How Zumba Built a Brand with a Cult Following in Just a Few Years

Zumba has surpassed the level of fitness trend and become a lifestyle brand with a fervent following of dancing devotees. In 2011, the company exceeded its goal of 10 million followers while quadrupling its marketing budget over the last six years to $2 million. recently interviewed Jeffrey Perlman, chief marketing officer of the fitness craze, about the marketing strategies driving this fast-growing fitness phenomenon.

“I wanted to turn Zumba into a brand where people felt that kind of free and electrifying joy,” said Mr. Perlman as he explained why he felt the need for the brand to suddenly shift gears in 2006 and focus on selling emotion rather than fitness. Fortunately, his brother was the CEO of the company, so they collaborated on a concept based on turning the invigorating workout into a dance party. Their efforts included investing $10,000 in a new website home page, along with selling Zumba-branded apparel and starting a Zumba instructor network designed to make their instructors successful.

Their advertising also changed as they replaced the typical hard-body photos with close-up images of people enjoying the exhilaration of dancing.

To gain a better understanding of how a brand develops a cult-like following, Mr. Perlman first looked at lifestyle brands like Harley-Davidson, and then examined other fitness crazes like yoga. He determined that a company or craze becomes a lifestyle brand by having the adaptability to work in a multitude of mediums while maintaining a strong sense of brand identity.

The pair’s efforts were incredibly successful and transformed the niche fitness trend into a global fitness lifestyle brand. Today, Mr. Perlman focuses on expanding Zumba into new countries and cultures. This expansion requires the training of instructors and public relations, beginning with establishing a network of instructors and then contacting major gym chains and clothing distributors. Zumba apparel and accessories generated $60 million in e-commerce revenue last year and the company is continuing to develop ways to encourage instructors to sell their products through e-commerce for a commission.

In addition, Mr. Perlman promoted Zumba on the popular TV show, “The Biggest Loser” with a special social media tie-in that asked people to upload photos of themselves in Zumba apparel they had customized. He also pursued the development of a Zumba video game, which has become the number-two video game in the dance and fitness segment, and features partnerships with Wii and Xbox Kinect.

Now, the company is venturing into TV content and has just inked a deal with a reality-show production company to develop numerous TV show concepts promoting the Zumba brand and lifestyle.

“We want to craft an archetype of a Zumba enthusiast,” said Mr. Perlman. “We’re in the business of building a community.”

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