How to Think About Marketing Through a Football Lens by Chris Burgess


For my entire life, I have loved Football as a sport. For me, it is a great way of viewing what strategy can look like in action.

One of the things I find frustrating about strategy when it comes to marketing in the Personal Training spaces is that it’s often packaged up as “adverts”, “websites” or “funnels”.  All of these have their places within given situations, but in reality, none of these things alone can help you unless you build a “team” of players that you can take onto any pitch and see success.

So, in this article, we are going to build a football team of essential players who you can build your marketing campaigns around. Each one of the players has a specific role to play, and you shouldn’t ever want to take to a pitch without them.

The 11 players on our team should be taken to as many pitches as you can find, and let them win the game for you.

Your website is a pitch – have all 11 players shown up?
The gym floor is a pitch – have all 11 players shown up?
Your email list is a pitch – have all 11 players shown up?

There are an incredible amount of pitches available to us as marketing tools, and many different tactics you could potentially play on each pitch – but without the right players on the pitch, without the right quality in the right places, you will be playing a game you can’t ever win.

I want you to win. I want you to build a team that no matter where you choose to market, or to whom, your team does you proud – and the more pitches we find to play on, the more winning will happen.

The next time you see a new platform to market on, or the next time you think of running an advert, I want you to have a think about how the whole team is performing, and how the whole team can support you.

So, let’s take a look at our dream team.

The 11 Key ‘Players’ Needed to Succeed in Marketing

Goalkeeper: Why You Chose to be a PT

In football the outcome you’re aiming for is pretty simple, it’s to score more goals than you concede. The rest of the team will be built around differing specific skills that you have to demonstrate very clearly in order to score goals – but there will be plenty of days that nothing on ‘your team’ seems to work. At times like this your goalkeeper will be the one to save the day, keep you in the game and prevent you from losing. All of your players rely on you having a goalkeeper, and trying to win the game without one is nearly always destined to failure. In modern football, goalkeepers are now very clearly relied upon to help attack too – so using your goalkeeper, using your reasons for becoming a trainer and why you do this job, can form a very good public message too.

If you have very weak reasons, almost like a Sunday league goalie, then even if you have a world-beating striker (Advert) then you won’t ever really be ‘winning’.

If, however, you have a Buffon between the sticks, you might just last over 20 years at the very top level.  Knowing why you do this job and reminding yourself about it allows you to keep in touch with what success really is.


Centre back 1: Technical Training Standards

Technical standards are a key component of a marketing campaign because members of the public need to see that you can do your job and that you know your stuff. The issue that many trainers have however is that they think their Centre back should be a 20 goal a season player and that people will buy BECAUSE they are clever. Really the main job for this player is to stop the team from losing, the perfect modern centre back is someone like Virgil Van Dijk -he’s the kind of player who makes the other players around him look better and makes the art of defending look effortless. Your technical standards must be worked on continually and when they are right they will be pivotal in keeping you in the game.  Also, when the time is right, they will score goals for you too because people will want to work with you BECAUSE of what you have done for others, and because you ‘obviously know your stuff’.

If you make the mistake of NEVER letting your centre backs try and score goals, you won’t be extracting the full potential of your team. But if you try and make your knowledge the cornerstone of your client-getting activities and try and make your centre back your top goalscorer, don’t be surprised when you are 2-0 down and your goalie is asking you why you even bother!


Centre back 2: Personal Standards

There are timeless things in life, things that also transcend any industry and any job. They are the things that make the room either lighten up when someone walks into it, or it turns out the lights. They are the things that will leave a legacy that takes you from strength to strength.

The perfect example of this in our football analogies is Franz Beckenbauer. Not only is he the greatest centre back to ever play the game, but he has also since gone on to have an incredibly successful career “off the gym floor”. Your timekeeping, the words you choose, how you approach your job, your body language, your personal appearance. If “how you do anything” really is “how you do everything” then you owe it to yourself to be the Franz Beckenbauer of your business, not the “Sergio Ramos”.


Right-back: Knowledge of Nutrition

Few things in Personal Training offer the ability for contentious views quite like the topic of nutrition. Like a good Right Back they can produce a great platform to keep you in the game (keeping clients) and can be an incredible asset in gaining clients too IF you can make your knowledge actionable, simple but also inspiring enough to stick to.

