Shrugged Collective

Barbell Business – Marketing to Millennials

This week on BARBELL BUSINESS we discuss:

  • Who millennials are and why you need to pay attention to them
  • How millennials are disrupting everything they can
  • Why millennials are the most influential generation of consumers ever
  • How millennials have changed the marketing game and how you can play along

Podcast links: iTunes, Stitcher

Last Friday, when we were planning this show, I wrote on the board: “Why do millennials matter?” when Mike jumped in, “What do you mean, ‘why do they matter?’ Because they’re people!”

Isn’t that sweet? I wish more CEOs had this mindset. Unfortunately, we millennials have stirred up quite a ruckus in the business world and have completely turned what was biz as usual on its head. Mike agreed, and told me a few stories about being at masterminds with Boombers and Gen Xers who tended to bash millennials when the topic arose. They talk about us millennials as if we’re vastly different than the previous generations, so why is that?

Among a dozen different theories, there’s this: In the 70’s, it became popular belief that many of the problems people faced were due to low self-esteem and an unfavorable self-image. Our hippie parents ran with this and started raising their children of the 80’s as if they were equal members of the household. “Shut up and eat,” was replaced with, “you can be a vegetarian if you like, honey.”

With this type of upbringing, we grew up with an altered idea of how we communicated with authority, how we identified and dealt with inefficiencies, how we are creators and fixers.

Now, back to my initial question: “why do they matter?” Well to a business owner, millennials may seem like a low priority because they are difficult to market to and they’re also not the biggest spenders. But while they may not be making direct purchases, they’re the most influential generation of consumers ever because of their massive networks and their willingness to share their experiences online with people from any generation who are looking for buying guidance.

So what does this mean for you?

Assuming you’re a business owner or will be one day, this means you need to start paying attention to millennials to really understand how they think and take action. Unfortunately, being a millennial yourself isn’t enough to understand how to market to them effectively.

Move away from misguided stereotypes.

There’s a difference between segmenting your customers/members into avatars and stereotyping. Although they share some commonality, stereotyping is bad. It’s the general assumption that, based on your experiences and interactions with one person or a small group, anyone else who shares similar traits are virtually identical in thoughts, values and behaviors.

A stereotype develops informally over time and generates shitty marketing messages like this: When marketing to a millennial guy, use photos of a hot woman ogling over a muscular man. Millennial guys only really care about how they look so we can assume it’s to get girls. The problem with stereotype marketing to millennials is that they have quite a nose for bullshit, they have no problem telling the world that your marketing sucks.

Instead, try creating avatars, or fictional representations of your ideal member/customer. You can do this by breaking down your target market into sub-categories to include more information that’s critical to relating to your customer as a real human. Even if your ideal member is a millennial male working out to look good for the ladies, that’s not enough information to craft an effective marketing campaign.  You need to visualize what a day in his life would be like. Understand what success looks like to him. Sympathize with his pain points. Play psychologist for a moment and really get into the head of the person you are trying to market to.

Engage them in what they are good at and enjoy

We’ve all heard this: “we specialize in not specializing.” It might be an acceptable thing to say to someone in a casual conversation about the methodology of CrossFit, but let’s get real for a second – it really isn’t the way the average athlete thinks. In my experiences, most people like to specialize, especially in things they’re really good at.

When marketing your brand, it’s very easy to get caught up in overused messages like this and forget that we’re not just marketing to this made-up stereotype – we’re marketing to humans. There’s nothing wrong with embracing the ego.

Are you an . . .

  • Apparel company? Set up a photo contest on Instagram with your #hashtag to see who rocks your apparel the best.
  • Apparatus manufacturer? Feature photos of some of your most loyal followers. We can’t all be in the games, but there’s always an opportunity for a shining moment on your favorite brand’s social media page.
  • Event coordinator? Write an eBook with expert tips from your podium winners and honorable mentions. Recognize raising star athletes in the community. That’s when your content will really starts to take off and social sharing begins to thrive.

Take advantage of their willingness to share and promote

There is no doubt that millennials enjoy talking about their favorite things on social media. Millennials may even be considered over-posters when it comes to WOD times and PRs – especially when the rest of the world has no idea what we’re talking about. Regardless, this means business owners who leverage social media to distribute interesting and engaging content will increase the overall community of advocates for their business and will experience significant growth.

Social media allows your customers and potential customers to communicate directly with you and your employees online, and it allows interesting content to spread quickly. But that right there is where most brands in general fall short. Social media in itself is not a strategy.

Most companies who are on social media seem to have no strategy at all. Social sites may seem impulsive and free-spirited, but annoy a few power posters, and they can become your worst nightmare.

Make sure that when crafting your social strategy to:

  • Listen to what your target market is saying about your brand or your industry and mimic their language and style of writing. Sometimes, you just have to shut your mouth and then repeat what they said.
  • Be a human. Take advantage of your small size and allow your fans to get to know you and your employees who post for the business page. Solve their problems, provide recommendations that aren’t going to benefit your business, be enthusiastic and fun!
  • Share your knowledge. As an expert in the fitness industry, you should have no problem publishing unique content that is educational, entertaining, inspiration and NOT salesy.

I know, I know. How are you supposed to use Facebook and Twitter to make money if you have to seriously restrict your salesy company offers? The best way to make a profit from social sites it to use it as a tool to bring strangers to your website. Then optimize your website so that the content they came in to read was so good they decided to take that next step. And that’s when the nurturing process starts. Whatever you do, avoid the hard sell via social. That’s just awkward.

