But Will They Tattoo Your Name On Their Bodies? Ironclad Loyalty for Wellness Businesses

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Do your customers tattoo your company name on their body? Here’s how the Ironman brand has cracked the code on customer loyalty.

Ask any Ironman triathlete at the Kona world championships to explain the mystique, and they’ll tell you: they just had to do it. To overcome an obstacle, to achieve the seemingly impossible. To redefine the way they view themselves.

That kind of loyalty’s not just for triathletes. Your wellness business can inspire ironclad loyalty among your customers, too:

1. Cultivate the enthusiasm

Customers of successful wellness businesses are passionate. Their lives are transformed. Your program becomes a part of who they are. Give them LOTS of opportunities to share their victory photos, their updates about achievements, to be mentors and local celebrities. They’ll spread the word, and strut your brand as a part of it. Let them do the talking — this is more about them than it is about you. The payoff for your business is being part of their success.

2. Set progressive milestones

Only regional qualifiers get to Kona. Nearly every iron-distance triathlete has done Olympic-distance events, long sprints, and pool triathlons before the big event. No matter what your customers are trying for: managing diabetes with exercise and fewer meds, fitting into their skinny jeans, wowing people at a class reunion, getting through a day without pain, or actually finishing a 140.6-mile triathlon, everyone needs something to strive for — small goals that make the journey rewarding, big goals that get headlines.

3. Set key milestones high

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t track, coach, and provide encouragement as your customers make progress — and occasionally stumble — toward their goals. But making the effort to achieve significant milestones helps make those milestones more meaningful. This can be as simple as a low-tech high-visibility bulletin board naming clients who have reached a level of remarkable achievement doing something that’s impressive among your clientele. Be creative: that achievement might be anything from push-ups to yoga headstands to event completions or the longest wall-sit, the most consecutive months with a healthy A1C, or the number of consecutive days without bingeing.

4. Limit who gets the reward

Want Kona-style exclusivity? Don’t just hand out t-shirts (or water bottles or anything else) to everyone in the shop. The real cost of that Ironman tattoo isn’t the $100 you pay the tattoo artist. It’s $100 PLUS 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling, and 26.2 miles of pure running sweat, plus months, even years of training. You have to earn the tattoo, you have to earn the t-shirt. Money alone can’t buy them. P.S. Don’t forget — this is marketing, so make absolutely certain your brand is front and center when meting out rewards and recognition.

5. Embrace scarcity

Hiring hard-to-get staff, keeping classes small and emphasizing one-on-one interaction with coaches, trainers or instructors results in stronger loyalty, greater revenue per customer, and better resource utilization. Limited enrollment, waiting lists — scarcity can be a good thing.

6. Think twice about expansion

Demand for your specialty is skyrocketing. Does that mean you ought to add new events as fast as you can? Nope. You could double-down on scarcity instead — preserve that “only the best” market position and just let the waiting list get even longer, raise prices, or make it tougher to get in (think Boston Marathon qualifying times). Adding new locations or events can backfire. The Ironman folks stumbled a bit recently when they added a new event location. Enrollment fell below expectations and they quickly changed direction.

7. “The original, still the best”

Don’t let “the competition” distract you. Stick to your knitting. Should you respond to a surge in interest by dramatically upping enrollment at your event? Not if you want to protect your brand and your market position. There will only be one Kona, no matter how many 140.6 mi races other outfits put on. The fact that other businesses are copying you means you’re doing something right.

8. Treat your best customers to something special

Make them feel like they’re part of a special club that only the lucky few can join. At Kona, top triathletes willing to fork over big dollars get VIP treatment.  In your wellness business, this can be as simple as late-night access for select clients or members, an invitation-only wine social, or a once-in-a-lifetime meeting with an Olympic athlete. Giving appreciation to loyal customers is a lot cheaper than giving discounts to price-sensitive ones, and it adds a little more swagger when some folks are in the inner circle.

9. Imitation = bad business strategy

If your business focus is extreme fitness events, think twice before you slavishly model your event on the Ironman distances — or Tough Mudders, or any other existing event. These days, that’s old news. In most communities, you’ve already got competition that had that idea a few years back. Moreover, the folks who complete Ironman distances tend to move on to something else after a year or two. “Me-too” events often struggle because, well, they’re just copying what someone else is doing without bringing anything new to the party.

There’s an art to helping your customers set, achieve, celebrate, and share life-changing accomplishments. Do it right — and you might see your logo showing up in unexpected places!