Be Transparent: there’s power in sharing the story behind the brand. Whether the company was founded out of a personal epiphany or a serious struggle, the human emotions behind the brand can create a connection with your customers.
As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Angela Mader. Angela is the founder and chief fitlosopher behind the fitness-inspired brand Fitlosophy®. Founded in 2008, Fitlosophy is an innovative brand of products designed to inspire people to live life fit®. Over the past decade, Angela has organically grown the business from a single-product idea (fitbook®) to a lifestyle brand with a complete line of wellness planning products with placement in over 16,000 stores nationwide including major retailers like Target, Walgreens and CVS, among others. In June 2018, Fitlosophy was strategically acquired by CSS Industries, Inc. (NYSE: CSS), a publicly traded company, where Mader currently serves as Vice President, Fitlosophy Brands, leading the company’s marketing and product development team from their office located in Newport Beach, California.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
As a third-generation entrepreneur growing up in family business, I learned what it meant to work hard whether it was in my father’s bakery or my grandfather’s automotive business. So, while I knew that I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, for years I had no idea what kind of business I wanted to start! In my early twenties I realized that I wanted to turn my passion for fitness into a product business. For years, I had created my own fitness and nutrition journals to gain some semblance of control over my 7-year battle with eating disorders and depression. It was through the process of journaling that I was able to shift my mind from obsessive calorie counting and excessive exercise to a mindful approach of tracking progress, focusing on gratitude, and achieving goals in a healthy way. I figured that if it could change my life, maybe it could help others too. I’ll never forget taking my homemade journal to the gym one day and a guy came up to me and asked where I got it. I said, “I make them.” (Note, I didn’t really make them yet.) He said, “How much?” and I said, “$20 each.” His response: “I want 2.” So, I went home that weekend and designed, printed, cut, bound, and delivered them by Monday — and I still have those two twenty-dollar bills to this day!
When I started the company back in 2008, it wasn’t the most economically opportune time to be ditching a secure six-figure salary job to chase a pipe dream. Fresh out of my MBA program with a one-product business idea, my classmates can attest to 2 things: 1) I took diligent, obsessively organized, color-coded notes in class and 2) I was passionately devoted to this idea of creating a business around a fitness journal idea I had. “It’s called fitbook,” I’d proudly proclaim, “by fitlosophy.” None of those classmates, including myself, would’ve ever guessed that the same “little” idea that was launched in a business school entrepreneurship class would then go on to be sold to a publicly traded company.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’ve often learned more from my mistakes in business than from my successes — and being able to laugh at and learn from them is vital to surviving entrepreneurship. Because of that, I don’t see them as mistakes, but rather mishaps: unplanned incidents that have minimal impact usually coupled with maximum insight. For example, early on we made a giant-size fitbook to use for marketing purposes as a demo at tradeshows. It was about three times the size of our pint-size little 5”x 5” flagship product. My thinking was that it would be easier for people to see, flip through the pages, and experience the product — except everyone wanted to buy it. The purpose of making fitbook small was so you could toss it in your gym bag — and yet people were wanting to buy our demo, with some people being angry that it wasn’t available! While we never did produce a larger-than-life fitbook (because one of those cost about $200), we learned by engaging in conversations with customers that there was demand for different types and sizes of journals. That insight proved to be useful as we expanded the brand from that one product to ultimately a completely line of journals that now come in all shapes and sizes, which seems quite fitting (pun intended).
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The brand’s mission is to educate, empower, and inspire people to live life fit. What makes Fitlosophy stand out is our passion for developing products that change lives. The driving factor behind creating every single one of our products is to promote embracing a healthy lifestyle and taking a positive approach to reaching goals. I believe that our customers can truly relate and be inspired by myself and others who have learned to value themselves beyond what they look like. In an industry saturated with quick-fix gimmicks, I often say that at Fitlosophy we sell hope — not hype.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Fitlosophy always has new and innovative products in the works, but what I’m most excited about right now is partnering with a few very large retailers to bring affordable wellness products to the masses. While I can’t disclose too much (yet), the reason this means so much to me is that for years I’ve been frustrated that being healthy is a luxury that not everyone can afford — and it shouldn’t be that way. I feel good about creating a line of research-backed products that could literally change someone’s life — for under $10.
Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?
While both types of marketing are vital to a product’s success, usually brands veer one way or another. Brand marketing evokes emotion by engaging with their tribe by communicating through story, creating an identity, and building loyalty. Product marketing leverages various advertising mediums to promote products to target customers and ultimately drive sales. Whereas brand marketing is a marathon-esque relationship play, product marketing is a short-term sprint toward sales with specific measurable goals. In my experience, you cannot have one without the other in the race toward product sales.
Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?
Fitlosophy has always taken a brand-forward approach to marketing, however we also invest in marketing and advertising to create awareness. What value is there in a brand if no one knows about it? Likewise, pushing products may be effective in the short-run to acquire customers, but cultivating a relationship with the brand is what ultimately retains and increases the lifetime value of the customer. The goal of both types of marketing is to sell products, grow the brand, and scale to a position of influence. That said, customers can sense when a brand has soul versus when they feel they’re being sold to.
