CPT Personal Trainer Marketing

Creating Your WOW: Factors for Building Your Brand

Fabio Comana
Fabio Comana
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You strive to acquire new customers and retain existing customers. Don’t let your efforts go to waste. Discover how you can create WOW experiences that will turn your customers into your very own loyal brand ambassadors.

Read on for more, and try our fitness business course to pad your personal trainer marketing skills. 

As with most businesses, a good measure of success lies in your capacity to build a brand that holds value and relevance in the eyes of your customers. Customers don’t care about your product or service until they recognize that it holds value or relevance to them personally. In other words, if they do not see the relevance of what you offer to enhancing or improving their lives, you and the product or service you provide will hold little value and they are unlikely to make any purchase. Price in itself is only a factor in the absence of value, without building value to your brand, justifying the prices you desire may be hard to rationalize.

Fundamentally, businesses strive to not only acquire new customers, but to retain existing customers who become loyal and committed to their products or services. It is these very satisfied customers who often take it upon themselves to actively promote the value of what your business offers – defined as brand ambassadors, evangelists or loyal tribe members (1, 2). This strategy represents a core business tenant and is clearly evident with companies like Apple® and Google® who are continuously searching for innovative ideas to enhance customer experiences. Their goal is simple – deliver unique, memorable or transformational experiences that extend the lifespan of their customers and harness the branding power these customers provide. Call these experiences ‘wow’ moments as they will valuate your business. Considering how desirable this same outcome is to a fitness professional seeking to build his or her brand and expand their tribe, this article will focus upon sharing some simple ideas and strategies that can help push your business to the next level of success.

Before we get started, try to first gain a greater understanding of your existing business experiences by asking yourself a few simple questions:

  • What value do your customers see in you?
  • Would they continue to pay for your services if you increased your rates 10%, 25%, 50% or even 100% (price elasticity)?
  • How many customer referrals have you received over the past 6 months?
  • How many customers have you lost in the past 6 months?
  • How do you define and measure your losses? Do you measure your losses financially or are you tracking overall dissatisfaction amongst existing clients or members? Are they just quitting, or even worse, are they not actively promoting your business as a brand ambassador?
  • Most importantly, do you understand the ‘why’ behind each of your answers?

“Seek to understand before being understood” – amended from Steven Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (3)

To help understand the why behind these answers, all you sometimes need to do is stop and ask, listen, understand and respond, a technique that fundamentally goes against the very fabric of what personal trainers typically do. Our heritage lies within medicine, which has long adopted a self-focused, directive approach (i.e., telling customers what we believe is best for them). While this directive-approach works in medicine when a patient may not have many available options, it is rarely sustainable with lifestyle changes like diet and exercise. In this situation individuals do have options and they desire autonomy and freedom to choose a sustainable path. Our traditional tell-orientated versus an ask-orientated approach reflects a major deficiency of our industry. We would be better served retaining clients and members via a customer-centric, service-orientated approach by understanding what they truly desire, not just what they need. Since research emerged in the 1970s linking regular exercise and certain diets to reduced mortality and morbidity from cardiovascular disease, our industry has survived on this self-focused approach of telling people what they must do, under premise that this is for their own benefit (4). Unfortunately, this cause has not been helped by the popular media, who continue to push that same message to lose weight to look fabulous. It should come as no surprise to understand why many of these behaviors are never sustained. One simple idea to help move you to success is to take the time to ask and listen to your existing or prospective customers, and then find ways to respond.

As illustrated in Figure 1-1, satisfying needs only builds satisfaction, and 60 – 80% of customers who score ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ on a survey are still likely to defect from your product or service (5, 6). Why – because they have no established loyalty to you. However, it you can do more than satisfy their needs, and perhaps move to fulfill desires, then you begin to create more commitment, which brings with it loyalty. Ultimately, if you can address unfulfilled or unrecognized needs you can create an evangelistic response where your customers will actively promote your business (i.e., your brand ambassadors or evangelists).

Figure 1-1: The Commitment Hierarchy

Community Hierarchy





Take a moment to learn your clients core values or passion points. Accomplishing this task was discussed in greater detail in a previous article (Coaching – The Future of Training, April 2015), but essentially it involves identifying those personality traits (e.g., being selfless, affectionate), aspects within one’s life (e.g., career, family) or individual factors viewed as important to overall quality of life (e.g., sleep, health, nutrition, physical fitness). These values are those they deem dear and sacred, and are generally ones a person would not hesitate to commit unlimited resources to attaining. An unrecognized need is often connected to a person’s core values and when a person recognizes or realizes that their desired exercise or nutritional behavior can positively impact their core values, it can become transformational. For example, for an individual trying to lose weight, asking the right questions that uncover any emotional connections to their core values is powerful – losing 20 lbs. (9.1 kg) may not only be about Mary looking good at her reunion, but about gaining greater self-efficacy in public, improving work productivity and becoming a better role model to her children.

