CMO50 2021 #15: Matt Fletcher

  • Name Matt Fletcher
  • Title Head of marketing
  • Company Fitness First Australia
  • Commenced role March 2019
  • Reporting Line CEO
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 10 staff, 3 direct reports
  • Industry Sector Health and wellbeing
  • 2020 ranking 16
  • Related

    Brand Post

    The past year has been one without near-term reference for Matt Fletcher and the Fitness First team. “This year, the playbook went out the window. It was not a year for iteration or rote,” he says.

    To adapt its marketing activity to the prevailing dynamic macro conditions, Fletcher had to learn how to take real-time insights and action them at a velocity that not done previously. “Speed to market, being nimble with planning and getting the balance right between sticking to a robust strategy framework yet being flexible enough to adapt where new insights showed the way,” he says.

    It led to one of the highlights of the year. “The Fitness First repositioning project, specifically when he saw the new communications platform live on TV and OOH for the first time. Surely seeing one’s creative work live is still the greatest pleasure for any marketer. The day I no longer get that buzz, is when I know it’s time to look for a new career,” he says.

    “I believe all marketers will look back on these last couple years and wonder how we did it. So much change, so many obstacles, so many pivots – and may we never say that word again. Yet the creative output across Australia has been phenomenal, some of my all-time favourite campaigns have been from the past two years.”

    Fletcher doesn’t see this as a coincidence. “We marketers have shown our incredible ability to adapt and to react, but above all to have a laser focus on the customer. The key to marketing effectiveness hasn’t changed over the past two years but has become clearer,” he continues.

    “Obsession with the customer and the ability to turn customer understanding into brilliant, branded customer experiences is and will remain the key to marketing effectiveness.”

    In a service business it’s the operations team that makes the brand experience come to life. It was rewarding working with the operations teams on the ‘Put Yourself First’ brand repositioning. Firstly, leveraging team members’ insights in the research phase and then working in collaboration to integrate the platform across the business as part of the roll out strategy. This included everything from our product philosophy and fitness class development & to the questions sales teams ask in their needs analysis.

    Innovative marketing

    In September 2020, Australia was set to end its record 29 years without recession. It was a time of uncertainty, the way out of Covid was unclear, much of the economy was supported by federal funding including Job Keeper. Unemployment was forecasted to rise as high as 10 per cent.

    “It was clear these economic forces would create headwinds for our commitment based-subscription model,” says Fletcher. “We felt poorly equipped with first-hand previous experience to shape a strategy.”

    To overcome this, he researched case studies from the GFC and found inspiration from the US auto finance sector. The findings showed the fear of redundancy, rather than actual redundancy rates, impacted car sales.

    “We drew parallels to our sector: Would the fear of redundancy drive our audience towards ‘no commitment’ competitors or away from the category completely?”  

    The risk of low membership sales extended beyond the financial loss but also to the mental wellbeing of Australians. “From our own research, 34 per cent had ‘increased stress and anxiety’ as a result of Covid gym closures and 83 per cent of people said ‘improving mental health’ was a key reason for going to the gym,” he explains.

    Fitness First saw the opportunity to support Australians who were struggling financially and mentally. So it offered any Fitness First member made redundant three months free. Non-members could receive two months free if they had been made redundant with no contract or strings attached.

    “With a nod to the federal support system, we called it Fitness Keeper,” Fletcher continues. “We launched with a PR campaign, reaching 60m, delivering much needed positive sentiment. Membership sales increased as the barrier of financial commitment was removed.”

    Business smarts

    A key strategic objective was to articulate a new brand vision to reflect the changes Covid has had on culture and the category. The second was to ensure the proposition could be expressed by Fitness First teams and serve as a coherent direction in time of much change.

    Fletcher says his team engaged the organisation upfront as part of a culture, category and consumer audit. In addition to qualitative research, it interviewed team members across 12 roles and functions, providing vital insights which influenced the work and rollout.

    “During this audit we unearthed a consumer tension: While people personally want to feel fitter, they put others first on a daily basis and consequently de-prioritise their own needs and health goals,” Fletcher explains.

    To dig deeper, the brand commissioned research with YouGov and found 64 per cent of Australians believed they needed to find more time for themselves to stay fit and healthy.

    “With this insight we created the new brand platform ‘Put Yourself First’, aimed to give Australians a gentle nudge, and permission, to do so,” he says. “When people put themselves first, they’ll notice a change. They’ll start to feel stronger, inside and outside. They’ll have the flexibility to face change, the strength to carry on, and the endurance to keep up with life. They’ll be more engaged with life and more engaging to others.”

    This brand position is Fitness First’s North Star. To date, the proposition has informed new product development, customer service standards and even how members are greeted at the front desk.

    “We have created new scripts for instructors, changed the sales teams’ needs analysis questions and amended our new member enrolment forms. More than a new tag line, I’m proud to have delivered a powerful brand idea that galvanises staff around a shared vision for customer service.”

    Data-driven approach

    Early in planning, it became apparent the business would also need a new approach to insights this year. “We knew our customers’ behaviours, attitudes and demands on the organisation had changed over 2020, but we were unclear how,” Fletcher says.  

