I advise a number of young brands in the health & wellness sector. Some are apparel-oriented, while others focus on nutrition.
No matter their offering, many companies in this sector are competing against deeper-pocketed brands that have dominated the industry for decades.
And the incumbents are slipping. To address this, they are targeting CrossFit—the fastest-growing fitness property in the world—as a major market opportunity to become relevant again. Here is what these legacy brands need to know.
Word-of-Mouth Matters More than Large Marketing Budgets
CrossFit’s culture and camaraderie make it a sticky sector. There’s a social element to the gym that’s hard to replicate while gasping for air on a 10-kilometer run, or in a mirrored room of beefy guys grunting through bicep curls.
What does this mean? It translates to lower churn, higher retention, and enhanced LTVs. Companies in this sector mainly grow through reputation and word-of-mouth, which points to lower customer acquisition costs than other sectors.
With hefty marketing and development budgets, industry giants are unveiling products like the Reebok Nano and the Nike Metcon. And yet, while these companies have made significant strides, the market is still relatively young and very much up for grabs. Big brands have failed to capture the CrossFit crowd in the way they’ve managed for other sports.
You see, CrossFit consumers gravitate toward brands they trust—no matter their marketing budget.
This Sector Values Minimalism
Young brands are now capitalizing on CrossFit’s cult following. NoBull, for instance, essentially sells one shoe in a variety of color patterns. As I’ve discussed in prior entries, minimalism is an area where many disruptive brands succeed.
Casper’s (initial) single mattress was touted as “the best.”
Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club offered a single razor instead of the expansive options featured by brands like Gillette.
Brilliant Bicycles offers only three bikes, while BloomThat has designed limited bouquet options. In the same vein, Markhor and AllBirds offer just a few models.
Meanwhile, NoBull offers a simple, minimalist sole, a tough upper, and that’s about it. There are no straps or plastic grids or toe-straps—just some text on the heel that reads: “NoBull.”
There are no big, loud logos to speak of.
In fact, NoBull is taking advantage of the fact that other sneakers aimed as the cross-training crowd are over-designed and overly complex. CrossFit—much like NoBull—is very bare bones. There are no mirrors, no complicated machines. Many CrossFit boxes (gyms) are located in windowless basements or warehouses. And this suits CrossFitters just fine.
NoBull understands that.
And so does OWYN (Only What You Need). The brand is rooted in minimalism—that’s its appeal. With consumers scrutinizing what they put into their bodies more than ever before, OWYN has gained a loyal following by excluding all allergens and fillers, and by saving consumers from the additives and chemicals that other brands try to force upon the public.
Young Companies Are Highly Agile
Agility is another key topic in this regard. In the CrossFit sector, young companies act and adapt quickly, embracing their nimbleness more than the larger industry players. Some disruptive brands will turn a new shoe around in four months—nearly five times faster than their big-brand competition.
These young companies make decisions based on their gut. They also rely on their knowledge of the market instead of delving into drawn-out market research projects. Basically, young brands can review an entire product line in a day or two, as opposed to several weeks. This helps them react to (and influence) trends, and sell new products without the money-losing lag time.
A young apparel brand I know has used its size to become more creative with materials sourcing, logistics, and supply chain. For example, when they visit their manufacturers overseas, they leave with a holistic understanding of how their design decisions impact costs on the other side of the world.
Mighty & Mission-Driven Resonates More than Large & Sterile
The CrossFit market is ripe for young, agile, and disruptive companies. Fueled by word-of-mouth, consumers like to support small, mission-driven businesses; they like the little guy, not to mention a good story.
Simply put, consumers love brands that stand for something—something genuine, that is—and they want these brands to reflect their own personalities.
They want to feel unique when they wear a particular brand, and feel better about themselves by doing so. This matters more in a social-driven endeavor like CrossFit.
Consumers appreciate that Randy Hetrick invented a simple bodyweight-resistance device—using only a bit of parachute webbing and a jujitsu belt that he’d packed by mistake—to help his SEAL squadron stay fit. They love that he then turned it into TRX Training.
In addition, they love that Rhone realized men were being overlooked by suddenly-corporate athleisure brands, and that he wanted something better. On the inside lining of my Rhone shirt, there’s an inscription about never giving up. This resonates so much more than an empty corporate slogan.
Consumers Have Embraced Technology
For a young company, gaining traction in the hyper-connected CrossFit community can be a major catalyst. One of the NoBull founders was in Austria when someone spotted his NoBull shoes and bag, and asked him if he did CrossFit.
That someone was from Egypt. CrossFit has proven to connect people from all walks of life, and young brands have become a beacon in finding these like-minded competitors.
Brands like NoBull and OWYN have succeeded in their virality, and by partnering with personalities who genuinely believe in their brands. OWYN has been touted on social media by some of the top trainers, while NoBull has high-profile partnerships with some of the world’s best CrossFit athletes. This has spurred greater awareness and deep, loyal followings.
It all boils down to this: People are more willing to adopt a brand if their favorite athlete, trainer, or celebrity tells them it’s great on Twitter or Instagram. Consumers find this much more compelling than an oversized billboard or banner ad.