CMO of the Week: Blink Fitness' Michelle Horowitz

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When Michelle Horowitz joined national gym chain Blink Fitness in September 2019 as SVP, Head of Marketing and Communications and CMO, she was in growth mode.

When Michelle Horowitz joined national gym chain Blink Fitness in September 2019 as SVP, Head of Marketing and Communications and CMO, she was in growth mode. The company opened 26 new gym locations that year, and was focused on “spreading our wings, getting the word and really building out our top-of-funnel awareness,” Horowitz recalled in a featured Fireside Chat at Brand Innovators’ Fall Media Buying Summit on September 21. 

But less than six months later, with all of its locations nationwide closed virtually overnight due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Horowitz and her team kicked into access mode. “It was a big pivot. We weren’t focused on acquisitions, we were focused on engagement by creative live content. So within those first 72 hours of being closed, we partnered with our personal trainers and began doing live streams on Facebook and allowed anybody to get access.” Blink produced over 10 of those sessions during its business closure, and the content is now available on-demand as part of the company’s app, which has seen its content offerings explode in the past 18 months. 

Now celebrating her two-year anniversary at Blink with in-person access available once again, Horowitz’s next remit is making sure that customers in each market know how hybrid offerings like combining at-home workouts with the Blink app and the in-gym experience can meet their comfort levels as key markets like New York start to introduce vaccinated-only mandates. “We’re a national brand, but we’re also a local brand. People live within three to miles of our gyms, that’s our neighborhood,” she says. “Our communities are really an important part of our story and we believe in supporting the communities where we work and operate.”

Read on for five key takeaways from Horowitz’s conversation with Gil Larsen, Vice President and Managing Director, Americas at Blis to learn more about her media strategy for Blink Fitness’ reopening, the accelerated role of digital in Blink Fitness’ membership offerings and lessons learned from a multi-decade career in fashion (prior to joining Blink, Horowitz held several senior marketing roles at leading fashion brands, including Ann Inc. and Diane von Furstenberg). And click the link below to watch the full Fireside Chat via Brand Innovators’ YouTube page.

The pandemic has been a silver lining for digital adoption of fitness content. “I think we’re in the low 80s right now as far as our member base downloading it, so the app as a future tool has become an important vehicle for us,” Horowitz says. “As we reopened, we actually launched four new products on the app in time for when we reopened gyms across the country. We wanted people to feel safe and comfortable and understand our cleaning protocols and what it means to be back in the gym. So we launched a contactless entry, and other features where you could see how busy the gym was and you could book time in the gym. TikTok also became an important channel for us around that time.”

Blink is about more than just fitness. “The whole ethos of our brand is move over muscle,” Horowitz says, noting the company’s expansion further into wellness and mental health resources. “We’re focusing on two areas, mind and body, and really how you feel. We’ve certainly seen since the journey out of the pandemic that people are from a physical perspective much more concerned about their wellness and ensuring they have the strength and fortitude, and with the return to the gym how important physical fitness has become. What we’ve always focused on as a brand is how it makes you feel in terms of the physical engagement. There was a recent study that was done at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, which found that running for 15 minutes or even walking for an hour reduces the risk of depression by 26%. It's something we talked about through all our campaigns, the mental wellness of how physical exercise can make you feel. 

A return to in-person doesn’t mean it’s time to pump the brakes on digital. “Our content strategy is still a very big part of how we engage with our customer base as well as new customers,” Horowitz says. “We’ve taken a lot of the work we did on our social channels and created snackable workouts so that people following us on Facebook or Instagram actually have access to weekly workout recommendations in a fun social way. And as we continue to expand and open new gyms across the United States, awareness is a really big part of how we tell that story, and that’s one of the main benefits of digital.”

Let your customers do the marketing for you. “In our user-generated content,” Horowitz says, “we focus a lot on telling people’s stories and how this journey of wellness has really changed their life -- whether it’s impacted their family or their job or their sheer feeling good repercussions. We really tell those stories over and over on our social channels and not just our campaigns.”

Whether you’re marketing high-end women’s apparel or a gym membership, meet your customer where they are. “My career in the last 15 years has been about contemporary fashion,” Horowitz says. “For a long time it was about making sure our target customer had a seamless shopping experience no matter where she was. It definitely came in handy as we started to figure out how to calibrate for the Blink Fitness brand. And I don’t think we’re at stasis yet because companies are still adjusting to what back to work is or what that hybrid experience might look like, and that obviously impacts on our gyms. So having that background of maintaining a consistent experience across the board has been very helpful.”

Andrew Hampp is an entertainment marketing consultant for Brand Innovators and the founder of consultancy 1803 LLC, based in Berkeley, California.

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