How to Build a Cult Following Around Your Club

For Gym Operators

How to Build a Cult Following Around Your Club

Cult branding and a loyal fan base are what set some of the most successful companies in the world apart from the rest. Borrow plays from their handbooks to help build interest in your club and elevate your brand's name.

The following is a summarization of an education session from the 2015 IHRSA Convention, produced with full permission from IHRSA. The full-length video is available for purchase at

About the Speaker

David Patchell-Evans is the Founder, Owner and CEO of GoodLife fitness clubs, the largest chain of fitness centers in Canada. He is a member of the Advisory Board of Kensington Capital Partners and the Founder of the Canadian Association of Fitness Professionals. He has been awarded with a second appointment as Adjunct Assistant Professor to the School of Kinesiology, Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Western Ontario. He is a well-respected author and keynote speaker.

What Is Cult Branding?

Cult branding creates a strong brand that people can identify with and are committed to. Cult brands usually attract ‘fanatics’ and an obsession with a particular brand. Create cultural events that distinguish your club from others to stand out from the crowd. 

The most successful cult brand companies sell a lifestyle rather than a simple product. Brands such as Apple, Coke, and Harley Davidson have experienced wildly successful brand identity and fanatic customer bases. Many of their customers refuse to buy different brands of those products.

Know Your Brand Identity

You must be engaged in your business to engage effectively with others. Know who you are as a club. Your business culture represents an important component of your “cult brand.” Your company’s culture makes you unique. Positive and enriching experiences within your club can drive and strengthen your brand, foster feelings of attachment and loyalty, and enhance member retention rates.

Culture has a direct impact on the success of a club. When you create an environment where everyone feels welcome and comfortable, you are creating a brand that instills passion in its members.

Develop and Change Your Culture

Develop advertising inline with the culture and the ethos of your club. Members will be motivated to remain longer. A good brand is largely dependent on great training coupled with outstanding service. Communicate expectations and overall values to staff so you can develop and direct your culture in the right direction.

Encourage members to talk to you on social media and other online platforms. Encourage all forms of feedback, even if it is negative. Feedback is the starting point for resolving problems. Word of mouth marketing is invaluable. Customers are more likely to believe their peers than advertisements.

Are you in tune with what you're delivering to members? It's vital to understand your offerings in the perspective of what your customers want. Better service means customers remain with your club longer, buy more, and develop loyalty to your brand.

Show Your Members and Staff That You Care

Simple acts of kindness have the power to develop strong and lasting connections with customers. People remember how you make them feel. Clients are more likely to become brand fanatics if you make them feel appreciated. A culture of caring can formulate core values and support your goal of providing the best customer experience possible.

Passion is fundamental to success and culture represents your beliefs. You want both members and staff to believe in you and in your brand. If you're passionate about what you’re doing, customers will be as well. You need to be authentic before your brand can be.

Be present when engaging with clients and your staff. To motivate your staff to make membership sales, you must understand what drives them. Your culture and brand are the things that differentiate you. Without them, you're just another commodity.

Develop a Marketing Plan

Branding represents an important function of your company. Design a logo that can be easily remembered and recognized. Aggressively promote your offerings and values to members, staff, and stakeholders. Test how well your business and brand are received by monitoring your website, social media, and email marketing efforts. Evaluate your brand with surveys or face-to-face exchanges. Change and remodel your brand based on the feedback you receive. Refine your brand and keep working on it.

Understand your unique selling position and communicate it through marketing. Neighborhood demographics play a crucial role because your marketing approach should depend on your target audience. Community engagement makes a difference in how your club is perceived. Give back to your community to create opportunities that showcase your brand to members, staff, and stakeholders.

Clever marketing and community involvement can go a long way in generating interest in your brand. Follow these guidelines and you will soon have a member base of loyal fans supporting your club and singing its praises.