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Direct Response Marketing

Selling Fitness

1 Jan, 2014 By: Doug McPherson Response

Zumba continues to tap DR, partnerships and fun to add muscle to sales and health to its bottom line.


This could be one of those you-got-your-chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter scenarios. Or it could be a case study for marketing students learning about combinations that thrive in the marketplace. Whatever it is, it’s working.

The workout that’s working. You’ve likely heard of it. Heck, you may be a fan. If you are, you’re not alone in your love of all things … Zumba®.

One funny name. One wildly successful marketing story. And 14 million devotees.

More properly, the company behind the craze is known as Zumba Fitness LLC.

And Zumba itself is indeed a workout, but a disguised one with a few key ingredients. Zumba Fitness has jammed exercise, fun, music and culture into a blender, pushed the liquefy button and poured out a frothy, finished product that’s turned into nothing short of a dance-fitness revolution.

The company offers trained instructors for gyms and health clubs in 180 countries who lead classes or “fitness parties” where upbeat music meets easy-to-follow choreography. The result? A total-body workout “that feels like a celebration.”

And like many smart companies, when it has a hit, it capitalizes. Zumba Fitness has spun off all kinds of classes, DVD workouts, original music collections, apparel, footwear, video games, interactive Fitness-Concert™ events, a quarterly lifestyle magazine and more.

Private, but Approachable
Zumba Fitness, founded in 2001, is a private company. So getting details about its secret marketing recipe is like bench pressing a few hundred pounds. But if you paid attention to some key words already used in this article, you get the drift of the clever things the company is doing to create a bottom line that’s turning heads.

Words like party, fun and celebration have, in large part, been missing in action when it comes to fitness or gyms.

Mike Frawley, founder and president of United Fitness Marketing (unitedfitnessmarketing.com), a health-club marketing firm in Kansas City, Mo., says from a marketing standpoint, Zumba has done “an amazing job” of building brand awareness organically.

“The classes themselves are successful because they’re designed to be fun,” Frawley says. “Combine that with great music and you have a winner.”

When asked to characterize Zumba Fitness’s approach to marketing, Brian Comstock, Zumba’s vice president of direct response, says simply: “It’s all about fun, the community and the music.”

Since 2011, when the company made music an official part of its offerings, Comstock says Zumba has expanded its efforts to connect even more with music artists — well-known musicians like Pitbull, Vanilla Ice, Lil Jon, Wyclef Jean, Don Omar, Paulina Rubio and Daddy Yankee — many of whom have contributed original songs to Zumba. Billboard magazine reports that Pitbull’s “Pause,” Don Omar’s “Zumba” and Daddy Yankee’s “Limbo” — all Zumba songs — have each topped Billboard charts.

The company may be private, but it’s clearly approachable and values inclusiveness and partnerships much like its multi-ingredient workout.

Another example of this occurred at Zumba’s annual meeting in Orlando in August. It turns out that actress Sherri Shepherd, co-host of ABC’s “The View,” is a huge Zumba fan (she claims Zumba dancing helped her lose 46 pounds).

So Zumba invited her to speak at the meeting. There she noted Zumba’s infomercial gave her the nudge to try Zumba routines.

“It was about two years ago, before I got married,” she told People. “I was 197 pounds, sitting on my couch, eating pizza and watching infomercials. I am an infomercial whore — I’ll watch any of them! But anyway, this infomercial for Zumba showed up and I couldn’t get to my credit card fast enough! I knew it was time.”

A Love of Long-Form
Comstock credits long-form infomercials for generating customers and building Zumba into a household name. He’s a true fan of the medium, and the company has been using them for much of its 13-year life.

“I don’t know anyone who has been successful in the past 10-plus years marketing exercise or fitness DVDs that were priced at or above $50 that have made it work in a format other than the 28:30 full-length infomercial format,” Comstock says. “If a marketer is merely driving retail or selling a $19.95 product, then a short-form can work or supplement long-form, but the gist is the long of long-form trumps short-form.”

One of Zumba’s DVD packages goes for $49.95. Another is listed at $73.90.

Comstock adds, “People might buy a $19.95 product on an impulse, but spending anything more tends to be a more informed, thoughtful and deliberate decision. We also like to show the depth of our brand, products and community that really can’t be effectively communicated in a shorter spot.

He continues, “We need sufficient time to demonstrate the product, educate the consumer on the what and why, as well as present testimonials and experts who share the social proof and also build and present a compelling product offer that supports the investment.”

Comstock says Zumba will be launching a new product and new 30-minute infomercial in first-quarter 2014 called the Zumba Incredible Results system. “We expect it to be our next global fitness revolution,” he says. “The system includes DVDs with easy-to-follow dance fitness workouts, including cardio burst intervals, healthy eating plans and the Zumba Rizer, a patent-pending Zumba step.”

Becoming Social
Outside of infomercials, Comstock is more tightlipped. On social media as a marketing tool, he only says, “That’s some of the secret sauce that can’t be shared, but we have a large following on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and elsewhere.”

Zumba CMO Jeffrey Perlman has said the company’s “overall strategy is to build community, and we do that both online and offline.”

