The CrossFit Tribe

Tribes, communities and movements have taken over many conversations in the past several years. Much of this conversation is due to the book entitled Tribes by Seth Godin. He recognized the shift of consumers from purchasing based on wants or needs to making purchases based on perceived shared values with that organization. A camaraderie is developed around these organizations, products or services.

For example most people have a favorite cola. Are you a Pepsi person or a Coke person? For some people it's more than a taste preference. These people are members of a tribe, they will only drink one or the other and to suggest otherwise is blasphemy. These tribes often resemble cults. Some people have referred to Apple Computer fans as belonging to the cult of the Mac. Often these tribe members become brand evangelists and are integral parts in starting a movement around a brand. I don't see that happening around soda any time soon but giving passionate people a cause and the potential to do something meaningful can lead to a movement.

Joining a Tribe

As a designer I am fascinated with human behavior. The more I understand why we do the things we do, the better job I can do in designing the experiences our clients need. Over the past few years I have been observing a movement grow around CrossFit. It started with seeing mentions online and hearing third hand about some guy that was doing CrossFit and how crazy he is for doing it. These few mentions really peaked my interest as people not involved are remarking about this fitness program. It must be remarkable. I began to explore online resources and watch videos on YouTube.

A few weeks later my brother in-law and sister in-law joined a local CrossFit gym and began sharing their experiences with me. I saw something interesting in them, that really peaked my interest. Not in a "I want to work out!" sort of way but as a person who is interested in human behavior. I wanted to find out more so I began doing some of the workouts on my own but I didn't notice the behaviors in myself I had noticed in my family.

The CrossFit Movement

In January my wife and I joined a CrossFit gym, nearly two years after first hearing about it. I was a little reluctant because many of the CrossFitter's I had met were overly evangelistic about it's benefits, and I really didn't want to become "that guy". I've noticed some characteristics that are important to the building of a movement. First is that CrossFit has it's own language.

Fran is the name of one of the CrossFit workouts, there are a lot of Named workouts named after girls and many named after fallen service men. A non named workout is called a WOD or Workout Of the Day. This insider vocabulary adds to the sense of belonging for those in the CrossFit world and adds some distance to those on the outside. It's not uncommon to hear a phrase like "What was your Fran time?". This workout consists of 3 rounds of Thrusters and Pullups with 21-15-9 reps for the 3 rounds. I've included a record breaking "Fran" workout below to get a better idea of the craziness.

note - this is a serious athlete. CrossFit workouts are scaled based on your ability. The work is hard but no-one is expected to be able to complete workouts this fast or with that much weight at the beginninging.

This brings me to a second element of starting movement that I've seen demonstrated throughout CrossFit. This is the idea of a shared experience. If you watched the above video you can see how intense these workouts can be. Pushing your body to its limit with other people instantly gives you an intense shared experience the most people don't understand. Everyone no matter how long they've been doing CrossFit remembers the pain of the first week. It's a right of passage, and can even be thought of as an initiation.

These intense shared experiences also function as a third element to a movement and that is the idea of a Barrier to Entry. Have you ever notice how when your favorite band becomes famous they don't seem as good? This is because put the time and effort into finding them and it was something special that very few people could enjoy. It felt like you were part of an exclusive club, until that day they played on the Jay Leno Show. Barriers to entry keep the masses at bay, and lets only the dedicated through. These are the people that are passionate about the organization or product. These are the people that will not give up on starting and growing the movement. Barriers to entry are vital.

ReUsable Principles

CrossFit has grown to huge tribe and for good reason. I'm not sure how much of it was deliberate but the characteristics I mentioned above can be repurposed in your organization.

1. Distinguishing Markers
CrossFit has silly t-shirts that tell people that they are a CrossFitter. They often feature insider references that serve as a secret handshake between athletes. Giving members of your tribe a way to display their affiliation helps build camaraderie and pride. For most organizations t-shirts are an obvious first choice but with a little creativity you can come up with something more unique and appropriate for you.

2. Distinguishing Behaviors
Developing behaviors like your own vocabulary and systems of doing things can give people ways to participate in the movement. What often works best is to include some of the tribe members in developing these behaviors. This fosters ownership and excitement about what you're doing.

3. Shared Experiences
Friendships are based around shared experiences. The more time you spend with someone the more likely you'll be friends and visa versa. Many of best friends from high school I don't talk to anymore because we've all had so many other experiences since then that we've all but forgotten about those relationships. I'm sure it's the same for you. Where can you bring people together and offer a shared experience? Is it possible to include some distinguishing markers and behaviors during these shared experiences?

4. Sense of Exclusivity
The tagline for CrossFit is "Forging Elite Fitness", and it lives up to it. While everyone is welcome at a CrossFit "box" (what they call a gym) only a few stick it out and make it part of their lifestyle. Their barrier to entry isn't imposed but is inherent in the experiences they offer. Often we don't want to exclude anyone, but it's important for building movements that you have a way of weeding out those that are just trying out the new cool thing. You can have a special sub group of people that are helping lead the movement and a larger group that are participants. Are their ways you can give this sub group, their own markers, behaviors, and experiences to strengthen their commitment to being a leader?