Have a poor right back and it’ll be easy for another team’s ‘results’ to woo your clients away with claims and promises that are rarely achievable (We have probably all lost clients to false promises before) – but have a solid right back and you will allow clients to feel in control and like they are on a team that matters.

The problem all Personal Trainers face is that every man, woman and child who is a bit in shape seems to think they can ‘do nutrition.  This means that in order to really grow respect in this area, you need to be able to talk about more than just calories, macros and such like – and really show how making good choices can be easier and more rewarding than people think.


Left Back: Professional Network

I love a good left back, I do. I also love me a good professional network.

If we get this position right we can really set up a platform that works both for getting clients and for keeping clients too.  Yes, that’s right, a good professional network can keep your retention higher.

Having a great relationship with a trusted Physio can keep injured clients appreciating the power of exercise and motivate them to continue – even the smallest of injuries can stop some clients from training or see their motivation dip.

Having a good relationship with hairstylists is also great – we find our recommended partner refers members to us, and speaks incredibly highly of us when our members go into her salon.  That extra positive reinforcement of their investment is hugely important.

But like all great relationships it’s vital to keep them ticking over and encouraging them to flourish, as a lack of communication in this area can also be a risk – a bit like the Ashley Cole saga at Arsenal (Still so so bitter!)


DM: Communication Skills

This is the position that makes everyone and everything around them work more effectively.

From understanding how to make your clients feel like their goals matter, to the quality (and type) of questions you ask between sets, all the way through to automated communications when someone books a session – everything we do in this service dominated industry completely depends on communication.

The reality is that this under-appreciated skill is one that too few trainers actively try and develop. However, it is also the skill that boosts every area of your business faster than anything else (even adverts).

Better communication leads to better results. Worse communication leads to worse results.

Thinking about this position as a football analogy – Casual football fans point to Arsenal ‘never replacing Vieira’ as the start of their downfall, but for anyone who watched Arsenal closely, it was the calm, reassured nature of Gilberto that was actually more important during the invincible season.

The same can be said when Chelsea won their first league title. It was Makelele who made everyone around him flourish.

Phillipe Lahm, Lotar Mateus, and Dunga can all lay claim to being the unsung lynchpin in the success of their legendary teams also.

Nobody wanted them until they became completely irreplaceable!

If you already think your skills are great in this area, I highly recommend you trying Cathy MacDonald’s course to see if you really ARE the player you think you are!


CM – Referrals

Referrals are the most trusted form of marketing, because if a person is willing to tell their friends that you deliver an amazing service then it will mean more to them than any message you can deliver yourself, and any review from someone they don’t know.

The issue with referrals is that you only tend to get them if you specifically ask for them in a way that makes it really easy for your clients to share. Everything from encouraging them to check into your PT business on social media through to providing your clients with gift vouchers to give to friends can be seen as a way of nurturing referrals

Being great at referrals is very very similar to having that beautiful centre midfielder who almost effortlessly controls the game, making winning seem way easier, but is also steely enough to get you out of a tight spot when you need some positive news.

Think here: Xavi!


CM – Social Media Skills

Most people who think about Marketing for Personal Trainers tend to think of Social Media as the be-all and end-all. The whole team.

There is no doubt at all that being consistent with good quality images, videos, and words that really capture WHY your clients love being in your presence and trust in you for improving their body and health is a very good idea for business, but it’s also possible to have this player sent off (not post at all) and still win games.

Of course, Online trainers may end up wanting their own “team” built around their needs, but for the sake of Personal Trainers who mostly work with clients in person, Social Media is simply just a team player, one of 11 who contributes to the overall game.

The players on this team sheet who come both before and after Social Media will largely dictate how good this player can be. Think here about Andrea Pirlo. You want it to look beautiful, get better with age, be consistent for decades and therefore becomes appreciated beyond measure. A ‘Pirlo’ social media will be loved by your clients, loved by your audience, and importantly be loved by you too.


RWF – Proof of concept

Proof of concept is the results you produce, how you go about producing them and the timeframe in which these things happen.