Can you share 5 strategies that a small company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.
1. Identify Your Why: are you creating products just to turn a profit? Or do you have a greater purpose behind why you do what you do? One decade and over 1 million copies later, fitbook is still our top-selling product because it changes lives.
2. Engage Authentically: every interaction with your customers is an extension of your brand from social media to customer service. Use each as an opportunity to impress upon them what your brand stands for, then make sure people in your organization exude that.
3. Be Transparent: there’s power in sharing the story behind the brand. Whether the company was founded out of a personal epiphany or a serious struggle, the human emotions behind the brand can create a connection with your customers.
4. Evoke Emotion: products in and of themselves don’t carry much meaning, however the lives impacted by them matter greatly. Shout your customers’ testimonials and success stories from the marketing rooftops to give credit where credit is due!
5. Defend the Brand: copycats are a dime a dozen, so be prepared (financially) to fend off the fakes. Part of building a brand is protecting it so your customers can trust it 100%. Whether it’s trademarks or product knock-offs, invest early and often to ensure the brand’s longevity in the marketplace.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
Spanx has done a phenomenal job of building a beloved, believable, and bold brand. The name itself is cheeky, quite apropos for a brand that is in the business of beautifying buns. They take a witty approach to marketing its extensive line of body-shaping products. Case in point, go to their website and you’re greeted with a pop-up box to subscribe: “we’ve got your butt (and inbox) covered”. Spanx is in the business of supporting women (literally) from the very purpose behind their pantyhose to their female-focused initiatives designed to empower women entrepreneurs through the aptly-named foundation, “Giving Women a Leg Up”. Spanx is an example of a brand who lives and breathes their mission to help women feel great about themselves and their potential. If there were a recipe for building a brand-driven business, it stands to reason that the first ingredient would be a healthy dose of purpose.
In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?
Companies often shy away from brand building campaigns for this very reason: how do you calculate the return on brand marketing spend? For Fitlosophy, it was something that I inherently knew was important to invest in early on knowing that the goal was to create a brand not just build a business. There’s a misconception that you have to undergo some six-figure brand-building initiative headed up by someone in a suit in a skyrise — and when you’re a startup, this isn’t an option. Brand tactics such as uniquely inspiring business cards, perfectly packaged product samples with personal notes tucked inside, and design consistency from products to promotions were all important early on to establish a foundation for Fitlsoophy’s brand image. As sales grew and budget allowed, we began investing in public relations, engaging influencers, and executing awareness campaigns. With limited resources, honestly there wasn’t as much thought behind the strategy as there was just pure intuition and ingenuity. Try this, do a little of that, tweak this, then try that. That said, key metrics such as website traffic, social media engagement, brand term searches, and customer surveys were ways that we kept a pulse on if the brand was trending in the right direction. People often try to devise a formula — but as an entrepreneur, sometimes you have to go with your gut.
What role does social media play in your branding efforts?
While email marketing and ad spending are primary drivers of product sales, social media platforms are where we are able to connect, engage, and build relationships with our customers. Fitlosophy’s goal is to inspire followers with creative content daily. We love seeing how people use our products when they tag us. Their comments on posts create community. Our brand influencers create authentic awareness. Simple surveys and polls are fun ways to engage but also gain product insights. We also creatively use social media to drive our customers to retail stores not only to boost sales, but more so as a brand play. When we landed Target in 2011, it really was social media that allowed us to hang our small-biz hat on the big-brand Target as a way to gain credibility and traction for the brand.
What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
Journal daily. This isn’t shameless product promotion — I mean our products are amazing, but really — it works. It might seem mundane, but specifically gratitude journaling has a plethora of health benefits from reducing stress and improving sleep quality to boosting levels of happiness and improving health.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Bring classy back. In an age where it seems cool to curse and common to not care — “gym hair, don’t care” — I’d argue that it’s equally as admirable to keep it clean and take pride in the presence you put out to the world. I learned this from the queen of class herself, my mother. We may have lost her at a young age to cancer, but her legacy lives on. Ask anyone what they remember about my mom and hands down, every single person’s response: classy.
Coco Chanel said it best: “A woman should be two things: classy and fabulous.”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I think the first thing that pops into my mind is: “Perhaps this is the moment for which you have been created,” (Esther 4:14) because it just exudes so much power and potential, while also reminding me that I was created for a purpose.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Sara Blakely, creator of the aforementioned Spanx, would be my choice for talking business over brunch. I’ve followed her success closely over the years, from her grassroots start-up to gracing the cover of Forbes in 2012 when, at the age of 41, she was named the youngest self-made female billionaire. While her financial success is impressive, I’m most inspired by her take-the-bull-by-the-horns approach to business. I love that she faced down the challenge of breaking into a male-dominated industry and then proceeded to completely revitalize it. I admire her no-holds-barred approach to sales, literally marching into her meeting with the Neiman Marcus buyer and modeling her product’s efficacy under her white capri pants. Bold! Now at the age of 48, she still runs her privately-held business with annual sales of an estimated $400 million, but she’s also a wife and mother of three boys. In addition to her business savvy and success, she handles herself with exceptional class and a heavy dose of humor.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.