FROM FINANCE FIRST TO BRAND FIRST: HOW FITNESS FIRST USED MARKETING TO SAVE ITSELF FROM COMPLETE DEFEAT

fitness first rebrand

The old versus new logo of Fitness First – making use of colour branding more relevant to the company’s overall branding philosophy.

BIG DOES NOT EQUAL SUCCESS – THE NEED FOR A BRAND TO CONTINUOUSLY ADAPT TO THE CURRENT MARKET

Fitness first began in a small coastal town in the UK over 20 years ago. Since then it has grown to 400 international locations, making it the biggest privately owned gym around the globe. However, size could not save Fitness First from its reputation for putting its financial goals before its customers. Before now, Fitness First, essentially didn’t market itself as a brand, and as the company’s financial troubles worsened they instead employed aggressive sales tactics in attempt to lock customers into contracts they didn’t really want or value. This approach would inevitably lead to consumers’ to devalue the Fitness First brand (if it even had any value to begin with?) and the associations consumers held with this brand, eventually seeing customers vote with their feet and the demise of the company.

Acquired by Oaktree Capital Management in 2012, Fitness First was in desperate need of a complete brand and product overhaul or face dire consequences. Spending $20m in 2013 and a further $40m in 2014, Fitness First went under a complete transformation, including everything from the colour of the logo, staff training and uniforms, to product-firsts in the fitness industry. The transformation was strategically implemented by engaging with customers and former customers. As well, the business rolled out the new brand around Australia at a pace that could allow for the brand and products to be altered if necessary, similar to what Iacobucci refers to as test marketing (2012), to achieve the new brand’s true potential.

BRAND

After some eye-opening surveys of customers and former customers, it was clear that it was going to take more than a simple logo face-lift to change the brand associations Fitness First had come to attain. This approach, recommended by Peng and Li (2012), allowed Fitness First full insight into how consumers currently viewed the brand and gave them appropriate and substantial ideas on how to win back former customers, attract new customers and please its current customers.

To achieve this, Fitness First engaged in a 360 degree approach that would encompass a new philosophy that would set them apart from their competition.  While the rest of the fitness industry were offering ‘soulless boxes’ – gyms full of equipment, Fitness First identified an opportunity to ‘encourage members to see fitness as a way to improve their life’, according to the chain’s marketing director Anthony McDonough. This philosophy would infiltrate the entire company, starting with the re-design of their logo as a signal for the company’s change, they left the old blue and white behind and instead embraced a powerful and punchy red logo, much more relevant to the brand’s personality (Rhiu, Kwon, Yun, Yun, and Park, 2016). Additional alterations to the brand would include aesthetic elements such as gym fitouts, and staff uniforms. As a service, rather than a product, it was most important that Fitness First make use of the ‘7P marketing mix’, in particular, People, by retraining the staff to deliver the new brand philosophy and experience.  It was also imperative that Product, another of the marketing Ps, was re-evaluated to service the consumer segments Fitness First wanted to target.

FitnessFirst-web-2

One example of Fitness First’s marketing communication of the re-brand.

NEW PRODUCTS

Previously, Fitness First essentially only offered one product – a yearly contract that felt like a life-time to most customers because of how difficult Fitness First made it for their gym-goers to leave the contract. Not only did the contract not satisfy the diverse range of customers, but it continued to uphold Fitness First’s reputation of putting finance before its customers.

By using a bottom-up approach (Iacobucci, 2012), Fitness First engaged with customers to find out that consumers joined ‘for a reason, a season, or a lifetime’.  With this information they were able to extend their product line, and offer their customers flexibility if they wanted it, through an industry first ‘Pay-as-you-go’ product. Their newly-trained staff were among many ‘Value-added’ offerings (Iacobucci, 2012), delivering personal service that could not be found among the competition. Aaker echoes the importance of this method, emphasising the importance of differentiating your brand from the competitors in attempt to win ‘the brand relevance competition’ (Aaker, 2012).

The new Fitness First 360 degree branding has proved successful, as they are now profitable, reporting revenue  at 6%, illuminating the importance of brand value, brand associations, as well as the need for companies to continue to stay relevant if they wish to stay profitable.


References

Aaker, D A. Win the Brand Relevance Battle and then Build Competitor Barriers CALIFORNIA MANAGEMENT REVIEW VOL. 54, NO. 2 WINTER 2012 CMR.BERKELEY.EDU

Iacobucci, D. (2012) MM4. 4th edn. United States: South-Western College Publishing.

Peng, L, and Li, C. A framework for optimising the cost and performance of concept testing. Hong Kong Xiang Wan, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong, 2012.

Rhiu, I, Kwon, S, Yun, M H, Yun, and Park, D,C, Analysis of relationship between brand personality and customer satisfaction on a vehicle exhaust sound. International Journal of Industrial Engineering, 23(1), 68-82, 2016.

http://www.underconsideration.com/brandnew/archives/new_logo_and_identity_for_fitness_first_by_the_clearing.php#.Vx7_mjB97IV; retrieved 22 April 2016.

http://www.ausleisure.com.au/news/fitness-first-to-invest-20-million-in-australian-clubs/ ; retrieved 22 April 2016.

http://mumbrella.com.au/fitness-first-rebrand-jane-fonda-201034 ; retrieved 22 April 2016.

http://www.campaignbrief.com/2014/01/fitness-first-launches-brand-t.html ; retrieved 22 April 2016.

http://www.adnews.com.au/news/customers-first-fitness-first-kicks-off-5m-brand-overhaul ; retrieved 22 April 2016.

http://www.bandt.com.au/marketing/Multi-million-dollar-brand-overhaul-for-Finance-Fi ; retrieved 22 April 2016.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/retailandconsumer/leisure/10572320/Fitness-First-unveils-270m-strategy-to-keep-Britons-in-the-gym.html ; retrieved 22 April 2016.

https://www.marketingmag.com.au/hubs-c/fitness-firsts-marketing-director-talks-us-through-the-gym-chains-major-rebrand/ ; retrieved 22 April 2016.

http://www.afr.com/real-estate/fitness-first-in-world-first-at-barangaroo-20150525-gh9iip ; retrieved 22 April 2016.

 

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