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Understanding digital habits: What the fitness industry needs to know


By Paul Bowman

We are all creatures of habit. Sure many of us enjoy trying new things and are lit up by innovation, but under the surface we tend to be drawn to what we know.

When companies design new experiences, an understanding of habit-forming and what really makes us all tick is vital.


Understanding habits and the fitness industry

I believe that in some ways the fitness industry is currently overlooking the potential of tapping into habit-forming patterns. That’s a bold claim to make. But when fitness companies take steps to engage with new or existing audiences, they’re often focused on creating great real world experiences.

Although that approach might have worked in the past, nowadays it’s a little blinkered—we need to see the bigger picture. There’s a huge potential to use digital channels alongside offline activities. This will ensure companies really engage people at the start of a new fitness journey—and crucially, inspire, challenge and motivate them enough to keep going.

But instead, companies feel that spending too much time and energy on a new app or online offering could switch potential customers off caring about visiting a gym in the real world or challenging themselves to try something new.

However, with the right insights, it’s possible to tap into digital fitness and marry it with real world experiences—the best of both worlds.


Digital experiences are already habitual

Many people already use apps every day, whether that’s for work, productivity, entertainment or socialising. It’s second nature.

In his popular book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg reduces the habitual loops we all run through each day to three key steps, there’s a cue, which is what prompts us to carry out the habit, a routine, which is what we do and a reward, which is what we get at the end. Examples include chasing virtual characters on Pokémon Go, looking at Citymapper to find our way somewhere or checking the news to stay up-to-date.

Fitness companies can take this loop already tied to apps and use it to their advantage. For example, let’s take a fitness app with built-in workouts. The cue is being prompted to log-in, the routine is the workout and the reward is the feeling of getting a virtual medal or pat on the back.

Those wary about stepping foot in a gym or picking up a new fitness habit can ease themselves in this way, engaging with content on their phones, in their own time, like they do with other apps. It feels safe and they can work at their own pace. It’s a great way to build up their habitual behaviour and confidence. But crucially, it follows the same pattern as the habits they already have.

Once they become used to the content, the commitment to their fitness and their own abilities, they can then take their next step—and the app can prompt them to do that. This is when a digital experience can become a real world one over time. This step-by-step approach reduces intimidation and perhaps even helps to conquer the barrier of stepping inside an environment that feels unfamiliar for some.


Constantly evolving

At Wexer we’ve found that by creating the most compelling content, spoon-feeding the right fitness experiences and constantly evolving our approach, we are able to engage with a whole new market, as well as increase retention among existing members.

We undertake huge amounts of research to show us which member segments exist and which of our exercises, classes and programmes are likely to appeal to each segment. So once a consumer has fulfilled a particular workout or exercise, the journey can begin all over again while catering to their needs and habits, whilst also introducing them to something new. It’s the same habitual loop, just with different content.


So it’s time for the fitness industry to understand that their audience lives and breathes digital. Why not harness that behaviour and use it to switch them on to fitness for good?



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