Whether you offer 10 session packs, 30-day trials or free consultations, the most valuable marketing material you can collate for your business is to show exactly what people actually achieve with you in that timeframe.

Many clients start with you for weight loss, fat loss or body recomposition based solutions – and that is normal and the biggest reason for people getting a trainer.  So, what are your reporting measures for this? If I came into your business and asked for you “Precisely what have your clients achieved on average with you in the timeframe you sell?” would you stumble on your words or would you be able to drag up case studies and spreadsheets that show me precisely?

Not all clients come for fat loss though, some come for increases in strength and some come because of health issues. The main emphasis of ‘Proof of concept’ is that no matter what a client is with you for, how you continually assess their progress gives you a predictor of what the next person might achieve.

Consumers want to know what they are buying. YES, community and customer service matter hugely to some people – but tangible, physical improvements matter to all people in their buying process.

In the example of a 30-day trial – asking each client the following questions will vastly improve your proof of concept

1) What have you achieved physically in your 30 days with us?
2) What have you enjoyed most about being with us for the last 30 days?
3) What are you most proud of in yourself over the last 30 days?

Each of these replies will give you specific facts. Marketable facts. Facts that cannot be disputed and have huge relevance to other consumers.

Just adjust the questions for the time frame you are selling. These questions can even work for consultations (maybe not Q3) – but people DO get physical results from consults, they should leave feeling more in control of what they specifically need to do for THEIR body and how to exercise going forward – an epic result that is often overlooked.

It’s undeniable, specific facts of what people achieve will always be the special player that doesn’t just win us games, it defines an entire era.

Think here – Lionel Messi. Some will argue he isn’t the greatest player of all time, some will argue that he wouldn’t have success at other clubs, people will debate whether his results are THE BEST – but left to pure facts, pure statistics, it’s pretty clear that Messi is a player who guarantees you success.


LWF – Social Proof

Word of mouth marketing is still the most valuable form of all marketing there is, and it’s by a distance the most overlooked component of most Personal Trainers businesses.

Social proof is all the things we can do to get people talking about us and when we do this right it can be a match-winner in its own right.

The best ways to get social proof in the age of technology are to encourage reviews and testimonials (ideally that cover the points in the proof of concept section) along with location check-ins on social media, which are a HUGE thing to encourage.

Social Proof done well will show consumers what kind of people come to your service, what they do, if that makes them happy and if other people should try it out too.

Social proof done well also engages a fear of missing out amongst people who don’t yet buy from you.

In large, people want to see what working with you looks and feels like and that people just like them don’t regret paying MUCH more for Personal Training compared to the modest price of going it alone.

Think here: Cristiano Ronaldo. If you had Ronaldo on your team you know that he would want the most attention on him and in return he’ll give you success. We want our marketing to show off our social proof, massage our social proof ego, and in return, it will be an invaluable asset to making the whole team a success (and your clients love seeing your other client’s success too!)

Don’t think: Neymar. Because no matter how good you might be, most people only talk about the bad things.


S – Advertising

If our team up to this point didn’t play with a striker it would still win most games it ever played if you manage them to potential, but of course, having a striker will help.

By this point, you might think that a legendary striker like Pele or the original Ronaldo might be my bet for you here – but in truth, nobody needs THAT flash a striker if the team behind them works to potential. The better the striker you need, the more likely it is that one of your other players is causing you problems.

A great advert largely supports proof of concept and social proof and makes them shine brighter.

But if your social proof and proof of concept are both ‘development players’ currently and you are working on them, signing a superstar striker might just make the world of difference.

In football terms, your advertising should be seen as your Bergkamp. Bergkamp was a special player because he scored a decent but not incredible amount of goals, but every player around him scored obscene amounts of goals because he put them in the spotlight.

In real terms what this means is that your adverts are there to promote the results you achieve, the results new members can expect and the level of enjoyment that people experience in working with you.  This task is increasingly hard these days as most advertising platforms don’t like progress photos and specific words – which is why you need to approach this topic with an ice cool elegance and say “I will find a way around this difficult defence and make it my goal to let people in my area know what they can expect from me”

Think here: Bergkamp
Don’t think: Akinfenwa – Just because he’s got a massive physique himself doesn’t mean he’s going to win you the game


Find Out More About LTB

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