The first rule of Crossfit, is always talk about Crossfit. Chances are that we all know someone who lives by this rule – in fact, I once “drank the Kool-Aid” and if it weren’t for moving cities and going to school, I would probably still be doing workouts in the “box”.
The question I am interested in is: how did one gym in Santa-Cruz become a worldwide cult phenomenon, with 10 to 15 new locations opening each day? How did “Crossfit” manage to attract (and repel) groups of people with such force?
These questions are certainly worth investigating when we consider Crossfit’s frequency of consumer recommendations – a key measure of a magnetic brand. If you have someone in your life that is into Crossfit, they have likely told you more than once that it has “changed their life” and “will change yours too” – “you just need to try it!” These kind of ambassadors are what every brand wants. But how did they do it?
Three key factors have contributed to Crossfit’s success – and whether you are pro or anti WOD (Workout of the Day) – we shouldn’t overlook the opportunity to learn from them.
They cultivate a strong sense of tribe.
Imagine your regular trip to the gym. You put in your ear buds, keep your head down, and make your way to the treadmill. The whole ordeal is really an exercise in avoiding eye contact more than in improving endurance.
Now, imagine you enter a crossfit “box.” You ditch the comfortable gym machines for a tire, some rope, and Olympic weights. You catch up quickly with the rest of the Wednesday night regulars, and are taken through the WOD. Though the WOD is customized for each athlete’s ability, the group of 6-20 people will collectively exert 100% of their energy in whatever physical torture the coach planned out for that day.
When the members aren’t working out – whether they finished first or are just catching their breath – they are cheering on fellow Crossfitters. The workout becomes a shared experience and accomplishment.
There is something about going physically all out with a group of people that is bonding. In fact, military trainers have used this psychological phenomenon for thousands of years1. Crossfit takes this and runs with it – literally.
However, the Crossfit experience is not only in the WOD; Crossfit is in the clothes, the language, the attitude, and the food. To be a Crossfitter is to engage in the “caveman” diet, learn the acronyms, and live life with the motto “more is better”: more reps, more weight, and more speed.
With a shared language, attitude, and experience – Crossfit creates a tribe.
They understand their tribe’s values and ethos.
Although Crossfit attracts people from all walks of life, members have a set of beliefs and values that unite them, and Crossfit gyms around the world work to reflect and embody these values. For instance, Crossfitters are not going to the gym four days a week to achieve the perfect summer body. They are there to improve their functional fitness and overall performance – changes in appearance are just a bonus.
The results-oriented nature of the Crossfit tribe is reflected in the data-driven nature of the program. Every gym has a whiteboard that gets filled with the day’s WOD scores, members journal personal bests, and the clock is always running. In other words, a focus on measuring personal progress unites the Crossfit brand with the values of its tribe.
Crossfitters not only reject the mission for the perfect, and unattainable, summer body – they reject the props and gimmicks that support this mission. Crossfit gyms are called the “box” for good reason. They are often converted automotive and manufacturing shops that have bare bones amenities, no mirrors on the walls, and no fancy machines.
By ditching the mirrors for whiteboards and ellipticals for car tires, Crossfit embodies the values of its tribe. It places an emphasis on authentic results and dismisses the superficial – transforming the gym from a chore to a passion that members can’t help but recommend.
They Welcome the Haters.
It is impossible to be all things to all people. In fact, Frederick the Great once said, “He who defends everything defends nothing.”
Echoing this sentiment, a quick Google search would reveal that the top most hated brands are also the most loved2 – Apple, Starbucks, Twitter, Wal-Mart, Crossfit and so on.
Essentially, in the process of creating a strong identity, they have created their magnetism. They have chosen who matters most to them, and relentlessly communicated and embodied those values – even at the risk of repelling others.
And although it isn’t intuitive, there are benefits to having haters. Every time a Crossfitter jumps to the program’s defense it actually crystallizes and enhances their brand loyalty.
By creating a strong sense of tribe, and welcoming the haters, Crossfit has become a force to be reckoned with – their controversial program and ethos being the secret to their magnetism.
By: Kristen Shorer