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Tayburn’s Richard Simpson on what brands can learn from CrossFit

Richard Simpson is marketing director of Tayburn.

So I have a new obsession outside of Tayburn. And it’s called CrossFit.

Although this relatively new sport is gaining quite a bit of awareness and certainly has an international following, there is a healthy mystique around it due to its generalist nature.

If I were to pose the question, “Who is the fittest person in the world?”, what would your answer be? Olympian triathletes the Brownlee brothers have to be up there. Tour De France champion, Chris Froome has a ridiculous level of stamina. And what about the gymnasts?

Well the answer to the question is Ben Smith, the 2015 CrossFit Games champion. Katrin Tanja Davidsdottir won the female Games that year. And they are the fittest people on earth because they excel in all of the functional movements that CrossFit requires.

CrossFit combines aspects of gymnastics, weightlifting, running, rowing and calisthenics, which are the core functional movements of life. The more you do in less time or the higher the power output, leads to some pretty dramatics gains in fitness.

This doesn’t really describe it though and the only way you can really understand what it’s like is to do a WOD (workout of the day) and experience it for yourself. While my first WOD was a fairly brutal experience, I became very quickly hooked and this got me thinking why? And on reflection CrossFit has all the hallmarks of a great brand.

For starters, I’m a busy agency exec with a young family so, I’m time poor. CrossFit is an exceptionally time efficient means of exercise. You only need to commit to three hours a week to see incredible fitness and wellbeing results.

The fact that it’s hard to describe what it is provides quite a compelling intrigue – although once you start a CrossFitter talking about it, it will be hard to get a word in edgeways!

It’s also very distinctive based on the various rituals and the unique language (WODs, Boxes, RX, EMOM, AMRAP) all of this breeds an acceptance and sense of belonging.

CrossFit’s founder, Greg Glassman, is the patriarchal figurehead who has built a loyal following around his quest to describe fitness in a meaningful and measurable way.

CrossFit HQ in San Francisco, is the sport’s spiritual home. It’s the Mecca equivalent and every year Dave Castro, Coach Glassman’s right hand man, leads the pilgrimage that is The CrossFit Games.

Harnessing the power of digital communications in our ever-connected world, Boxes around the world encourage their members to compete against each other at all levels of the sport.

This proves two things for me. Firstly, its accessibility. Like in golf where you get a handicap to help you participate with more proficient players, you have the ability to ‘scale’ the WOD for example, with bands to support bodyweight on gymnastics movements.

And secondly, it’s the community aspect. There is a camaraderie, as sense of togetherness and a healthy level of competition and encouragement.

Like other pursuits the prospect of new kit can also be quite appealing. CrossFit has led to the complete transformation of Reebok, a brand that once made me think of American tourists wearing trainers on guided tours. Not only does Reebok CrossFit kit have a high technical orientation but it looks very cool. Other brands are such as Nobull, Rogue and Hylete are all over it, with the more mainstream Under Armour and Nike keen to gain credibility in the sport.

The virality of CrossFit is not only aided by social media but it has tremendous partnership potential with complimentary wellbeing interests such as yoga, which is great for recovery and helps with flexibility for more technical lifts, and then paleo diets and nutritional supplements, which ensure you have the right fuel to smash the WOD.

It also operates a franchise model where boxes license the CrossFit brand and establish their own codes of conduct inspired by the core principles of CrossFit HQ. Coaches at each box have to have passed their requisite coaching certifications from CrossFit HQ so there is a standard to be maintained.

So here it is, the future of fitness has arrived and here’s a summary of what brands can learn from CrossFit:

  • Develop a compelling purpose – to define what fitness really means;
  • Showcase a key figurehead and spiritual home (Coach Glassman) at CrossFit HQ;
  • Build a strong culture on behaviours, language and rituals;
  • Create a highly engaged community of evangelists;
  • Establish powerful and complementary partnership potential;
  • Ensure real accessibility through scaling and franchising.

Richard Simpson is marketing director at Tayburn

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