited about it,” said co-founder Alan Gore. “It took a while for the industry to give us credit—which we recognized when they started copying us.”
BodyCraft had officially discovered its niche—combining disciplines to allow users to escape from the set movement planes of the common machine workout. More mobility, more versatility, more value, the company told consumers.
Because the din of information is so loud now, companies need to carry their marketing strategies across social, commercial and physical networks equally,
It’s not prudent to rely on one channel for growth. Things are always changing and what’s working today might not work tomorrow.
Educate your clients or customers
Getting your audience to adopt your innovative new product comes down to being able to articulate its benefits. “Why should I use it?” is a powerful question. How you answer it will differentiate your company, and your product.
Consumers look through product reviews, your website, and for recommendations via social media. They also comb through videos, which are ideal media for showing the correct use and benefits of the product.
And if you’re not publishing content—and I’m talking about awesome content that educates and entertains—at these key customer touch points, you’re missing a valuable connection.
BodyCraft’s blog, for example, is a key component to keeping the motivation up—from quizzes to training secrets, the company shares valuable information that reinforce the “why.” But information sharing should never be one way, says Gore. “We ask for interaction constantly through beyond our website, too: through emails, phone calls, social media.”
Whether you sell through a distribution network or directly to consumers, your website needs to be built for customer interaction. And investing in a quality customer management system is a must. There’s nothing like it to keep visitors warm until they’re ready to buy.
Build a relationship with your distributors
Unless you’re planning on marketing your innovative new product out of your garage, you know you’re going to have to employ some sort of distribution network to sell them for you. But what you may not know is that the relationship you build with them can help consumers seize on your idea faster.
Forming a relationship of trust and mutual support can make the difference between product moving through the channel and collecting dust on warehouse shelves. In the fitness business, this is an even bigger challenge because of the size of the machines. Treat your distributors like gold: for instance, make sure, that direct sales on your home site are given to the nearest dealer for distribution.
Keeping an open line to retailers has another very important reason.
“Because we’re constantly engaged with our retailers, they become a de facto focus group,” says Gore. “It makes every interaction a learning opportunity and a chance to make our product better and our customer approach even stronger.”
Most entrepreneurs I know believe they have innovative products. Refocusing your marketing operation around the idea of innovation can help your products stay that way.