Movements Build Community and Community Changes Lives

Here is another CrossFit video. It's a lot different than the previous one. CrossFit has changed peoples lives not only through better health but through the relationships and community that has been built between tribe members. YouTube is full of videos on how CrossFit has totally changed lives and I think that's cool. What about your organization can deliver that?

Branding Process - I Can See Clearly Now

This is part 3 in a 6 part series on the process of designing a brand from the ground up. This is the process that 6foot4 uses. We like it but feel free to agree or disagree and tell us about it in the comments. These articles are for Designers and Clients alike. Both groups could benefit from a little more education and discussion. If you are just joining this discussion you should start at the beginning to get some context.

After your initial research is completed we can begin to clarify strategy. This is often the point where a client will want to begin but it is important to complete the research first for both client and designer. This phase of clarifying strategy involves looking at the smallest details as well as big picture at the same time.

1. Coke Bottle Glasses

Distill all the research into a unifying idea. This will be the core of your brand strategy. From there move into solidifying target markets, competitive advantage, core beliefs, etc. Take the time to articulate your values and vision. Mold and refine them to be efficient and yet tell the story of who you are. Really be sure you are clear on who you are, what you do and why it's important. Remember this is the process for starting from the ground up with a new brand. You would do things differently if you are refining an existing brand or have a clear brand strategy already.

2. Sharks with Frickin' Laser Beams

Now we can narrow our focus, taking all the info we have and creating a big picture. This will be a big picture that is unique to your brand so you can't just pick this up from some marketing blog. You need to do the work. Revisit your vision by doing more interviews with management, employees, and customers. Look at the really big picture of the world in general. What are the trends, where are they headed, how does this brand fit within the global picture. Even if you're a mom and pop shop with one location or working out of your home you need to fully understand what you bring to the table and how you fit in this world we all live in. Especially as we move more and more towards a global marketplace and economy.

Engage in meaningful dialogue. Share your thoughts, visions, hopes and dreams. Don't hold back. Also don't punch anyone. Hold up in an offsite location and do the tough work of forming your brand by talking it out. Understand that saying yes to one thing may mean saying no to something else. What are the consequences of those choices? Like The Oracle tells Neo in the Matrix, "Know Thyself."

Uncover your brand essence and the truth about who and what you are. This can be ugly and often the truth hurts. If you realize you don't care about your customers and you are just out to make a buck, that shouldn't sit well with you, and be sure it doesn't sit well with your customers. This is where the designer/client relationship needs to be built on trust and respect. The designer needs to be able to hold a mirror up to the client and not get fired.

3. What's the big idea?

After all that is finished you should have distilled your big idea, or hedge hog concept as is discussed in the book "Good to Great" by Jim Collins. Turn this idea into a tagline or simple statement. For example Apple = Think Different, Target = Expect More Pay Less.

4. Boxers or Briefs?

Now may be a good time to for the client to bring in a Designer with a Capital D if their designer is not functioning in both capacities. We need to create two briefs. The first is the Brand Brief. This document should include the vision, mission, big idea, brand attributes, value proposition, target audience, key markets, competitive advantage, etc. This will inevitably take several revisions, meetings and lots of emails but it is important to craft this document so that everyone is on the same page and starting with a strong foundation for the work ahead.

The second brief is the Creative Brief. This is the document that will give the Designer what they need to perform in line with the overall objectives of the project. This needs to signed off by key decision makers and and should be made as a collaboration between client, designer, and Designer. The creative brief should include team goals, communications goals, critical application list, function and performance criteria, SWOTs, positioning, benchmarks, presentation dates, etc.

###5. What's in a Name?
The final stage before moving forward with creative is the beast of Naming. In my experience this is an area clients are not willing to spend the time on doing right and a great name can be a valuable brand asset. The process is hard and iterative and the best names are not made up in a day. Look to your brand brief, and examine the names of the competition. Get organized by defining how this decision will be made, who needs to sign off, and get all the resources you'll need together. Define your naming criteria. How should it perform? What legal criteria need to be met?

Start brainstorming. Write everything down. No idea is a bad idea, it may not be the winner but it isn't bad. The last thing you want to do is stop creativity before it has even begun. Once you've exhausted all the ideas, and variations on those ideas and themes, then begin to weed out the ones that won't work based on legal criteria, language problems, search engine results, domain registration, etc. At the end you should have a short list of workable names.

Take it for a test drive. How does it sound to say? If you have it on your business cards will you get bored with the cleverness after a week or two? How will it sound when your customers use it? Take the name Google for example. It has be come a verb, "I'll google that later."

Another layer of testing follows. You'll want to look for trademark conflicts, language and cultural conflicts. If your name means something derogatory in a foreign language you may not want to use it. Finally, make sure all your bases are covered legally. The last thing you want is to choose a name and launch your brand, then run into some regulation that says you can't use that name.

In the next post I'll begin taking about the Design process and thinking more creatively about our strategy.

