- The marketing of fitness
The fitness industry is a multi-billion dollar sector, not counting the entire health spectrum, including nutrition and mental health. Physical fitness is massive, and for marketers, the playbook was pretty well worn up until early 2020.
Season One — Ep. 9
There are several categories in the fitness industry, but I’ll break them down into three buckets that marketers would design campaigns around for simplicity.
The first is what I’ll call celebrity fitness. This is where a celebrity will add their name to a workout plan/machine etc., targeting individuals who want to “look like them.” Jane Fonda famously associated her name (and physical looks) with “Jane Fonda’s Workout.” There were books and a VHS tape series with Jane working out to classic 1980s music in neon / striped leotards. The marketing of this product was easy — Jane Fonda was a big name celebrity in the 1970s and 1980s, and millions of people wanted to have the same physical appeal. Jane Fonda’s Workout provided the roadmap for many other celebrities to follow, as well as non-celebrities who tried to get in on the trend of at-home fitness. And marketers everywhere rejoiced as our jobs were (and still are) relatively easy. You take product A (a workout video), associate it with a celebrity (aka, Jane Fonda), ensure that it is legit (sorry Chuck Norris, still not sure about your Total Gym) and boom — you have a hit on your hands.
For marketers who don’t know the 80s, this is the modern equivalent of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and his endorsement of many Under Armour products or Chris Hemsworth (aka Thor) and Centr. These well-known, physically fit actors are lending their name (and bodies) to programs and products that promise to help you get fit. There is no claim that Centr will turn you into the next God of Thunder, but there is no mention that it won’t either. No matter the claim, the marketing hasn’t changed much. Big Name + legitimate product = success.
The next category is my beloved gym. In Canada, the most significant player is Good Life Fitness. They dominate the landscape by having more locations than anyone and acquiring gyms in key markets where they don’t have physical presents. Their marketing, like many gyms, is built around the pillars that Good Life represents. They portray an inclusive vibe, a friendly atmosphere and a convenient “ i.e. location at every corner” style. This contrasts with other gyms, which illustrate an exclusive or high-end or “only for the serious athletes” kind of positioning. However, they all take cues from the same notes. Reflect on your USP (unique selling proposition) and expand on that through your marketing.
Many smaller gyms have leveraged their “community” feel about competing against Good Life, while others have lasered in on ‘elite’ and ‘exclusive’ as a way to stand out. No matter the case, the marketing is the same. Find out why someone should choose your gym and then broadcast that message as far and wide as you can afford. Put up extra-large posters, run print and radio ads, make sure your website / social media accounts all reflect this messaging. Align your gym with other brands who share a similar USP — i.e. many ‘elite’ gyms align themselves with a nutrition brand to showcase their ‘in it to win it’ mantra. And make sure you have staff who embody your core principles and ideologies.
Now, the final ‘old-school’ category is the at-home fitness equipment. This category for years was the hardest of the three — a tired industry with tired equipment. Yes, there were a few exceptions, but for decades, the at-home fitness equipment industry was NOT the place marketers wanted to be. As a marketer, you were trying to showcase why your product was better than the celebrity-backed option while also trying to illustrate why the cost of ownership was, in the long run, a better investment than a gym membership. If you were in this field, you became very comfortable with the idea of running sales, special offers and limited-time deals. “By now and pay in 87 equal payments’ was your calling card. As mentioned, there were a few exceptions. Bowflex launched in 1986 and took the world (world = North America) by storm in 1996 with their Television Commercial highlighting this odd new machine that used a bow vs. weight (this wasn’t new for Bowflex, but to the rest of us, it was).
But aside from Bowflex, very few other at-home fitness companies saw mass appeal. Most counted on those who wanted to further up their game by having the convenience of a machine at home (i.e. serious rowers who purchased row machines or weight lifters with weights) or on the group of individuals who didn’t want to go to the gym but knew they needed to get some physical fitness (i.e. the elliptical community).
However, in 2006 Apple and Nike announced a revolutionary partnership that would see a sensor placed in a shoe connected with an iPod. While targeted at runners (Nike’s core audience), this sent a ripple effect throughout the fitness industry. A few short years later, Fitbit launched its first device. A dedicated fitness tracker to help those who wanted to elevate their game. However, both were seen as a step (pun 100% intended) forward for technology, but not as a rival to the traditional fitness industry. The early innovation in both the Nike+ platform and Fitbit were their abilities to track your progress at the gym better. Nike+ for the Gym” came out in 2008, and Fitbit having gym capabilities at launch. The marketing for both of these products was (and still essentially is) an accompanying or supportive device.
Then a few years after the launch of Fitbit, a new player began to emerge. The early days of Peloton were similar to the early days of Soulcycle. A small, passionate group started to consume everything Peloton had to offer as they slowly grew to mass appeal. Then, in September of 2019, Peloton took a massive step forward and issued an initial public offering to much hype. However, the first few months didn’t look good as Peloton went into a tailspin, losing millions of dollars based heavily on poor marketing.
However, as we headed into 2020 and the global lockdowns began, Peloton quickly exploded. Like the classic celebrity workouts, the marketing was pretty straightforward, even though it was completely new.
The idea was simple: “Workout at Home.” Nothing new except that this is an actual workout. Now you wouldn’t be left to your own to design an activity that was equal parts rest and warm-up with minimal ‘workout’ included. The equipment, the long ‘back shelf’ product of the workout industry, came full-circle and was the most popular item of 2020. Suddenly, working out at home wasn’t just a thing, but THE THING. And many other brands took notice.
Major brands doubled down on their at-home fitness packages, like Apple (Apple Watch + Apple Fitness) to Lululemon (Glass). Traditional fitness companies, like Nordictrack, also reemerged with a combo machine+content approach.
Suddenly the marketing for at-home fitness, which had taken the backseat for decades, burst onto the scene with a multi-million dollar campaign, all waging war to get you and me to buy into a fitness ecosystem. And that is the single most significant shift a modern marketer needs to know.
A Fitness Ecosystem.
The idea of a fitness ecosystem finds its roots in two places: the first, our friend Jane Fonda and other celebrity home-workout systems. You needed to own the VHS tapes, the books and in some cases, the food (or measurement devices) to get the whole experience. They sold a system, but few people bought it all the way. Why? Because a single Jane Fonda VHS tape worked. Yes, other systems came out that were more interwoven, like PX90 or the 21 Day Fix, but neither of these systems went all out to make people go all in.
However, the fitness ecosystems of 2021 are heavily influenced by tech. Peloton wouldn’t be Peloton without their seamless integration between technology and fitness. Thus, most of the ecosystem mantra that is pretty common in Silicon Valley spilled over to the fitness world.
So as a marketer, you are no longer selling fitness but an ideology. Similar to what marketers have done for years with Apple or Google, modern marketers are now looking to build bridges and connections between a vast array of services. It is the 2021 equivalent to Mac vs. PC, but with significantly more players.
Who will win the At-Home fitness wars will primarily come down to marketing. Like so many other industries, fitness is in large part the story we tell ourselves. And now, with the rise of the ultimate home gym, it will be up to you — the modern marketer — to shape the narrative in your prospect’s mind as to why they should choose one ecosystem over another.
- Date of publication:
- Wed, 04/21/2021 - 13:17
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