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A Damaged Brand, or No Brand Awareness at All?

Jun 22, 2020 by

Is it better to work with a damaged brand that has some serious brand awareness, or one with no brand awareness at all?

That’s the question CrossFit affiliates have been grappling with since the CrossFit brand took a turn for the worst in recent days.

While many affiliates had already co-branded before the scandal broke — some have a certain degree of local brand awareness in their respective cities — hundreds of others still live or die by the name CrossFit, explained Jim Crowell, OPEX Fitness CEO. This has left many grappling with the question of how to successfully rebrand.

Rebranding, and especially creating brand awareness, is challenging, said Crowell, who works directly with gym owners — both OPEX-licensed gyms and others — to develop their unique brand.

  • “All the people in CrossFit right now who are jumping ship so quickly might not be looking at the trade off…The trade off being that they don’t have a brand anymore. CrossFit has brand awareness and you can’t underestimate that,” Crowell said.
  • “It’s not just putting a new sign on the door and calling it a new brand. Nobody knowing your name: That’s difficult to overcome,” he added.

Crowell knows this firsthand because he admitted that, although OPEX is a well-known brand in the CrossFit world, the general population has no idea what OPEX is. So when a new OPEX gym opens up, they don’t have brand awareness on a local level, Crowell explained.

  • “We don’t promise brand awareness to OPEX gyms. What we do is help people create their own business…We help them figure out their unique brand, we build their logos for them, we give them a whole bunch of stuff, but they know they have to build local brand awareness,” he said.
  • “Whereas CrossFit, they could promise brand awareness. The level of brand awareness they have is hugely beneficial. Despite the brand having had some negativity for a while, it was still bringing people through the doors…I just don’t think many gym owners realized how much they relied on CrossFit,” he added.
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And this takes time, and a whole lot of effort: “If I’m rebranding to a brand nobody knows, there has to be huge brand awareness conversations going on. On your website, face-to-face, you constantly have to talk about what you’re doing, constantly show what you’re doing. You have to start doing a ton of marketing to slowly build enough brand awareness in your local community,” Crowell said.  

Another challenge: CrossFit affiliates might be changing their name, but continuing to do the same thing in their facility.

  • “So if you’re rebranding and you’re doing the same thing, then there’s a definite weirdness to that,” Crowell said.

Branding with Boris: Boris Kezic has devoted the last 13 years to helping gyms brand and rebrand through his company Metcon Creative. Though rebranding is a challenge, he said he sees an opportunity for CrossFit gyms right now.

Gyms who are rebranding “need to realize they have a great opportunity to finally own the narrative of the brand,” said Kezic, who has a standing podcast with Stuart Brauer’s WTF Gym Talk called ‘Branding with Boris’ and has worked with CrossFit gyms, OPEX gyms, NCFIT gyms and Madlab Group gyms on developing their unique brand.

  • “In the last two years, every CrossFit gym I have worked with started the conversation with, ‘We’re CrossFit, but not like that,’” he said about the hesitancy he has noticed affiliate owners have been feeling toward the CrossFit brand.
  • Kezic added: “I think that’s going to be freeing for a lot of people to not be tied to perceptions that can come from a brand you don’t control…You can’t control what HQ puts out. You can’t control what the other CrossFit gym in town puts out. It’s literally putting your brand in someone else’s hands.”

The value of having your own unique brand: When you own your brand, you can control it, protect it and sell it, Kezic explained.

  • “You control the narrative. You set the standard. It’s also important because you own your brand, you don’t own CrossFit. If you ever decide to sell your gym, you can do so and sell the IP and brand, but with CrossFit, you can’t do that because they own the name and the copyright,” he said.

Rebranding when everyone knows your name: Daniel Jahangard, the owner of a gym that has been around for 10 years in the city where CrossFit started, is in the position where he had a well known CrossFit gym — CrossFit West Santa Cruz in CA — that has some serious brand awareness.

This didn’t stop him from cutting ties with CrossFit in recent days and turning his gym into West Fitness. Because he sees an opportunity, he explained.

 Jahangard, who called the recent Greg Glassman scandal “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said that he’s excited to finally be able to tell his own story.  For him, it goes well beyond politics. It extends to the CrossFit methodology, which in many ways no longer speaks to what he has been doing.

  • “Like constantly varied,” he said of one of CrossFit’s founding tenants. “We haven’t really been doing constantly varied for a long time now. We have been following (specific) strength cycles,” he said.

So now is his chance to really highlight how his gym is different from CrossFit, he explained, while maintaining the community aspect of CrossFit that he still very much identifies with. And a new name — West Fitness — provides a platform for this, he explained.

Though Jahangard said he expects rebranding to come with challenges, he’s confident that if “we’re vocal about what we can offer and how we’re different,” in the long run, they’ll be better off without the CrossFit name.

  • “We’re confident we can make it without the CrossFit name,” he said.

Jason Khalipa, the owner of the NCFIT brand, which recently announced a partner program for gyms looking to rebrand, agrees with both Jahangard and Kezic about the importance of telling your own unique story. Although he has a program that would effectively bring gyms under his brand, he thinks gyms still need to create their own narrative within the greater NCFIT brand.

  • “I think that every owner should be in control of their own destiny. That being said, if attaching a name can support (to improve) SEO, support network, marketing, then it could be a good idea to attach a larger name while still building yours,” he said.
  • Khalpia added: “If NCFIT, or any other name, are still adding value, keep it going.”

Rebranding can’t be done overnight: As Crowell pointed out, changing your identity, and especially creating brand awareness, cannot be done overnight.

Kezic agrees. This means, there might be some growing pains for many gym owners in the near future. But with the right plan, it’s possible, he explained.

For those looking to rebrand, Kezic encourages them to take a good look at their current brand. Just because you’re leaving the CrossFit brand doesn’t mean you need to throw everything out, he said.

  • “The first step is to audit your brand,” Kezic said.

This allows you to figure out what’s working, what’s not, and what’s missing.  

Then, make three lists, he explained. One for what you want to keep. One for “the things you want to leave behind,” and the final list for what you want to add to your new brand. And remember that branding isn’t just about a logo and a sign. It’s about telling a story, he added.

  • “It’s about creating a story about the non-tangible things that make people feel good to be part of your business,” he said.


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