Frawley isn’t surprised. “Right now, social is king. For good promoters, currently there’s no more effective and cost-efficient means to get the word out than social media.”

Zumba does say much of its target market is female, and the average Zumba fan is 33-years-old, which fits social media — nearly two-thirds of Facebook page views are driven by women.

And those Facebook fans are engaged. Posts sometimes register thousands of likes and hundreds of comments — activity that has prompted Zumba to emphasize Facebook over Twitter.

For example, when musician Pitbull released a new song, Zumba created half a music video, posted it on Facebook and asked fans to finish it. They submitted several thousand entries and organized a vote to pick the best one.

Zumba also creates content with Zlife, its digital magazine that covers nutrition, fitness, beauty and music.

Comstock says Zumba’s overall marketing success rests mostly on four factors:

  • Fun. “Fun is key. People will keep doing what they enjoy doing and the music helps make it so.”
  • Effectiveness. “The product has to be effective and deliver results when measured from just getting up and moving or from the vantage point of losing weight and getting into shape.”
  • Diversity. “Diverse offerings are important. We have programs suitable for all ages — from kids to seniors — and live classes, DVDs, video games, music, apparel, shoes and more.”
  • Accessibility. “All of it has to be available or accessible. We’re in more than 140,000 locations in more than 180 countries with instructors and millions of DVDs, CDs and video games are available and sold around the world.”

Selling Emotion
The story of Zumba’s marketing turning point goes something like this: One day in 2006, five years after Alberto Perlman founded Zumba, Jeffrey Perlman — his brother — who wasn’t working at Zumba, saw a billboard for David LaChapelle’s film “Rize” that showed two muscular dancers. He immediately called Alberto and told him Zumba was selling the wrong thing. “You’re selling fitness when you should be selling emotion.”
Jeffrey joined his brother with the idea of making Zumba a brand “where people would feel free and electrifying joy.”

They eventually settled on this slogan: “Ditch the workout; join the party!” Then they put $10,000 into a better website and started selling branded clothing. Print and digital ads began showing close-ups of people having a great time instead of full-body shots of women with six packs. They also launched the Zumba instructor network and created a corporate mission “to make our instructors successful.”

In creating Zumba’s brand, Jeffrey Perlman told AdAge he was inspired by other marketing brands with devoted followings. “We wanted to try to understand what our consumers saw in us, so we looked at other brands where people were tattooing the logos on their bodies,” he said. “The two that came to mind were Harley Davidson and yoga. We started asking ourselves, ‘Why is Harley Davidson a lifestyle brand?’ What we came up with is it’s a brand that can go into many other mediums but still preserve its identity. Then we looked at other fitness crazes and the only thing we could think of was yoga.”

Soon after Jeffery came on board, he invested in public relations, including an annual instructor convention. He introduced the brand’s video-game presence and added products in the category for adults and kids.

He also made TV and social media a priority. Efforts included product placement in the NBC reality show, “The Biggest Loser” and Comstock says some reality show concepts are “floating around Hollywood.”

Hollywood and fitness? Zumba may be the company to make it happen. ■



Traditional Advertising Sucking Wind for Fitness Marketing

To Mike Frawley, traditional advertising in the fitness game looks a little like a couch potato who’s just (barely) finished a marathon — head, arms and spirit dangling listlessly.

“Traditional advertising is becoming less reliable,” says Frawley, founder and president of United Fitness Marketing (unitedfitnessmarketing.com), a health-club marketing firm in Kansas City, Mo. “In most markets, direct mail — once the most effective and preferred advertising tool for clubs — returns little or no response. It’s been overused and it’s just no longer cost efficient for most clubs.”

Frawley paints an industry that has “price-pointed itself to death.”

He says the preferred direct response tactic for the health club industry has always been price-pointing. But during the past few years, the flood of franchises and private equity dollars has led to a gross overuse of the tactic.

“In some markets, you can’t give a membership away. Seriously, we get hits on our blog along the lines of, ‘Why can’t I sell a damn membership?’ Clubs have turned to gimmick pricing where you advertise $8 a month but throw in hidden fees,” Frawley says.

Industry insiders say franchises continue to lure new franchisees with these low-cost models and placing them in markets where they don’t stand a chance.

“Now you have the existing clubs in those markets moving to à la carte pricing, where they offer their basic stuff for whatever the new low-cost player is advertising,” Frawley says. “We’re averaging about one call every month from a disgruntled franchisee looking for help.”

Frawley says the key element in fitness marketing has been and always will be creating excitement about fitness. “It’s the allure of a better you and a better life,” he contends. “If your marketing can trigger those emotions, with a strong call-to-action and limited supply offer, you’ve mastered the art.”

He also offers the “tweak, reinvent, refresh, reword” method for clubs’ messaging and offers.

“The message, offer and advertising must continually be tweaked and refreshed. The same offer used in same venues, with the same message will lose effectiveness quickly. A lot of franchises out there will try to tell you it’s price. Price is a big part, but only works for a short while, before you have to lower the price.”


About the Author: Doug McPherson


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