CMO interview: What Sweat's chief brand and marketing officer is doing to support fast growth

Former Myer marketing, brand and loyalty leader, Mike Scott, shares the brand planning and content ambitions behind Australian-owned health and fitness app sensation, Sweat

Mike Scott
Mike Scott

A purpose embedded in female empowerment and a mobile app taking the fitness and health world by storm: What’s not for Sweat’s chief brand and marketing officer, Michael Scott, to like?

Scott joined the Adelaide-based health and fitness app business as its first executive-level brand leader six months ago to support the company’s aggressive global growth ambitions. It’s a role that comes off the back of a marketing career with consumer-facing brands such as Nike, McDonalds and Virgin, as well as a two-and-a-half year stint as Myer’s chief brand, marketing and loyalty officer.  

“To be working in a global organisation based out of Adelaide is such a great thing as an Australian,” Scott tells CMO. “I’ve always been attracted to brands requiring transformation or renovation. To be in a pure-play digital business with enormous opportunity to capitalise on is different but exciting.”

And the opportunity is a big one. Sweat is already arguably the largest sport and fitness app in the world, publishing digital-based content derived from personal training experts including its high-profile founders, Tobi Pearce and Kayla Itsines. In six years, the brand has built a community around millions of 25-35 year old females, and in 2018, pulled in $100 million in revenue from its $19.95 per month subscription offering.

Today, Sweat operates in 148 countries and localises content in seven languages

“The Sweat brand is made by women for women and the purpose is to empower women through fitness,” Scott explains. “Unlike many organisations, we haven’t reversed-engineered our purpose – it’s been what the business stemmed from when our founders, Tobi and Kayla, created it. Knowing on a macro, societal level that power of women is so zeitgeist, it’s a privilege to be operating in an organisation tackling that head-on.”

With just 30 employees a year ago, Sweat now has 100 staff and projects this will increase to 200 in the next 12 months. Near-term expansion plans include opening a US office as well as a new office in Melbourne. The latter is important particularly for attracting product developers and engineers, Scott says.

“We have a five-year plan that’s aggressive, and we’re resourcing up. The requirement of building and establishing the brand in a relevant way is one of our biggest opportunities,” Scott says. “To take what is a brand strategy and execute in English and non-English speaking countries is the big challenge.”  

Supporting Scott is a brand and marketing team of 40 people. He describes marketing as a publishing engine producing content that fulfils the needs of consumers at different parts of the funnel.

“We are a subscriptions business, and we need to continually attract people into our digital ecosystem to convert, engage and retain,” he says. “We have been described as the ‘Netflix’ of fitness because our model is similar. We have five personal trainers creating exercise content, which is also expected to grow exponentially over the next 3-5 years.”

Alongside this, Sweat maintains a data and insights team informing its content, value proposition, pricing, and providing insights into the variance in countries and cultures Sweat expands into.

“It’s important to have a precise understanding of what’s going on in each of those countries and not adopt a cookie cutter approach to what we do,” Scott says, adding an eight-strong localisation team are also in play to localise content published into these countries.

Growth ambitions

In order to fulfil the long-term growth agenda, Scott’s initial priority was developing and articulating a brand strategy.

“That didn’t exist. We have also put in place a brand architecture that’s workable and usable across the business, and respects our trainers, who are brands in their own right,” he explains. “We use the analogy of the Avengers a lot – Sweat is the Avenger brand, then we have Captain America, which is Kayla, and other trainers boast of unique superpowers.”  

Sweat co-founder Kayla, for example, has 40 million social media followers across Instagram and Facebook. “Protecting and growing her brand, as well as the other trainers’  brands, is very important, as is then establishing Sweat as the mother brand,” Scott says.

Other recent tasks for Scott included appointing Sweat’s first creative agency, Leo Burnett, as well as design agency, Design Studio known for its work on Airbnb globally. Sweat is also working with News Corp’s content agency, Suddenly, to support content efforts.

“Having internal capability is critical, and we have strong team,” Scott says of the balance between insourcing and outsourcing work. “The role of our external providers is volume and expansion of the content being pushed out to market. 

“With the ambition and growth plans we have, the support we require from external providers is key. But something that will be sustained is the resources we have in the organisation.”  

In terms of go-to-market approach, Scott highlights the balance of earned, owned and paid channels.

“Google and Facebook are very important from a paid perspective, and with our owned assets, we are very fortunate with the social media followers and fans our trainers have. It gives us a fast start allowing us to speak to a large volume of our TAM on a frequent basis,” he says.

“We are a subscriptions business too, which means we can gather data and information from members to connect and communicate with them at relevant times and ways around our products through platforms they consume information from.”  

What’s also nice about being a pure digital business is the degree and precision of business performance insight, Scott comments. “It’s sharp all the way through the funnel,” he says.  

“When you’re a retailer, with bricks-and-mortar plus digital, it’s really hard to understand where leads come from, and traffic, and what is influencing customers in different channels. Whereas with digital, we can get a real-time read on referrals, traffic, and at what ratios people are moving through the funnel. You can see it happening 24/7 hours, and you can shift a lever and see performance change very quickly.”  

Thanks to a tech-savvy founder, Scott says he’s also sitting on a comprehensive martech stack and digital capability. The greatest focus in the near term is to improve Sweat’s product experience.

“There’s low-hanging fruit everywhere, we have been fortunate to have a business in great health and continues to grow sharply,” he says.  

The biggest challenge Scott faces, meanwhile, is establishing the Sweat brand in all priority geographies globally.

“The other challenge is to ensure we deliver to consumers and members the breadth and depth of programs within important fitness genres,” he says. “Our current program offering isn’t as broad and deeper as we wish for. Acquiring new trainers that are credible and relatable in important other fitness disciplines is really key.”  

Cultural credentials

As the chief brand and marketing officer on an executive team of three, Scott says he’s a “partner in crime” and working very closely with his leadership peers to make this happen.

“There’s nothing happening in any part of the business we are not all highly involved in. That’s a great change having come from big organisations that are matrixed with lots of people in different roles – this is tight and operating in harmony,” he says.  

And as Sweat rapidly expands its headcount, Scott says the team will be relying on a “no dickheads policy” and its brand architecture to retain a consistent culture.

As for the next 3-6 months, Scott says the ‘women who Sweat’ – the company’s primary global audience – will see a far-more frequent go-to-market incorporating expansion of programs available through the app.

“There will be more of a balance of digital and physical activations throughout our priority markets,” he says. “The quality and volume of content will be enhanced significantly in the next six months. And if we maintain growth rates in terms of member growth rates and retention, then we’ll be in really great shape.  

“There’s a disgusting amount of opportunity; we need to prioritise and make sure we execute flawlessly. What’s it’s really nice to come to work at a business so powered by purpose – that’s a point of view we can take to market. It’s meaningful work.”  

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