Understanding Influencer Marketing & The Value It Can Bring to Your Gym

How do I secure a relationship with a footwear and apparel company for my gym the way Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) has with New Balance?
— Roughly half of the gym owners I connect with

If I decided to add a “Frequently Asked Questions” page to my website, you could expect to see this one close to the top of the list.

I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you…

The bad news is that there are only a dozen or so manufacturers such as New Balance that you likely have in mind as a fit for your gym. Additionally, there are a thousand other gyms just like yours who are probably looking for the same type of relationship.

The good news is that the CSP-New Balance relationship is the perfect illustration of the power of influencer marketing, a concept that you can apply immediately to build awareness for your business. As a matter of fact, there are probably influencers in your gym right this minute; you just need to identify them and appreciate the fact that the quality of their connections is far more important than the volume.

What, exactly, is influencer marketing?

According to Wikipedia, “Influencer marketing is a form of marketing in which focus is placed on specific key individuals (or types of individuals) rather than the target market as a whole.”

There are a number of extremely successful influencers out there who have identified the growing popularity of specific social networking platforms early in the game and quickly accumulated a follower base that would allow them to command dollars in exchange for brand exposure. While you may have your own opinions about her, Kim Kardashian is the perfect example of profitability resulting from influencing the masses.

Fortunately, you don’t need to set aside hundreds of thousands of dollars for Kanye’s wife to wear your gym’s tee shirt in an Instagram post to get the right kind of brand awareness. Instead, you need to understand your target audience, and identify the people or brands they identify with and trust.

What is CSP to New Balance?

I don’t imagine there was a meeting at New Balance in 2012 where executives sat around the conference table discussing which gym they’d like to arbitrarily throw a bunch of free gear toward. As much as people consider Eric Cressey to be a nice guy, that in itself isn’t enough to justify partnering with him, or his business. Instead, CSP happened to hit the New Balance radar at a moment when they were launching a baseball-specific product line.

At the time, we had more than 100 MLB-affiliated athletes hailing from all 30 MLB organizations who qualified as members of the “CSP Family.” These clients would serve two purposes for New Balance Baseball: First, they are athletes who need baseball cleats and apparel (AKA the “target market”); Second, they are the influencers toward whom amateur ballplayers from the youth and amateur ranks aspire.

In a way, CSP influences many of the high-profile influencers (pro baseball players) that New Balance wants to get in front of. We’re a shortcut to the affiliated athletes who offer the targeted exposure to the right kind of consumer (impressionable young baseball fans). By working with us, there was no need to chase individual athletes in and out of clubhouses, or back to their hometowns during the off-season. New Balance identified CSP as a business that had already rounded up the people they wanted to see using their products, and basically said: “let’s be friends.”

How is this a mutually beneficial relationship?

Just because you want a bunch of free Under Armor or Nike gear for your employees doesn’t mean that your business brings value to said sponsor. Our colleagues from New Balance asked to build a “Powered By New Balance” tagline into our logo because we are partners in the pursuit of a mission to improve athlete performance in the baseball community.

Examples of CSP helping New Balance:

  • We routinely gather high school, college, and professional athletes for in-depth focus groups discussing tastes in footwear, emerging trends with the baseball community, performance and durability concerns relating to products, and more.

  • We serve as the voice of the fitness professionals in sharing feedback on product development and the needs of the training community.

  • We eagerly align ourselves publicly with a product line that we know, like, and believe in, staying true to our business’s unique voice and story.

  • Eric is a brand ambassador of sorts, serving as both an advisor and an educator at the New Balance Area Code Baseball Games.

Examples of New Balance helping CSP:

  • Provide ample apparel and footwear for our staff and internship program, allowing for a consistent and professional look that is standardized from one CSP facility to the next.

  • Allow for co-branding opportunities that increase the credibility of our business. (We know we’re small-potatoes in the grand scheme of New Balance’s existence).

  • Creating what I think may be the only minimalist shoe (or shoe in general) that is specifically branded in alignment with a specific fitness facility (set to hit shopnewbalance.com during Q1 of 2017):

What we have here is a relationship that compliments the needs of both parties. Everybody wins.

Questions to ask yourself…

You’re going to need to be able to answer “yes” to one or more of these questions before approaching the New Balances of the world with a favor request:

  • Does my business provide a product or service that does not exist elsewhere?

  • Do we allow for exposure to a unique and desirable audience?

  • Does your brand possess a social media presence with a large enough reach to influence a specific target market beyond the confines of your existing training space?

  • Are you prepared to set aside the time and resources to help a potential partner in their pursuit of feedback from you and/or your clients as they continuously seek product improvement?

If you can’t confidently say yes to a few of these questions, you’ll remain a gym owner who has  to pay for footwear and exercise apparel.

We seek influencers the same way New Balance does

400+ tee shirts.

That’s the rough number of CSP tee’s we handed out to clients on the day of their initial assessment during our first year of operations. Every person who walked through the door had the potential to be an impactful influencer. The way we saw it, those shirts were going to find their way into HS gyms and locker rooms, onto the sidelines of baseball practices, and in the line of sight of hundreds of other potential customers. We made sure to slap our web address on the back of each shirt and built the cost of the apparel right into the $99 initial assessment fee.

It worked. The captains of local high school teams were roaming Massachusetts in our shirts and showcasing our brand to the underclassmen that looked up to them. Teammates began tagging along to observe training sessions and see what we were all about. Our business grew.

Thankfully we didn’t need an early partnership with a big name brand to build visibility for CSP. All it took was a memorable product and a handful of influential athletes who were willing to align themselves with our business.

One last funny story

Less than a year ago I found myself standing in line at a restaurant behind one of the aforementioned first-edition CSP tees from 2007. I tapped the nice young lady on the shoulder and politely asked her how she came across the shirt. She explained that she’d been given the shirt by her older brother, who had inherited it from his college roommate...while at a school in Hawaii.

Think about that for a second…I handed a shirt to a 16 year old almost a decade ago that had changed hands three times and made it’s way to the southern Pacific Ocean before coming full-circle to my line of sight. I can’t even imagine how many eyes have seen our logo and web address in this context over the years, but I know it is a big number.

Don’t be afraid to put your brand out there in a similar fashion and see where it roams.