The arrival of the pandemic in first quarter 2020 brought 52 consecutive quarters of growth at Planet Fitness to a screeching halt.
The company had just opened its 2000th club. Jeremy Tucker, formerly the head of Nissan’s North American marketing, had been CMO at the company for a little over 100 days.
“We closed all of our Planet Fitness locations within a matter of days, most of them within a 24-hour period,” Tucker recounted during his speech Friday at the ANA Masters of Marketing. “It was an unprecedented situation for brick and mortar businesses.”
It's a time like this when a CMO’s relationship with the CEO and and CFO really matters, he said.
Tucker said he had the support of his C-suite, and they devised a way to quickly pivot. "We knew we had to get people off the couch, to get them moving.”
Improving physical health was important to help reduce risks associated with the virus. Americans by and large are not a healthy demographic. Seventy percent are overweight and 43% are obese.
“We needed to get people off the couch, but we needed to bring the judgement-free zone to them,” Tucker said. “We had to meet members where they were, to inspire them to get moving.”
In mid-March, anticipating the closure of clubs, the company’s marketing team quickly devised the “United We Move” home work-ins campaign, which offered free workouts for everyone via Planet Fitness social media.
“We needed to tell our members, and our prospects, we’ve got your back,” he said. Even though it wasn't charging for memberships while closed, the company saw the value in maintaining relationships and helping both members and non-members to move.
Unlike most of the ads running in March, the company took a decidedly different tone.
“We had to work really hard to maintain our brand tone and the fun of the judgment-free zone,” Tucker said.
He recalled the conversation he had with his team.
“For the love of god, no piano music, no black and white photography, and please, no voiceovers that say ‘in these unprecedented times, the uncertainty, and together together together,’” he noted, mocking the somber tone of most of the ads that were hitting the airwaves in March. “We needed to do it our way. Even without a single club open, we did not go dark.”
The company enlisted celebrity trainers to televise workouts from their homes. Despite some technical glitches that the company was very honest about, the effort was a huge success.
Planet Fitness has broadcast 187 live workouts and counting. Facebook followers have risen 6.3%, YouTube subscribers are up a whopping 248%. The company’s social channels have logged 45 million views. Over 22 million people have joined in across 36 countries, with over 5 billion impressions to date.
Clubs started to reopen across the country during the summer. And despite a huge and transparent safety playbook, members were experiencing fear, uncertainty and doubt.
“These new barriers are real,” Tucker said. “But to take them off, we have to be human. The question becomes, how do you drive reassurance, and communicate our commitment to wellness with the truth, while not being clinical, preachy or cold? How do you take away the fear of what to expect when a member chooses to re-enter our clubs?”
The company launched its “Clean-siderate” program and “the Planet Fitness Clean Thumb,” which involves members.
“Of course, we have to remain agile, because after all the life of a marketer is constant improvement,” he said. “To further showcase our safety protocols and drive adoption of the new in-club experience, we actually pivoted ‘United We Move,’ going from home work-ins to workouts back in our clubs, so we can show Clean-siderate in action.”
Planet Fitness trainers have emerged as the beacons of the club’s ideals.
“You cannot be a force for good alone,” Tucker said. “You have to celebrate and surround yourself and look for good people. And promise yourself never to work with or for jerks.”
He offered some closing words of advice to the ANA conference viewers.
“This is a time for all of us to redefine our marketing playbook because each of us, we are all a culmination and combination of our unique experiences and we can use that to powerfully chart the future, because it’s going to continue to change,” Tucker said.
“Being a marketer today is not for the faint of heart or the nostalgic. It takes hope for the future and a big, big serving of grit -- and none of us having the brilliance or the endurance to do it alone.”