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How GuavaPass ditched traditional PR and embraced influencers to conquer Asia

Spurning PR and focussing on digital advertising are key reasons behind the success of fitness class membership service GuavaPass, its VP for product marketing has revealed.

Emma Harris told Mumbrella that the brand preferred to focus on working with a team of influencers – dubbed the “Guava Girls” – to spread its message.

Modelled on the New York-founded Class Pass, Guava charges users a S$176 monthly fee for access to an unlimited number of fitness classes across different studios – rather than being tied to a single company’s outlets.

Although only in its third year of operation, the start-up has since expanded into 11 markets across Asia and the Middle East, the latest being Bahrain earlier this year, and posted triple-digit growth by 2017. The company was also boosted by an injection of S$5 million in Series A funding from Vickers Venture Partners.

Speaking about the three-year-old company’s marketing efforts, Harris said: “We think about the business in two ways: acquisition of consumers and reducing the churn.

We’re very focused on digital marketing. We don’t run OOH media; potentially we would consider it in the future, but for now marketing is digital. If you’re not a member, you will probably be getting a crazy amount of ads from us, especially Facebook, Instagram and Google. To our active members, we send a lot email marketing messages, with content and updates.

We don’t do PR like a typical company would. We don’t keep an agency on retainer. We keep things internal for the most part. And that’s largely because we feel our product speaks for itself. I worked at a PR agency for my first job, so I understand the value of it. We have used agencies and we have a ton of coverage in our press file in all the different markets, but in terms of big profile [pieces], we don’t look out of them.”

The GuavaPass app is now available across South East Asia, Shanghai and a number of the Gulf states, with plans to open in further Middle Eastern markets. And as many marketers will be aware of, new territories means significant localisation challenges.

Harris: ‘We trust [influencers] to deliver. We don’t want to put restrictions on them.”

“Launching in new markets and trying to acquire customers in that specific voice is tough,” admits Harris. “The marketing and the language is completely different. We have to think about what’s culturally appropriate. Making sure we localise in a genuine and sensible way is a real challenge and will always be. But it’s a fun a challenge to try and conquer.”

One of the ways the brand has tried to overcome the hurdle is through the use of local influencers, a team of largely female fitness fanatics who dub themselves ‘Guava Girls’.

“They are our biggest brand advocates,” she said. “They have the engagement and attention of our demographic because they were already either using Guava Pass or living the lifestyle. We’re in the process of rolling out Guava Girls in some markets and it’s to elevate the role of the influencers we already

“The influencer marketing is all handled in-house. We trust them to deliver. We don’t want to put restrictions on them: we don’t say their image has to use a certain guideline or promo code. If you do that, it no longer feels like their work. And we wouldn’t want to work with an influencer who didn’t represent the GuavaPass brand.”

 

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As most fitness fads come in and out of fashion as quickly as next season’s Nikes, meaning marketers find themselves constantly having to keep up the pace.

However, for Harris, the challenge wasn’t just a case of persuading Asia’s wellness enthusiasts to trade spin classes for boxing, but convincing them to overhaul their entire lifestyle that for years have been governed by expensive gym memberships with cut-throat escape clauses.

In addition, there was also the task of convincing the studios themselves to risk losing revenue from rolling memberships. Although GuavaPass pays the studios for each booking, the fee is admittedly lower than if booked direct. As such, the solution for the GuavaPass team was to demonstrate that the exposure would be worth it in the long-term.

“When our two co-founders, Jeff Liu and Rob Pachter, came to Singapore, it seemed that all the fitness options were really disconnected, except for the big box gyms. There were all these yoga and pilates studios, but nobody really knew where to find them unless the venue was savvy with search-engine marketing or SEO.

“So with the studios being on the platform, we’re not just helping market them and drive exposure, but we’re helping them build incremental revenue, for example when classes do not have full attendance. If that spot or mat wasn’t filled they would still have all of their costs. It’s better to have some money coming in than zero.”

She adds: “There is no doubt GuavaPass has disrupted the fitness space in a way in Asia and the Middle East, but I think we have done it in a positive way so that our studios have the opportunity to thrive on their own and help fill the extra inventory they could not fill before. The goal is not to overtake the clients they had before on their own, but to add additional revenue and marketing on top of what they were already doing as a business.”

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