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Focus on the feelgood

If consumers no longer seek physical perfection, we have to stop selling it, says Carrie Kepple, owner of Styles Studios Fitness and former IHRSA chair
Published 20. March 2024

To sell any product, you must be constantly tapped in to changes in consumer mindset, evolving your positioning and messaging around emerging needs and desires. That’s basic marketing.

Since the fitness industry was founded, it has sold physical perfection. And maybe, to a point and for a while, that was OK; those who achieved it certainly became hooked for life, even though it remained far too distant a goal to sustainably motivate the majority.

Things are notably different now, as a convergence of important external forces encourage our sector to establish a new ‘why’ in consumers’ minds.

“The post-pandemic consumer is actively seeking things that bring peace, harmony and joy to their lives”

We must help people find joy and instant reward in the effort of the workout itself

First, across society, we’re seeing a push-back against physical perfection. As consumers become more self-accepting, a movement of diversity, equality and inclusion is forcing big brands to change their approach and adjust their prescriptive and restrictive views of how we should all look; even Victoria’s Secrets models are now diverse in size and body shape.

“Physical perfection is no longer consumers’ goal, and it will hurt our sector if we continue to sell it”

Second, the post-pandemic consumer is actively seeking things that bring peace, harmony and joy to their lives. In gyms and studios around the world, they’re placing as much value on the mental and social dimensions as on physical fitness.

That’s good news for disciplines like indoor cycling, which have long thrived on social as well as physical fitness. Yet the quest for joy means we have to deliver it differently now; the days of being beasted in an indoor cycling class are gone. 

Selling emotions

So, how do we evolve? While I was IHRSA chair, we commissioned research from behavioural science specialist ClearView, looking to understand how, post-pandemic, we might reactivate the 20 per cent who were previously gym members. We received an important lesson in human behaviour, and specifically in a thing called EROI: Emotional Return on Investment.

All day, every day, EROI shapes human decisions. If we perceive the reward of any action to be greater than the effort, we’ll probably do it. If we perceive the effort to be greater than the reward, we probably won’t. We naturally seek out instant gratification in everything we do: effort-reward, effort-reward, effort-reward.

At Styles Studios Fitness, Kepple has set out to create an inclusive, ‘be yourself’ ethos

And this is the issue with selling physical results: it’s perceived as effort-effort-effort-effort and maybe, eventually, a small reward of losing a pound or two. It ensures fitness is perceived as a chore people must do to somehow ‘fix’ themselves.

The alternative presented by ClearView is simple: sell the instant, feelgood reward of fitness. This plays to the strengths of group exercise in particular – the stress-busting, endorphin-rushing, energised positivity you feel from working out together in class. Some operators have already communicated it. Now we all must. 

“We must learn to attach people not to physical results, but to the enjoyment of happy energy and the feeling of movement”

We must learn to attach people not to physical results but to the instant satisfaction of completing a workout, the enjoyment of happy energy, the feeling of movement. We must make our experiences an escape from punishing daily life, not punishments in their own right.

This isn’t about making workouts easy. It’s about helping people find instant joy and reward in the effort itself. 

And it doesn’t just apply to ‘party on a bike’ boutiques. It applies to us all. We must create a new culture where every workout comes with a high: coaching styles less clinically focused on technique, instead emphasising sensations, emotions and feelings; individual effort celebrated – ‘your effort today is enough’; instructors’ language and tone infused with energy, happiness and belonging.

Quite simply, this is the future of fitness. Physical perfection is no longer consumers’ goal, and it will hurt our sector if we continue to sell it.

Published 20. March 2024

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