Everyone is talking about quantified self these days. With the rapid development of new apps and wearable devices, we’ve witness a growing interest in collecting data about our bodies and lives in order to improve ourselves. This trend also impacts the fitness and health industry. It currently presents a business opportunity for club owners to distinguish their club from others. In this article we therefore consider the origins of the quantified self movement and its central ideas. We then look at quantified self in fitness and health clubs and how this movement can become a useful tool to increase member retention by increasing client experience.
Some history: What is the quantified self movement?
The quantified self movement already started in 1981, when Allen Neuringer wrote a paper in the journal Behaviourism, in which he presented a history of self-experimentation and called for self-monitoring. Although the movement would only receive its name much later, the paper established in the early 1980s that the idea of quantifying the self through tracking one’s own behaviour is an old one. However, with the onset of the digital age, the possibilities of self-experimentation and self-tracking have been radically altered. New wearable devices, for instance, allow the documentation of almost all parts of human life today. Yet, the aspiration of “externalizing our bodies through data to learn more about ourselves”, as researchers at the Berkeley School of Information define the quantified self movement, remains the same.
What data is externalized?
Usually people with an interest in improving certain aspects of their lives, start collecting data about any of these four larger aspects.
- Inputs: food, quality of air
- Physical health: pulse, blood pressure
- Mental state: mood, quality of sleep, satisfaction
- Physical performance: exercise, calories burnt, steps taken
This is also known as lifelogging. In general they collect this data via smartphones, apps or wearable devices and only about their specific area of interest. But is data enough to quantify or even improve the self? Of course not. It needs to be processed and analyzed first. This essentially means that the collected data is processed into visual representations like tables and graphs. After that, these are cross referenced with other data sets, such as daily routines.
Can you give an example?
For example, Bianca is wearing a watch that tracks her pulse. After comparing peaks with her daily schedule, she realizes that her heart rate is higher than usual, when she is in her car on the way to her office job. It also peaks on her way back home. Considering this, Bianca might try to commute via public transport for a while, if only to see whether this change improves her stress levels.
Bianca was only able to come to this conclusion by cross referencing the collected data of her wearable device with her work schedule.
Now you’re probably thinking: interesting, but what does this have to do with the fitness industry? Hang in there, we’ll get to it in a second.
Quantified self in fitness and health clubs
As people feel inclined to collect more and more data about themselves to improve their overall well-being, they also want to track their workout progress and optimize their exercise routines according to their needs. Some people, for example, might simply want to track how many times they are working out, how long their workouts generally take and how their heart rate adapts over time, which they can do with fitness apps and wearables. Others, might also be interested in exercise precision and the accuracy in which they perform, for example, functional exercises, as they are in the midst of recovery.
However, many fitness and health professionals are still wary of fitness apps and wearable fitness trackers. They fear new technologies might replace personal trainers and fitness facilities altogether. But in reality there’s no reason to be afraid. Thats because trainers are uniquely qualified to help clients analyze their data and make suggestions to improve the fitness routine of their clients.
In fact, members will more and more rely on the analytical skills and overall knowledge of their trainers, since data without the ability to contextualize, really, is no data at all.
Thus, the knowledge of trainers as well as fitness and health professionals is essential in order to use these new technologies the right way.
New tools for fitness and health professionals
Fitness trackers, apps and other devices that generate data are therefore new tools fitness and health professionals across the board can use to improve the experience of their clients. If used the right way, these tools can help you to create new and innovative approaches to fitness that are not only more efficient but also tailored to the needs of your members.
So here’s three reasons why the quantified self movement is a business opportunity for fitness and health clubs:
1. Better coaching
New data-driven workouts will not only help you to improve the workouts of your clients according to their individual goals but also enhance the overall quality of your services.
2. More motivation
Better coaching and better services will inevitably increase the motivation of your clients. Because really, who would not want to workout in a club that values the experience of their members above all things?
3.Happier clients = increased retention
No matter if digital natives or digital rookies, anyone appreciates tailor-made workouts. And with increasingly happier clients, you will see rising retention rates.
