I’m about to burn quite a few bridges.
It shouldn’t be this way, but I know that’s how some people are going to react. And I don’t care. Because what I’m going to say is something that I think everyone in the fitness industry needs to hear.
I don’t hate Dr. Oz or The Food Babe. If you don’t know who they are, well, you have quite a bit of catching up to do. Much of the fitness industry have deemed them as “undesirables,” or basically soulless liars who will say anything to make a quick buck. Virtually any association with either of them is seen as an affront to “evidence-based” fitness and ethics.
Sure, I disagree with a lot of what they say, but I don’t hate them. In fact, there are a lot of things I try to learn from them.
Beliefs and The Backfire Effect
The reality is, between the two of them, they have six million Facebook fans, multiple New York Times best sellers, TV shows, and network television interviews. Much to our chagrin as level-headed fitness professionals, legions of hopefuls follow their science-defying and oftentimes head-scratching advice. Some of us even get riled up, launching into tirades about why these people are wrong, unethical, and shouldn’t be trusted.
But if we’re trying to forcefully convince someone else otherwise, do we even make an impact or get through to them? Obviously not.
Psychology has coined a term for people who won’t listen, despite the evidence. The backfire effect describes that when people are presented with evidence that opposes their views, they’re more likely to dig deeper into their own beliefs.
It is this very effect that prevents many of our clients, family members, and friends from listening to us. Ironically, it further pushes them along the path to believing every single word people like Dr. Oz say on daytime television. And yet we don’t learn.
We continue lecturing. We continue writing passive aggressive Facebook statuses that barely reach outside of our own network of other like-minded fitness professionals. We barely make a dent.
Meanwhile, Dr. Oz, Food Babe, and other–ahem–charlatans keep making bigger strides. So what if, instead, we started looking at what these people did right to gain such a following? I’m not suggesting we sell our souls here, but there are definitely worthwhile techniques here to learn.
Analyzing what Dr. Oz and Food Babe do well
To learn what made Dr. Oz and Food Babe so successful, I plunged into my research like a madman. I read through two different Dr. Oz books, watched highlights of his show, read Food Babe’s Facebook posts that dated back nearly two years, and watched her on YouTube. After all of this, I emerged with new insight. There are three distinct things they do better than us:
- They talk at the level of the client.
- They aren’t afraid to use buzzwords.
- They understand that fear and pain motivate.
I’m not trying to justify being sleazy or say that scaring your clients is the way to go. I’m going to explain why implementing these three points into your own business, with your own style, can do wonders to help spread the right information, and reach more people.
Lesson 1: We must talk at the level of the client.
Let me tell you a story about one of my favorite clients of all time. This client held a doctorate in pharmacology and got her undergrad in nutritional science. She clearly understood some very complex scientific topics. At one point, she had been dealing with some major frustration by her lack of weight loss, despite her making appreciable progress with how her clothes fit, how she looked in the mirror, and her measurements.
Here I was with this client who was highly accomplished in a very complex scientific field, and I started talking about the intricacies of human metabolism, hormonal cycles, and glycogen storage. As soon as I started in on these complex explanations, I could see the blank stare coming from a mile away. You know the stare I’m talking about. The one that says, “I’m present, but I’m not following a single word you’re saying.”
As soon as I saw that look, it was obvious I needed to change course. So I ditched the complex jargon and started speaking at the level of the client. We talked about how the body, women especially, can store more water at certain times of the month; how funny things can happen when you try to burn fat and build new muscle; and how the scale, measurements, and pictures never tell the whole story.
It was my mistake to assume that because of her education she’d know all of the jargon and complex scientific terms I’d used. The point is, most people can do without being bombarded with scientific jargon and overly complicated explanations. It’s not what they’re used to; so in order to properly get the point across it helps to speak in terms they understand. No matter how educated they may be.
This is easy to forget. We spend so much time reading and studying smart-sounding articles and research journals, so those terms become apart of our regular vernacular. Then we find ourselves using them with clients. Oops.
