With season one of The Wexer Podcast now completed, we’re taking a look back, drawing out some of the key things we have learned about digital fitness from the amazing guests we’ve chatted to over the first six months.
#1 – Consumer demands are changing. We must adapt.
“Innovations in one field can drive even higher expectations across the board,” said tech consultant John Blackburn. “Apple creates a product we’ve never dreamed of and suddenly consumers expect similar in other areas: instant gratification and seamless, highly digitalised experiences.”
As a result, he says, businesses must shift their focus from internal to external, looking at what their customers want and shaping their businesses around this. “There’s a land grab in fitness at the moment, and businesses that think outside in, not inside out, will be the ones that succeed. The more you can take what the person wants and embed it in their day-to-day life, the more relevant and meaningful it becomes to them and the more they will come back.”
#2 – Digital isn’t going anywhere. It’s time to embrace it.
“If you look at the headlines, you’d think connected home equipment sales were decreasing,” said Jason Leone, chief financial & administrative officer for Core Health & Fitness. “They aren’t. Growth is slowing and bifurcating, but connected equipment is here to stay and is only going become an even bigger piece of the pie, in the gym and at home.”
We share one thing we learned about digital fitness from fitness technology expert Bryan O’Rourke here: “It’s a real opportunity. With the recent advances in technology, and with the right partners and the right thinking, you aren’t talking about spending US$8m to go digital any more. There will be risk, but also a tremendous amount of opportunity in the next decade.”
#3 – Think about your digital strategy.
Don’t just assume it will be a success.
“Don’t think about your digital strategy for today. Think about it for tomorrow and for next year. Technology moves at a rapid pace, so if you aren’t already planning for the future, you’ll always be left behind and trying to catch up,” said Nad Myan, director of growth and innovation for Evolution Wellness. “It has to be a constant play.”
#4 – Be authentic and be clear on your ‘why’
Stuart Martin, managing director of Active Nation, said: “When it comes to digital, you have to start with the end in mind. Be clear on your desired outcomes, keep it simple, and align digital with your core proposition. Do not treat it as a bolt-on.”
O’Rourke agreed: “More than anything, it’s about being honest about what your value proposition is based on your business model. What is the exact user experience and how are you going to operationalise and execute that? It’s easier said than done, but it’s all about the execution.”
He added: “Make choices: you can’t be everything to everyone. Incorporate digital in a thoughtful way to help deliver a very specific customer experience. Plug in the tech that serves this experience rather than being distracted by the new shiny thing.”
#5 – Users still want to connect with people
“Keep it real and keep it inclusive,” urged Martin. “If you use influencers, make sure they’re real people with lifestyle challenges your customers will identify with.”
Garrett Marshall, President – Fitness Streaming for Xponential Fitness, agreed: “People buy the person, then the business, then the product. Leverage known people and known brands.”
“Fitness is about feeling a connection with someone, even if virtually,” agreed Mike Donavanik, founder and president of Sweat Factor. “It’s why it’s so important for clubs to champion their own rockstars online as well as in-person.”
Which is exactly what Evolution Wellness is doing, said Myan: “We’re in the business of creating communities: that’s how we get retention and referrals and how our numbers grow. So it’s important that the faces our members see in our digital content are the ones they see in the gym.”
“Digital is just an extension of creating a community you own and capture within your ecosystem,” agreed Will Brereton, founder of SH1FT Fitness. “The only good reason to do it is to create a connection between your customers and your brand.”
#6 – Your own content doesn’t need to be perfect
This focus on connection means self-produced content doesn’t have to be perfect. “The data is fairly clear,” confirmed Marshall. “If you have super-high production values, it’s actually a disadvantage. Millennials and Gen Z see it as less authentic.”
“If you’re worried about keeping up with the big players in digital… don’t,” agreed Donavanik. “It’s about connection. Some people have grown and monetised followings just by filming on their iPhone.
