How fitness brands need to capitalise on the latest trends without losing their core audience

Dan Craddock is one of the leading marketing strategists in sports nutrition. After filling key marketing roles at Coca Cola, Philips and Heinz, Dan then played a central role in the Maximuscle rebrand to MaxiNutrition before moving onto Marketing Director positions, first at Sci-Mx and now at Decibel Nutrition.

We met with Dan to learn how brands need to be positioning themselves in the increasingly competitive world of sports supplements.

 

The Fitness Network:

There are so many exciting trends taking place in the fitness market and companies are naturally eager to capitalise on all of them. What are the big potential pitfalls of trying to do so?

Dan:

The big mistake companies make is that they move away from their brand essence. The strongest brands in any market understand what they’re all about and stay true to those foundations. When you move away from your very essence you take a huge gamble and usually it doesn’t pay off. So yes, you can play with the code of your brand in order to modernise it and keep yourselves relevant to the latest trends, but you must ensure that your one thing – the essence of your brand that people have always associated with you – remains at the core.

This was the challenge we had at Maximuscle. We tried to reposition ourselves to capture a far broader market, but in doing so we lost touch with the core of our brand, which was about building muscle, and consequently alienated the very audience that had established the brand in the first place.

There are examples of this in many markets. Arguably when Volvo stopped focusing on safety and tried to become sexy, years of brand equity was jeopardised. Likewise when Hovis started focusing on White bread, it may have helped them make a few extra sales in the short run, but ultimately they were destroying the brand so the first action I took as interim Marketing Director was to place the emphasis back on brown bread; the thing that had made Hovis famous.

The Fitness Network:

It all seems so obvious. Why do companies allow these mistakes to happen?

Dan:

Usually it follows a new marketing or new agency coming in and not bothering to really understand the history of the brand and the emotional connection it has with the audience. They want to do something different and exciting, but instead of just playing with the brand’s code they re-write it completely.

The Fitness Network:

So what options do brands have when trying to reposition themselves, and which would you typically recommend?

Dan:

If the positioning tweaks are minimal then you shouldn’t have a problem. For example, at Heinz we launched lots of varieties of beans, but it always appealed to the same audience with the same core message so the brand wasn’t compromised.

If you start trying to appeal to a very different audience then you probably need to look at sub-brands, which is what we tried to do at Maxi with Maxiraw for body builders, Maxitone for women, etc… We tried to retain the real essence of Maxi, which was all about ‘maximising muscle’, but it was a difficult message to communicate to women wanting to lose fat or endurance athletes looking for stamina. A more successful example would be Coca Cola. They have Diet Coke, Coke Life, etc, which each focus on distinct market segments but retain the essence of Coca Cola. Can you imagine if they started selling pineapple juice? It just wouldn’t work.

The cleanest is to have completely separate brands. VW own Audi, Porsche, Skoda and Bentley. A family of brands that cover the entire spectrum of price points, but the distinct brands mean that the position of one has absolutely no bearing on the rest. Each know their place in the market and there isn’t a temptation for one to creep into another’s territory for short term gain.

This would generally be my advice. Keep it distinct. After all, you can only have one position in someone’s head, and the moment you try to introduce another your entire brand falls apart.

What about companies like Tesco, Google or Amazon, that seem to be able to enter any product space and make it work?

Dan:

That’s true, but the essence of their brand is not tied to a particular product. Amazon, for example, is all about cost and convenience, and that can be applied to any number of products. Likewise Porsche is all about speed and being close to the ground, so arguably releasing a 4×4 was a mistake, whereas they could start selling speedboats and it would be absolutely consistent with their brand position.

The Fitness Network:

Can you offer any final pieces of advice to sports and fitness companies looking to update their brand position and capitalise on the exciting trends in the market, whether it’s fit-tech, group fitness, the growing female market, etc?

Dan:

Be distinct – the best places to be in terms of price point are at the bottom or top. Then everyone knows where you stand.
Begin with a tribe – identify 10% of the market and then make sure you capture 100% of that 10%. Whether it’s triathletes, bodybuilders or whoever, you must first ensure you completely own that space before trying to take it broader.
Stay true to your essence – once you have your tribe, never let them down. It’s fine to broaden your appeal to other segments, but only if you can do so in a way that retains the core of your brand. Otherwise, don’t do it. You’ll risk losing everything.

 

Posted in Nutrition & Supplements, The Fitness Network.
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