What people think of as the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the right question – amended from Jonas Salk, developer of the first safe polio vaccine.

So, how does this concept apply itself into practice? To help understand its potential applications, let’s examine Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, presented below in Figure 1-2 (6). Customers solicit our products or services to fulfill basic needs. While Maslow's definition of physiological needs (base of his pyramid) includes food, shelter and sleep, we can refer to it in our realm as weight loss and muscle gain (physiological changes). Safety needs define security and health insurance, but in our realm it can reflect not getting injured while exercising. If this is all you provide, then you have met your customer’s minimal expectations and you are surviving, but not succeeding (7, 8). In other words, you are working hard, but not necessarily smart with a plan to be successful. However, if you are able to fulfil higher needs (i.e., Belonging. Esteem), then you are moving towards success.

Figure 1-2: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a Customer Service Model

Microsoft Word - Document1









Maslow’s definitions of each stage include a sense of acceptance and connection to family, friends, and social circles, plus social interaction; and self-confidence, respect, and being valued respectively. If your customers feel connected to each other, your staff or to your programs, and feel that you generally care and value their efforts and input, then they will reciprocate with loyalty and word of mouth promotion. Rather than give your customers a free t-shirt when they join your programs, celebrate a milestone (e.g., 6-weeks of attendance) with a ceremony and then present the t-shirt, which now holds value and a story. They will wear it with more pride given their accomplishment and be more likely to share a story. More importantly, it now connects them with the rest of your tribe who may also wear that same t-shirt and have their own stories to share. Similarly, consider alternative means of recognizing your brand champions – rather than offering them $20 for a referral, invite them to co-lead or co-teach with you, or request their valuable feedback on your new workout idea that you plan to beta-test (these examples exemplify what Maslow intended as self-esteem). Fulfilling these levels also differentiates marketing from branding, which is gaining increased relevance considering how word of mouth is such a powerful way to spread your message. Essentially:

  • Marketing is intended to generate some action or response (e.g., a purchase to fulfill a need that achieves satisfaction); it generally connects with your cortex (rationale brain) and drives the thought process on what is it and how will it benefit me - marketing is expensive (e.g., billboards, TV advertising).
  • Branding is intended to generate a reaction, connecting emotionally with the person (e.g., fulfill a desire or overcome a challenge); it generally connects with your limbic system (emotional brain) and drives emotions on why and how this transforms or transformed my life which becomes a story people will share) - branding is experiential and does not need to be expensive.

However, if your business or the experiences provide the opportunity to help an individual realize their true potential or attain something they never considered, yet now benefit from (i.e., connecting your program to their core values), then this may become transformational to them. This will potentially lead them to become eternally loyal to your brand. For example, helping someone overcome a weight issue where they were able to complete their first marathon, but now find a whole new meaning from running (e.g., friends, networking) and have come to identify themselves as a runner may be transformational.

So, where do we begin? Start by completing a SWOT analysis or Exit Survey of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats with your clients, members or participants on a timely basis, minimally at least every 6 months. This could even be planned at regular intervals such as at the end of a training block, or after 12-weeks in your group personal training class (Figure 1-3). Ask your customers what they perceive to be your strengths, such as what they enjoy about your products or services. Ask them about your weaknesses, what they don’t enjoy or where you could improve – ask them to be transparent. What are the new opportunities you could explore that are important to them now or in the future – basically what else or more can you do for them. Then identify the threats to your business. Although you may perceive competition as your biggest threat, often it is ourselves. Many times we fall into the trap of doing things the same way because we think it works – we become complacent with the mindset ‘if it is not broken, don’t fix it,’ yet people, their needs and desires are forever changing and if you fail to innovate and satisfy changing needs, then you quickly become irrelevant and will lose customers. For example, helping a client lose 20 lbs. (9.1 kg) and then failing to identify or ask what more they desire so that you can extend their customer lifespan is simply bad business.

A heavily self-focused approach is another self-imposed threat. We may become so obsessed with pushing our message to the masses about what we think is best, what we think they need, or what we are passionate about doing, that we forget to ask and remember that if our product holds no value to the customer, then we are irrelevant. Considering the costs of acquiring new customers, set a business goal to minimize your customer attrition through timely administration of a SWOT analysis – just don’t get too redundant or annoying by doing it too frequently unless your clients see value in this process. The takeaway from a SWOT analysis is simple – ask, listen, understand and respond. Inquire and anticipate future needs to remain relevant to current and potential customers.

