AUSTIN, TX: CrossFit, the fitness company, believes that word of mouth has a vastly more important role to play than marketing in maintaining the significant growth it has recorded over the last decade.

Jimi Letchford, the organisation's global brand officer, discussed this subject at South By Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas.

And he reported the firm's rapid expansion – which has seen it attract some 12,000 affiliate gyms, versus a total in the low double digits ten years ago – draws on effective results and a corresponding army of brand advocates.

"We don't purchase ads on broadcast or digital or print like 24 Hour Fitness or Equinox," said Letchford. "We don't need to." (For more, including details of the company's "least rents" business model, read Warc's exclusive report: CrossFit's unique approach to brand-building.)

"Someone who says, 'CrossFit's changed my life, and I want to give that message to somebody else': that person has way more impact on our brand than a logo or a slogan or what time someone opens the doors."

Its customers' devotion to – and proselytising about – the brand's distinct exercise philosophy and "Workout of the Day" is such that CrossFit has been compared to a "craze", a "religion" and even a "cult".

Letchford did suggest that the focus on varied daily workouts, high-intensity regimes and fostering a communal atmosphere at affiliated gyms – which it calls "boxes" – was indeed different from much of the competition.

"The traditional gyms: they count on people being on the books, expect them to pay, and hope they never come," he said.

"Our boxes: they thrive off attendance, participation, results and word of mouth. Word of mouth that's so powerful that we continue to grow on a 30% yearly rate."

While spending "zero dollars" on traditional forms of marketing, CrossFit is highly adept at using owned media on platforms like Facebook and YouTube for spreading the word about its intense approach to fitness.

"We have a small team that runs our social media. They're a little bit more on the aggressive side, so to speak," said Letchford.

"We almost shove it down people's throats. And if they don't like it, that's fine. I see a lot companies and businesses: they do things for the thumbs up … We get interaction on there, and get good conversation."

Data sourced from Warc