Branding Process - First Steps

This is part 2 in a 6 part series on the process of designing a brand from the ground up. This is the process that 6foot4 uses. We like it but feel free to agree or disagree and tell us about it in the comments. These articles are for Designers and Clients alike. Both groups could benefit from a little more education and discussion. If you are just joining this discussion you should start at the beginning to get some context.

Now What?

So you've found a designer to work with. Good. Get to know each other and share your vision and passion about your venture to the designer. Infect them with your dream. This relationship is going to be key to your success and a high level of trust should be shared between both designer and client. If you can't trust them, why are you doing business with them?

Research, Research and Research Some More

Research is the foundation of any successful project. Something as important as your brand requires a metric butt load of research. This starts by getting a comprehensive understanding of the business. We start by finding out what material already exists. Things like Mission, Vision, Value Propositions, Planning Documents, History, Domains, Market Research etc. It's a pretty thorough process.

You'll need to research the key stakeholders' needs and perceptions. This brings any differences in vision and direction to the front. It is vital to have the stakeholders in agreement before you move too far into the process. We don't deal with the issues at this point we're still just collecting as much info as possible.

Conduct audits in the areas of marketing, competitive technology, and language. Everything is important, and I stress EVERYTHING. It may not seem important by itself but when all put together each individual aspect of a business creates that brand we're wanting to solidify. When all the research is done gather it all together into a report and see what you've learned. What thinking needs to change? No business is perfect, so make sure you learn something from this research. Many businesses, especially small ones don't take the time to do this kind of work. By taking your Brand seriously and doing the research you are already better prepared to be successful.

Branding Process - Setting the Stage

This is part 1 in a 6 part series on the process of designing a brand from the ground up. This is the process that 6foot4 uses. We like it but feel free to agree or disagree and tell us about it in the comments. These articles are for Designers and Clients alike. Both groups could benefit from a little more education and discussion.

We need to start with defining some terms so we are starting from the same place. Your definitions may vary but for this series of posts we will be using these definitions.

Brand - A brand includes everything, physically, emotionally, and mentally associated with an entity. This means you don't control your brand as people are free to think and feel what they want, but you can attempt to guide it.

Design - Design with a capital "D" refers to developing marketing or promotional pieces. Stuff that is created in software.

design - Design with a lower case "d" refers to an all encompassing strategic plan the directs brand decisions and Design.

First and foremost clients need to understand that not all Designers are created equally. Some Designers only do Design and others are capable of being both designer and Designer. For a client to get the most out of their money they should be looking for someone who can facilitate the design process. These strategic people will view the client/designer relationship as a strategic partnership and will view your success as their own success.

Typically these Designer/designer people are not "Freelancers." This isn't true of all freelancers but in general a freelancer focus more on visuals than strategic planning. This is because most people go into the Design industry to make pretty things, but the world is rapidly changing and we need to think strategically about our Design. Designers need to design experiences and conversation. Free Lancers often produce great work and there are times when you may have a designer that can't Design. For example if you are completely confident in designing your own brand then you may hire a freelance Designer. Here again look for a Designer that doesn't only Design for aesthetics but for both business success and aesthetics. Finding a solution to both designer and Designer in the same person or agency would be ideal as it make communicating brand attributes, strategy and design easier.

Clients and designers should have a face to face meeting if possible to get to know each other a little bit. You should be able to tell if it will be a good working relationship or not. Don't just talk about the potential project, get to know what makes each other tick. You are looking for a strategic partner remember, it's an important relationship.

After finishing this post I realized I forgot the most important component that needs to be in place before anything else. Passion. If you don't live and breath what you do then there is no way in HE*
that your brand will be on top. You have got to want to share your product or service with anyone and everyone you can. Not because you see them as a potential sale but because you can't help telling them about it. It's engrained in your DNA. If that doesn't describe you, then you should stop where you're at and take an honest look at what you're trying to do.

Presto Chango

Changing your brand message can be a tricky proposition. There are many reasons that we might think it would be a good idea but is it really. Let's look at a couple reasons why brands are tempted to change their messaging and if they are valid reasons to do so.


Developing a strategic brand message can often take months to fully develop and craft the communication mediums to be effective. During that time we are fully engrossed in the process and idea, and when we come out the other side we are often exhausted and tired of the idea. It is at these times we need to let the brand live. You've put all that work into it, let it gain traction and do the work it was intended to do.

If you've done a good job developing the brand message then you shouldn't need to change it drastically for quite a while and maybe never. This is dependent on your particular industry and your position in it. Your brand should never become stagnant but it should stay consistent enough that your audience recognizes it.


Since branding is about what your customers think about your company, product or service it is guaranteed that your competition is trying to influence the same people you are. Rarely do the actions of your competition require you to drastically change your brand messaging. You should be secure and confident in who you are as a company. If you don't know what makes you great then how will be able to communicate that to the market? This research and exploration should be done before you pursue any design, marketing or advertising.

A strong brand is never reactionary, if you are constantly changing your brand message then you need to do some more research about your market and what role you want to play in that market. That being said, it is important to have matrices to view how your brand is performing in the areas that are important to you. If you are not meeting your goals then perhaps some small adjustments can be made and then collect more data on how the changes are performing over time.