Figure 1-3: SWOT Analysis








However, one essential question remains critical to our success. We need to ask our customers how likely they are to recommend another customer to us. This is the measure of intangible customer loyalty and word-of-mouth opportunities. Considering 92% of consumers trust recommendations from friends and family over other forms of advertising, and 68% of consumers trust testimonials from strangers, word of mouth has become perhaps one of the most powerful marketing tools to build your business. This is especially important if you target innovators or early adopts who are likely to tell the world about you (9, 10). In his book, The Ultimate Question 2.0, Fred Reichleld (2) creates a scoring matrix to rate your own performance when asking this question (Table 1-1).

Table 1-1: The Net Promoter Score (NPS)

Score 1 - 6 7 – 8 9 – 10
  Detractors (D) Passive Promoters (PP) Active Promoters (AP)
  Dangerous members – dissatisfied/unsatisfied No real loyalty or commitment Ambassadors - sneezers (raving fans)

Individuals purchase products and services with expectations that their needs will be satisfied. If you fail to meet that very need, then you have not met their expectations and they will most likely score you between a one and six (Detractors). As a guide, no more than 5% of your customer base should ever score you under a six, and if they do, you need to immediately stop the bleeding as these detractors can severely hurt your business. Go out of your way to apologize and ask for a second chance to rectify their experience as quickly as possible before they tell the world. Your goal should be to convert a dissatisfied customer to a satisfied customer.

Customers scoring sevens and eights (Passive Promoters) hold no real loyalty to you. They will not harm your business, but they probably will not actively promote your business either. They might speak highly about your product or service when asked, but generally will not put forth much effort to do so unsolicited. They are also likely to defect if they find another product or service they perceive to hold greater value. With these customers, ask them what more you can do to enhance their experience to move them towards becoming an Active Promoter. You should address this group only after you have addressed your Detractors and Active Promoters.

Lastly, for those scoring you nines and tens (Active Promoters), give them every opportunity to spread your word and make the time to recognize and appreciate all they do for you through their voluntary, positive promotion. These are your brand ambassadors and they will spread your word as long as they continue to see value in what they purchase from you. They will wear the t-shirt they earned and share the story. They will appreciate the opportunity to try your new ideas first because you selected them and requested their feedback. Keep them excited and give them platforms to voice their thoughts, ideas and opinions to you and others. Some may be early adopters who like your innovative ideas, so keep that creative streak alive. Early adopters are highly influential on the middle and late adopting majority where you can build the size of your tribe.

Build your tribe through word of mouth and experiential services, but talk to your tribe using social media or the channel to which your tribe is connected. The world may not always be listening, but your target audience is within reach with social media, so arm your tribe with your message (i.e., your mission statement) and let them go sneeze on the world.

In closing, we work hard and make so many selfless sacrifices to help others, but it often comes at a personal cost and we cannot continue to do so indefinitely. Set your vision (and timeframe) to attain your definition of success where you can control your own financial and scheduling destiny. Don’t get complacent – challenge yourself to rethink some of your existing business tactics and evaluate how some of these ideas might potentially help you build your brand to deliver those memorable WOW experiences more effectively.



  1. Godin, S. (2008). Tribes - We Need You to Lead Us. London, UK: Penguin Book.
  2. Reichheld, F. (2011). The Ultimate Question 2.0. Boston, MA: Bain & Company.
  3. Covey, SR. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. New York, NY. Free Press.
  4. American College of Sports Medicine. (2014). ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription (9th Edition). Baltimore, MD: Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins.
  5. Jones, TO, and Sasser, Jr., WE. Why satisfied customers defect. Harvard Business Review. Nov 01, 1995. Prod. #: 95606-PDF-ENG, Retrieved Jan, 2014.
  6. Maslow, A. Motivation and Personality. New York, NY: Harper. 1954.
  7. Kremer, W and Hammond, C. Abraham Maslow and the pyramid that beguiled business. BBC news magazine. 31 Aug, 2013. Retrieved Jan, 2014.
  8. Conley, C and Hsieh, T. (2007). Peak – How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  9. Neilson.com. Global Trust in Advertising and Brand Messages. Media and Entertainment Report, September.2013. Retrieved March, 2014.
  10. Moore, GA. (2002). Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers (3rd edition). New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

The Author

Fabio Comana

Fabio Comana

Fabio Comana, M.A., M.S., is a faculty instructor at San Diego State University, and University of California, San Diego and the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), and president of Genesis Wellness Group. Previously as an American Council on Exercise (ACE) exercise physiologist, he was the original creator of ACE’s IFT™ model and ACE’s live Personal Trainer educational workshops. Prior experiences include collegiate head coaching, university strength and conditioning coaching; and opening/managing clubs for Club One. An international presenter at multiple health and fitness events, he is also a spokesperson featured in multiple media outlets and an accomplished chapter and book author.


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