    “After lockdown restrictions, we knew there would be strong demand for fitness and wellness, but we were unclear what degree this would be tempered by Covid safety fears. It was clear customer demand would become more nuanced and we needed to find new ways of making our data actionable.”

    Fitness First set out to gain a deeper understanding of its target audience by delivering a re-segmentation strategy. This would provide the basis to inform its communications strategy.

    “Our plan was to leverage the wealth of first-party data and join the dots of multiple platforms into one coherent view for actionable insights across creative, media and customer experience,” Fletcher says.

    Stage one involved recutting 10 years’ worth of first-party data, resulting in behavioural analysis to generate five new customer segments providing a clearer understanding of gym usage. Stage two involved psychographic research to provide new insights around motivation, which were overlaid on segments.

    “In the final stage, we tagged the database into the five segments, which gave it the capability to survey our database by segment to understand their demands and in turn actions we needed to take.”

    Over the following nine months, the business ran a structured research program, the results of which directed our service delivery and communications tactics. “This project has played a significant role in our retention efforts,” Fletcher adds.

    Customer-led thinking

    First-party data analysis and ongoing customer research as part of its segmentation strategy identified changes in gym usage as a result of Covid. Lunchtime workouts had grown by 67 per cent, especially across suburban locations, as a result of more people maintaining work from home arrangements. One in five workers had swapped their commute time for exercise and 65 per cent of gym goers reported using exercise as stress relief during Covid.  

    Additional insights showed members shared they wanted to workout in the middle of the day as a break from Zoom fatigue and to reduce work-related stress. Midday workouts allowed them to connect and train with friends or family.

    “We reworked our timetable, significantly increasing lunchtime and afternoon classes and adding shorter, higher intensity workouts,” Fletcher says. “Not only did we change our product offering to align with customer behavioural and motivational changes, we also improved our capability to further align our brand platform, ‘Put Yourself First’, by giving members the opportunity to do that when they could and wanted to.

    “We amplified the messaging by offering our corporate partners ‘Put Yourself First’ cards laddering up to our brand platform; a way for employers to give their staff an incentive to take a break and use their nearest Fitness First gym.”

    In an incredibly tough year, the brand repositioning project has delivered encouraging signs of strong commercial impact. In the quarter following the launch of the ‘Put Yourself First’ campaign, leads increased 43 per cent and sales increased 22 per cent compared to the previous quarter.  

    “It is apparent when we have had clear air to operate, our marketing efforts were impactful at driving revenue and profitability,” Fletcher says.


    Access to rich first-party data and the capability to take insight from the data has served Fitness First well. It is certainly an advantage of being the provider of the service. Fletcher says this capability has allowed Fitness First to understand the changing behaviours and needs of our customers.

    One of the most successful pivots in the last 12 months has been how Fletcher organised his internal team around media strategy. Its segmentation project provided insight into how audience demands were becoming increasingly nuanced.

    “To make these insights actionable, we needed to reorganise the team structure and work flows to allow customer insights to inform media strategy and creative execution. The silos between different teams were removed, creating a cross team effort with brand, media, insights and design teams in one working group, with insights at the core of decision making,” he explains.

    This allowed it to create digital acquisition campaigns specific for the five revised customer segments. “Leveraging our Salesforce stack, we pushed the newly formed segments through our DMP to support a lookalike media targeting approach.”

    To launch the initiative, 1000 new assets were created in-house over the space of a month, a testament to the adaptability and cross team collaboration.

    Combining data from research with a robust CRO test and learn framework, which fed data back into the main segmentation, Fitness First created a virtuous loop that allows it to capture changes in customer sentiment. None of this would have been possible without cross-skilling teams and breaking down the silos.

    The project reduced digital media CPA by 10 per cent, allowing Fletcher to be more efficient at a time when marketing budgets are under increasing pressure.

    People and capability

    While the impact of the pandemic on Fitness First teams is ongoing, there has been a focus on all the dimensions of leadership in crisis.

    “For me, this year has been less about exploring new ways of leadership and more about focusing on the fundamentals and doubling down on the basics. I have focused on three themes: Compassion, communication and cross-functional alignment,” Fletcher says.

    “I have worked with HR to provide coaching to do this, through a partnership with The Black Dog Institute.”

    Together, they created and implemented a framework of mental health support for teams. The brand has also committed to ongoing support for The Black Dog Institute, centralising all fundraising efforts.

    Fletcher knows communication has been increasingly important this year, with the need to pivot tactics at pace it’s easy to lose sight of the end goal. The new brand positioning has been used to provide ongoing clarity.

    “We’ve also stuck to the discipline of fortnightly all-in meetings to showcase project work. We invested in a new dashboard [Datorama] to democratise data, giving each team member visibility and understanding how their work impacts the end goal,” he says.

    And this year, more than ever, marketing teams can’t operate in silos. “I’ve embedded myself and the marketing team in the sales process, operations and product development. Marketing is the voice of the customer and has played a key role across the organisation with customer insights.”

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