Get endorsements – don’t just wait for “word-of-mouth marketing” to happen

Millennial athletes are hungry for information leading them to look for user reviews from multiple sources besides your website. They’re also very likely to share their purchases and experiences with friends after the purchase was made. Why? Maybe it’s that we care deeply about other athletes and want to make sure they have an accurate understanding of the product at hand. Maybe it’s just that we get a psychological boost from giving advice.

Either way, because millennials generally place high value on peer affirmation and seek lots of input from other athletes, it’s important to encourage feedback after someone becomes a customer. Feedback emails should be auto-sent after a purchase or feedback tabs can easily be integrated onto your website. Maybe even include a call-to-action to write a review on Yelp.

What about celebrity athlete endorsements? For most small to medium sized businesses, we’d suggest to save your money. When it comes to celebrity endorsements as recent studies show they’re just not worth the cost. But considering our industry, this could still be considered an effective marketing tactic. . . if you can afford it.

Our community has a tightknit feel to it, this peer input also spans to the elite athletes who many of us feel like we know personally.

Just beware of the two major downsides to any celebrity endorsement: 1) all of us, celebrities or not, have positives and negatives to our personalities, and those negatives can easily transfer to a brand, and 2) again, millennial athletes in our industry have an amazing nose for bullshit BUT they’re complete suckers for genuine passion and dedication to the sport. Use elite athlete endorsements wisely or risk being spotted as a bunch of WODing wannabes.

Gamify as much as you can

Doug  made a great point on this episode about gamifying as much of your member/customer interaction as possible.  Millennials love games because most of us have the tendency to get bored really easily. Luckily for us, we’ve conquered boredom with the power of gamification. The most savvy businesses are catching onto this and so should you.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to our newest 2 and 3 year #diehards #crossfitdiehard #baddestinthegame

A photo posted by Barry Boswell (@crossfitdiehard) on

“Unfortunately, most games these days are simply focused on escapism – wasting your life away on something that doesn’t improve your own life,” says Yu-kai Chou, a pioneer in the gamification industry. “Imagine if there was a truly addicting game, where the more time you spend on it, the more productive you would be?” Indeed – does the sport of fitness come to mind?

Can you think of anyways you can gamify your business further? According to Chou, successful and engaging gamified activities have 8 core drivers. You can use these to get your gears going:

  • Development and accomplishment: Developing skills and overcoming challenges
  • Meaning: When the player believes that he’s a part of something that’s bigger than himself
  • Empowerment: When the player has to figure things out and try different combinations to see an improvement
  • Social pressure: When you see a friend that is amazing at some skill, you become driven to reach that same level
  • Unpredictability: If you don’t know what’s going to happen next, your brain is engaged and you think about it often
  • Loss and avoidance: Something negative happens if you stop playing the game
  • Impatience: The fact that people can’t improve right now motivates them to think about it all the time
  • Ownership: When players feel ownership, they innately want to make what they own better

If you have any millennial marketing campaigns you’d like to share,be sure to promote it on Instagram and tag us so we can give you props and spread the love too. Photo cred: The lovely ladies of CrossFit Active Performance.




Mike Bledsoe

Add comment

  • Was that a test to see how many times Doug could say fuck and see how many people were offended or not haha. Love it. 2 questions:
    1. What podcasts do you guys religiously listen to?
    2. Whats one free tool/app/software someone could start using today when it comes to online marketing
    Thanks guys! Keep up the beauty work.

    • That sounds like the start of an awesome drinking game haha!
      1) I’ll get back to you on this one after I shoot a message out to our team.
      2) Just ONE free app that’ll improve your online marketing? This is the hardest question I’ve asked myself all day. The first thing I’d do is go to marketing.grader.com and get a free marketing report on your website. That’ll tell you where your online strategy is lacking. It looks like you need some SEO help from what I see. Shoot me an email at jessica@barbellshrugged.com and I’ll send you over some ways you can improve that.

  • I love listening to you guys and have a couple questions for you based on my situation.

    Situation: I am a Crossfit trainer working for multiple gyms. Listening to you guys I have started a list of ideas I want to start implementing on my own but don’t know if I should implement these ideas while working for these gyms or just branch out

    1. When Starting a gym would it be best to branch off of another gym or start something new?
    2. Being a Crossfit coach and seeing the trends, I want to know if it is more beneficial to start a gym as a Crossfit affiliate or a Strength and conditioning facility with an affiliate functioning within it?
    3. Lastly, would any of these be possible by using online content marketing to build a list?

    • Thanks for the kind words – I’ll be sure to pass that on!
      1) Both have their pros. Branching off: brand equity, preexisting resources/processes/systems, possibly additional funding, a team of people who will work with you to get it up and running because they have a stake in your new gym’s success. This would be a better option for a person who isn’t convinced the entrepreneur life is for him. The biggest con for me would be if you’re not in complete alignment with your business partners. Starting your own thing: Implementing everything 100% the way you would do it. Letting your personality, opinion and new brand shine in a sea of sameness. Differentiating yourself is SO important these days as is a premium quality member experience. A pro/con list would be a good brain exercise for you.
      2) Doug suggests strength and conditioning + affiliation. Check out factionsc.com to see how they do it.
      3) Online content marketing is definitely THE way to build a list. What did you mean by “any of these?”

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