“When you first go in front of a camera, it can feel a bit strange, but you’ll soon find your footing and establish what works for you. The key: just start. Start creating content. It doesn’t need to be superb, because quality is subjective. Let go of perfectionism. If you make a mistake, 90 per cent of end users won’t even notice. In a way, it even helps the authenticity, so don’t get too caught up in it.”
#7 – Volume is found in partnership
“You need to delight the customer with something new they haven’t seen before, so they feel they get value every time they log in,” said Marshall.
Yet as Brereton explained: “Creating an entire digital channel isn’t feasible for most operations. You have to build out an entire team and studio to create content; it’s a full-time venture and a real commitment to be on the flywheel of constantly creating it.”
He added what he has learned about digital fitness: “The best self-produced content is a welcome series for new members that really establishes who your brand is and makes them feel part of the community. Existing members are already motivated; for them, it’s better to collaborate with content providers for a third-party library that you curate to match up with your own offering. Don’t try to be all things to everyone.”
The key, said Blackburn, is understanding “how to leverage partnerships and make them look like seamless offerings to your customer”. His advice: “Don’t link out to them. Take all the offerings and stitch them together to look seamless. It’s a way to scale without scaling – and in today’s world, when barriers to entry in digital are so low, the need to scale without investing in it is important.”
Leone advised: “Smaller operators need to lean on the Wexers of the world. They don’t have the resources to build a solution to meet their members where they want, when they want. Go externally to find the resources to support members and make them stay longer.”
#8 – Follow the data and think wellness, not just fitness
“Keep your ear to the ground, listening to physical and digital customers as well as your trainers to work out what content you should offer, and offer more of,” said Donavanik.
“Sweat Factor still produces its typically more hardcore content, but now we also produce more accessible ‘stepping stones’ to allow new users to come into the brand via easier, more accessible workouts.
“Branch out and build out your content portfolio while remaining authentic to yourself.”
CEO of Wellness Solutions, Tony de Leede, advised that his data shows a need for short format classes of five to 20 minutes. “Fitness snacking is the same as food snacking,” he said. “People want variety – a buffet of workouts – and they’re time-poor. Squeeze in a bit of everything. Breathing and meditation, stretching – the term that works in fitness is ‘recovery’ – as well as the usual classes like HIIT.”
#9 – Make it personal
Michele Meleski, Senior Vice President of National Fitness and Wellness at Invited, shared another key we learned about digital fitness: “Members are looking for more thoughtful programming that’s specific to them. As the overlap grows between fitness and medical, we’ll get more predictive analytics to shape what each individual’s experience should be.”
Blackburn identified a further opportunity to “put metadata behind every section of workout content, so if someone has 30 minutes to work out, Alexa can curate a personalised session – one that potentially stitches together content from multiple providers to meet the individual’s precise needs”.
He added: “It’s about thinking about the consumer first and making it seamless for them.”
#10 – Digital can scale your customer base
“There are over 100 million gym members globally, of which around 60 million in the US,” said Leone. “If you take just a small percentage of that population and give them a hybrid model they can use, that’s a massive number of people.
“We’re also seeing a growing proportion of them are willing to pay for a subscription service through their gym.”
Marshall agreed: “In spite of good success in getting existing members to use digital, 90 per cent of Xponential’s digital users are not bricks and mortar users. These are net new users.”
And there was a bold prediction from Owen Bowling, CEO of The Wellness Program, who said: “I believe we can engage with 50 per cent of the global population if we do things right.
“Tech will be a great enabler – connections, scale, health and wellness support, geographical reach. There’s lots to do before we get there, but look ahead. Play the long game. What is your long-term goal?”
The Wexer Podcast sees Wexer CEO Paul Bowman speak to digital pioneers and experts from around the world about what Wexer has learned about digital fitness, offering listeners insights and advice to support their own digital journeys. Follow the podcast, browse all episodes and listen right here.