Don’t fall victim to this trap. There is nothing wrong with explaining things in a simple and easy to understand manner. If you find yourself relying on a complex word or phrase to describe something equally as complex, you need to work on understanding it more. When you can explain something in simple terms, it shows true mastery of the subject.
Lesson 2: We must not be afraid of using buzzwords.
Imagine that a brand new client walked into your office for her first consultation. She’s understandably nervous, but you immediately put her at ease by being kind and funny and making easy conversation.
The client tells you, “I really want toned arms.”
But you promptly respond with, “Excuse me, ma’am, I hope you’re aware that there is actually no such thing as toned, and it’s just a made-up word. You need to build muscle and lose body fat.”
Sure, what you said wasn’t wrong, but how does that client feel? She was on the verge of making a life-changing decision, and you made her feel like a dumbass because you just had to let her know she used the wrong term to describe her goal.
We all know that “tone” is a meaningless term, but do you know who thinks it’s meaningful?
Our clients don’t need to be told that getting “toned” is a made-up marketing word. The gym is already intimidating enough to plenty of people, so don’t make it worse by making the client feel like an idiot just for expressing what she wants.
Dr. Oz is a master at using buzzwords. On his show, you can find various workouts that he describes with such words and phrases as tone, sculpt, and “melt belly fat.” While you roll your eyes, someone is watching Dr. Oz and becoming inspired to take action because this is what they’ve been looking for and those words make perfect sense.
This all ties back into speaking at the level of the client. In the evidence-based world, we tend to hate on buzzwords, but using a phrase like, “Come try this free high-intensity, fat-melting workout!” in your marketing material is much more likely to get the very people that need our help in the door. There’s value to using words and phrases that are widely understood. Whether we like it or not, nobody wants to hear the intricate details of how fat is oxidized. So keep things simple and don’t be afraid of buzzwords, especially if your clients value them.
Once you work with a client long enough, you’ll gradually be able to introduce him to the nuances of fitness and nutrition, including how words like “tone” don’t necessarily tell the full story. If you reprimand your clients and make them feel like an idiot from the beginning, you probably won’t ever get that opportunity to educate them.
Lesson 3: Fear and pain are powerful forces.
Fear and pain motivate people into action. Take, for example, detoxes. People love them and spend millions on detoxes every year. Both Dr. Oz and Food Babe shout from their mountaintops about how detoxes can improve their health, rid them of disease, and nearly any other ridiculous claim you can think of.
They’re a total scam, but people still buy them. Why? Because people are terrified of toxins.
Just to be clear, I am not saying that you need to be deceptive or rude in your marketing material. Rather, there is value in recognizing that fear is powerful and that using it ethically in your marketing material can be effective.
How many of our clients have started their journey with us because they were scorned by an ex? Or were told they looked too big to wear that dress?
Understanding this fear or intrinsic motivation helps us understand what drives people to make changes.
Questions like, “Do you remember looking in the mirror and hating the reflection staring back at you?” may sound rude, but it’s also a feeling that many in the general population can relate to. Ultimately, you want to offer a solution to someone’s “pain”.
I believe this is why Food Babe is so successful. She’s mastered the art of playing on the fears of others to get her point across. Right or wrong, many people have bought in and chosen a healthier lifestyle thanks to her.
The service you provide legitimately has the power to change someone’s entire life. Sure, it feels good to be the trainer who wants to make every client happy and teach people to love themselves no matter what, but the sad fact of reality is that people typically aren’t motivated to buy or make a change based on that message alone.
Take a lesson from both Food Babe and Dr. Oz and recognize that fear motivates. Your clients and potential clients don’t want to wind up in the hospital with preventable lifestyle diseases. They don’t want to have trouble playing with their grandchildren. They don’t want to hate the reflection that stares back at them.
By mentioning those things in your marketing material and consultations, you can do a better job at getting through to them and getting them to buy into the program. There’s nothing wrong with learning lessons from people like Dr. Oz and Food Babe, who effectively communicate with millions, to help and reach far more people. Gary Vaynerchuk once said,
“No matter what business you’re in, we’re all in the eyeballs business.”
And there’s no question that Dr. Oz and Food Babe are garnering far more eyeballs than many of us do right now.