by Paul Reeves
2020 saw a number of new phrases in the industry – one of the most common was “pivot to digital”, born out of panic from closure announcement, and potential loss of long-sleeping members which the industry had become addicted to.
The rush to provide an alternative offer resulted in an explosion of online content. Our members were grateful, and engaged, and participating in activity, until the initial excitement wore off. The fitness industry, always a resilient bunch, persevered through multiple lockdown’s, and with an optimism that this is the last the challenges have only just begun.
This investment in digital channels, and 12 months loss of income, leads to questions on monetising the digital content we have delivered and the longer-term strategy. Monetising will take many forms from freemium and subscription-based to life-time value, the latter will take consideration but has greater potential.
When considering the brand strategy for digital however there is a risk – traditional thinking on programming creeps in and the focus is solely on content. To compete on content alone is the possibly the riskiest strategy of all.
Without significant investment in infrastructure, and a real understanding and knowledge of production, brands will struggle to organically compete with premium content from the traditional fitness industry powerhouses such as Les Mills, and the 119 million items on a Google search for “free online workout”, and against the other threat that has been growing for years but we seem to have only just woken up to – the “new” boys on the block in Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook, plus the explosion of connected fitness providers led by Peloton.
That is not to state content should not be a focus – high quality content will be the entry point to the battle to survive. Our customers will quickly get accustomed to the quality of Apple Fitness+ videos with three different instructors, two DJs and seven cinema-quality cameras on robotic arms – if we don’t live up to expectations, they will quickly let us know. But content is not where we are heading.
The real battleground will be data, ecosystems and communities. The term Big Data has been around for years, and as an industry we are truly blessed with the volume and quality of data that we should have due to years of subscription models and activity bookings. The problem is we have traditionally done very little with it, and guess who is really good at using data to influence behaviour and disrupt an industry – Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook – and this battle for survival has only just begun!
Ominously Jay Blahnik, Apple’s senior director of fitness for health technologies, recently said about Apple Fitness+ “We’re excited about the product that we’re launching and excited about the future. This isn’t a hobby for us. This is something we’re really committing to and investing in.”
We need to be planning now to avoid becoming big boxes providing equipment, heating and lighting, while someone else owns our experience.