Once in a blue moon, I’ll wake up in the morning feeling truly revitalized. My iPhone alarm need hardly ring before I’m out of bed, pulling on my running shoes with one hand and devouring a banana with the other. I trot off happily into the early morning mist, impelled by nothing more than a new Spotify playlist and a surge of recently generated endorphins. But, as I said, that’s once in a blue moon. The rest of the time, working out, or even just taking the antecedent steps required to work out (putting on your sneakers, filling up your water bottle, walking out the door) feels like a major chore. Especially if it’s arms and abs day. Everyone, please pray for me on arms and abs day.
And that’s why the rise of boutique fitness classes over the past decade has been a godsend for this sit-up-averse girl. Innovative companies like PureBarre, Peloton, and OrangeTheory have breathed life into a once stagnant industry and created lifestyle brands that upgrade and enrich the entire workout, from start to finish.
But, the question remains – how have these brands been so successful? How have they elevated our attempts to stay fit – whether it’s for the sake of a healthy heart or swimsuit season – to the point where the experience has become arguably the bigger selling point than the result?
Well, the answer is unexpectedly straightforward – by removing barriers. By taking the time to understand not only how and why customers work out, but also why they don’t. And by acting on that information, these brands have turned something that was once a “chore” into a fun and invigorating experience.
Below are four barriers fitness companies are working hard to remove:
Exercise can be a meditative solo pursuit. But at the same time, working out on your own can be isolating and it’s easy to lose motivation without external incentive.
Enter SoulCycle – a cycling studio franchise that tackles this barrier of self-reliance by hosting its classes in large, arena-like rooms where riders move in unison to high-energy music. Instructors cheer, shout encouragements and perform SoulCycle’s signature choreography moves. And at the end of the class, riders are encouraged to high-five their neighbors and revel in their shared accomplishment. Although you may not leave SoulCycle with a new best friend, this tribal experience taps into the human need for connection and provides a network for support and accountability that keeps you exercising at your best even if you feel like giving up.
There’s something about going for a morning jog around the block, completing a set of squats at the gym, or finishing a grueling 20 minutes on your basement’s StairMaster that seems so… well… ordinary. And that ordinariness breeds apathy. Luckily, fitness facilities like Asphalt Green in New York City are combatting this barrier of normalcy by offering workout classes that evolve traditional exercise into a game-like and immersive experience. Asphalt’s AG6 class offers a “high-intensity and circuit-based program like no other” where there are no treadmills, no rowing machines, no exercise bikes. Rather, the studio is outfitted with revolutionary PRAMA System floors and walls, which incorporate music, lights, and sensors to create an interactive experience that resembles more of an arcade game or Disney ride than your typical gym. It’s a fitness-centric manifestation of a phenomenon anyone with a chore-loathe kid knows – that the best way to get an obstinate person to do something (whether it’s the dishes or a workout) is to make a game out of it.
The advent of the internet has created a world in which you have access to thousands of fitness blog sites, YouTube channels, and Instagram accounts at any given time. This information overload can be bewildering for anyone, but for newbies, it’s especially paralyzing. OrangeTheory, a quickly expanding fitness franchise headquartered in Boca Raton, FL recognizes this barrier of complexity and solves for it by creating classes that are refreshingly simple to follow and results that are even easier to measure. At the beginning of each class, participants are fitted with a heart rate monitor to track how long they’re in the “orange zone” (84 percent of their maximum heart rate). There’s a whole lot of science behind why that zone is important, but it’s the distillation of this information to the metaphorical shade of orange – pushing yourself beyond comfort, but still far from danger – that makes the class special. It not only removes the guesswork and allows participants to easily gauge their workouts’ effectiveness, but it also provides a badge of honor that everyone can strive for and rally around.
Your body and health are an inherently personal topic. And what works for one person may not necessarily work for another. In a day and age when most exercise classes seem to be catering to the masses, it’s easy to write-off fitness studios as too generic or impersonal. Fortunately, companies such as NY Sports Science Lab and programs like Tier X by Equinox are addressing this barrier of genericism by building programs that cater to the individual within a larger gym setting. NY Sports Science Lab “combines science, innovation, and specialized training to suit each athlete’s individual needs” and Tier X by Equinox is “a lifestyle management program with a uniquely holistic approach to high-performance living.” (And, if that isn’t enough for you, you can now take your personalization down to the genomic level! Fitness Genes and DNAfit are just two of the companies now promising to turn at-home DNA tests into customized workout and diet recommendations based on genetic makeup.) While this all might seem like something out of a sci-fi movie, these new programs and products might actually presage a more inclusive workout future – by tailoring and optimizing workouts for every individual they effectively nullify the argument that exercise “just isn’t for me.” Really, it’s for everyone.
Whether it comes in the form of flashing neon lights, heartbeat-tracking technology, or a well-timed high-five from an enthusiastic instructor, fitness brands have found numerous ways to mollify our hesitations and trepidations by removing these four barriers. And other companies would benefit by taking a page out of their playbook. The barriers of Self-reliance, Normalcy, Complexity, and Genericism are not unique to the workout world – they subvert the customer experience and keep brands from reaching their full potential across industries.
So, the next time you’re considering how to improve your brand’s customer experience, don’t start by thinking about what you can add, but rather what you can remove. Where do the barriers of Self-reliance, Normalcy, Complexity, or Genericism impede your customers and how can you make it easier for them? Clearing hurdles from a racetrack is sure to boost a runner’s time much more than even the most high-tech running shoes.
Bryn Snyder is a brand strategist at Joe Smith, the brand consultancy of Padilla.