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19 May 2020

How SWEAT is using Instagram to build their brand

BY: Instagram Business Team


Michael Scott is the Chief Brand and Marketing Officer for SWEAT, the fitness sensation that has taken the world by storm in recent years.

Founded a mere 7 years ago, by the inspirational founders Kayla Itsines and her partner and CEO Tobi Pearce, SWEAT is a brand that has been largely built on Instagram.

With 50 million followers on Instagram and Facebook, and over 30 million downloads of their app, the business decided it was time to bring in marketing expertise to help take the brand to new heights. Enter Michael Scott, SWEAT’s first executive level brand leader. With over twenty years experience working with the likes of McDonald’s, Myer, Virgin and Nike, Michael has the know-how and experience to power the company’s global growth ambitions.

We asked Michael a few questions about the business of building brands.

SWEAT has been through extraordinary growth over the last few years. Tell us a little about the journey, and the secret of its success?

If you strip it all back, it's the story of two super fit and smart young Australians (Tobi Pearce and Kayla Itsines) who independently kicked off their personal training businesses in their respective garages in Adelaide about a decade ago.

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They both worked incredibly hard training women seven days a week, 10 hours a day, and got to a point where they needed a way to scale their businesses - it was at this time that they met, fell in love and identified an opportunity to sell their proprietary fitness programs via a PDF online. The internet provided their business with an immediate global presence, that was coupled with the very clever use of social media to build a community of women who all shared a common need for the utility and inspiration of a personal trainer ‘anywhere and anytime’.

The secret of SWEAT’s success has been its exclusive focus upon women, a commitment to high quality fitness programming and a genuine connection with its vast community regardless of where they are on their fitness journey.

What attracted you to come and work for SWEAT?

A young and thriving global brand that is anchored in health and fitness, digitally centric, operates a subscription business model and has a meaningful purpose.

What more could you ask for as a brand and marketing practitioner?

Defining a brand’s purpose can be a complex process, how did you find it with SWEAT?

When it came to defining the SWEAT brand purpose, it was a relatively simple job. It didn't have to be invented or reverse engineered. It was already there - to empower women through fitness. It existed when Tobi and Kayla started their businesses in their respective garages, and it has been there ever since, just not necessarily articulated for the business to reference day in and day out. We honed in on what was already plain to see.

Kayla is such a big part of the product; she is a massive brand in her own right. How does her brand fit in with all the other trainer brands and the SWEAT brand? How do you manage that?

It's a great question. Kayla is a brand, but she is also a person, a young mum and that’s what her followers love. She’s real.

We use The Avengers as a reference point internally. SWEAT is our mother brand (much like the Avengers is the masterbrand), and Kayla is our Captain America. Each of our talented personal trainers such as Kelsey Wells and Chontel Duncan are brands in their own right, much like Ant Man and The Hulk, they each have their own super powers and operate within their own specific disciplines (or universe!).

Some people say you can’t build brands on Instagram, Kayla shows clearly that this is not the case. What would you say to the detractors?

Facebook and Instagram are the fulcrum of SWEAT’s marketing and business growth model. The way that these channels and myriad of surfaces can assist brands to tell stories and bring products to life is just phenomenal. Only recently we worked with the Instagram team to build an IGTV episodic series that allowed us to tell the SWEAT and Kayla Itsines story in a rich and emotive fashion. And that’s the terrific thing about Facebook and Instagram, you can execute your brand’s story on either a rational or emotional level.

Is there a specific approach to storytelling you use on Instagram?

I guess because there are so many relevant brands with stories and content being served to consumers, you need to have an impact immediately in order to build your brand and connect with your desired audience. Brands need to capture people's attention, create thumb stopping content, otherwise, you get passed by. I don't think that we are A grade just yet, but with the combined partnership of our creative agency Leo Burnett and the Facebook/Instagram team I think we're getting much better at it.

Are big traditional brand ideas a thing of the past or do you think they can live on Instagram?

There is so much goodness that we can bring from marketing’s past into the world today, we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater. But we do need to evolve. The only creative limitations on Instagram and Facebook is our imagination.

One of the wonderful things about digital/social channels is the ability to make mistakes and learn and tweak and move on really quickly. It's an exciting time for creatives because of that, because now they can experiment and learn and develop as they go. When I started my career, we’d drop a million dollars into a McDonald's ad that ran for 60 seconds or possibly 90 seconds during the Olympics, and that was it, your money was spent. And if you messed it up there was nothing to be done.

You’ve built a strong community amongst your users. How important is this to the business and how did you get there?

Community is one of our three pillars of excellence. We have a digital community of over 53 million women globally that follows us on Facebook and Instagram around the world.

Our subscription business model is largely driven by our relationship with our digital audience built on Instagram and Facebook.

Of course, one of the important things for us as a digital centric brand is to get the balance right between online and connecting in the physical world, through live events in L.A, New York, Sydney, Melbourne or in Singapore.

We need to ensure that we're doing that, connecting with people. We're humans. We like to belong and connect, more so than ever at the moment. So that's really important to us.

You use both organic & paid on Instagram. How do you approach the blend between the two?

We believe that they both need to be balanced and designed to complement each other. We have a team of about 40 people that are almost exclusively focused on organic - we are essentially a content publishing engine, operating 24/7.

If you're going to build meaningful relationships with people, in any form or within any channel, you need to deliver value and have relevant conversations at pertinent moments. We often speak about the importance of consistently delivering utility within health and fitness, which we're experts at, but equally we need to provide our community with points of inspiration, support and motivation...we all know that there are times in our lives when it’s just really hard to get out of bed and do our exercise.

As people’s behaviours continue to evolve new technology becomes embedded in their lives. How has this constant technology evolution affected your approach to marketing in recent years?

It's a really good question. I think it's interesting because one of the ways in which Nike evolved quite considerably during my time there was moving away from what we called one-night stand marketing. So, a World Cup would roll around and boom, we’d blast into market with some brilliant communications.

The magic of the digital revolution, which delivered social media to us, was the ability that it provided to connect to our fans, followers, and potential customers on an ongoing basis. A dramatic shift from monologue to dialogue.

Brands should behave like friends or family, having regular conversations, building relationships through a meaningful exchange of value.

How is the current COVID-19 crisis affecting your business and how are you adapting?

We’re incredibly fortunate that our brand is more relevant than ever. People around the world are at home. They're isolated. There is a need to stay physically active and for our minds, bodies and spirit. Given that that's the business we're in, the relevance of SWEAT is as sharp as ever.

When we've been having conversations with our members over the last couple of months it's been incredibly important to get the tone right, because those women in lofts in New York who haven't been able to go outside for three to four weeks are very different to the very fortunate females that have been able to walk along Bondi Beach for 30 minutes each day.

One of our key initiatives has been to make our proposition available at no cost to women around the world for a minimum of a month to give women who might have lost their jobs a chance to join us and to enjoy what we do. Additionally, our ‘Captain America’ Kayla Itsines is also conducting a free workout on Facebook every Monday Night for the next month which is being curated, promoted and published in local time zones so that women do not miss out.

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What advice would you give to other marketers that need to rapidly adapt to these unforeseen turbulent times?

Don’t say, do. Get caught doing something nice.

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BY: Instagram Business Team