The quantified self movement is a business opportunity for fitness and health clubs. Creating apps, selling wearables or offering data-driven workouts can improve customer experience by making success quantifiable.
Any gym owner knows, when it comes to business success, member retention is the name of the game. This is not only because the cost of acquiring new members is much higher than retaining old ones. In addition, clients who are happy and motivated are much more likely to recommend a gym to their family and friends and therefore also help to generate revenue. But as plausible as the idea of member retention for business success is today, as intangible solutions seem, because determining “fragile” members and the causes of why they want to leave remains difficult. Yet, there are a few member retention strategies to keep in mind which can help you to keep clients in the long run.
1. Know your market
The first step toward increasing member retention is to identify your market. Who is using your gym? Vegan yoga-queens? Body-builders on a paleo-diet? Middle-aged bankers, who want to stay in shape or senior citizens, who want to do something about their back pain? For each of them exercise, fitness and health have different meanings.
In determining age-, gender identity as well as their socioeconomic situation, you will be able to design your gym in a way that engages your specific audience, according to their needs. For example, if you realize that many of your customers work from 9am to 5pm, a switch to longer and more flexible opening hours would make it easier form them to integrate gym-time into their daily routine. Or if you discover that most of you clients are senior citizens, instead of a new HIT training session, you might want to offer workouts based on functional training or yoga classes, which are more appealing to them.
Therefore, understanding your market can help you finetune and redesign your concept in a way that is meaningful to your clients.
2. Create a lifestyle brand
Branding, without a doubt, it is one of the best ways to increase and at the same time retain your client base, because ever since the rise of boutique fitness we’ve witnessed that once people have committed to a lifestyle, they stay loyal, sometimes even without contracts. And let’s be real, nowadays fitness and healthy living are lifestyles.
Still, the idea of branding might be intimidating at first. But in the digital age many of the resources you need are more accessible than ever. You can for example create your own website and blog with a few clicks and share your ideas on various social media channels with the world, without paying a cent.
Actually, the hardest part about creating your brand is asking some tough questions like: What is our vision? How do you set yourself off from your competitors? What makes your gym unique? Who is your primary audience and how can you engage them effectively?
Once you have determined that, get creative! Design you own logo, write down your brand messaging and find your voice that reflects your gym’s philosophy. Keep in mind to be consistent with your messaging and be true to your brand. This is also where knowledge about your customer base comes in handy (see point one) as you, for example, don’t want to overwhelm people in their mid-forties and fifties by using too many hashtags and flashy graphics. Adjusting your tone according to your audience is essential as it also forges a more personal connection with your clients, which in the end is an essential factor that drives member retention.
3. Sharing is caring: use social media to build a community
As mentioned before, social media is a great tool you can use for branding your gym. But it can be used for more than just putting your logo out there. You can build your own community using Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest and change the way you communicate with your members.
There are a few things to keep in mind, when it comes to social media. The first is to understand that no matter which ones of the many social networks you’re using, it’s all about communication and communication isn’t a one-way street. This means that your channel should not just bombard your followers with ad after promotional video, after new discount etc.
You actually want to engage your audience by posting about things that matter to them, ask questions and facilitate exchange.
Maybe you want to curate pinterest boards about new exercises, nutrition or sports wear, which your members can pin? Or maybe the right way for you is to set up an Instagram account and document #fitnesslife in your gym? You can even create your own gym-specific hashtag and encourage your members to post about their workout routine. Or maybe you want to create groups on Facebook and organize post-workout-meetups for members to facilitate community building? The possibilities on social media are endless and with the right strategy, you will not only increase the loyalty of your clients, but also attract new members.
4. Honor milestones
Everyone loves gifts. Milestones and anniversaries are a perfect reason to celebrate and keep your clients motivated. A member completed three months of training and didn’t miss a week? Maybe that’s the right time to bring their partner or best friend for a free workout together. As an alternative you could hand out a free towel or water bottle. Another simple way to honor your client’s commitment is to offer discounts on your online merchandise or membership fees for a month. No matter what you do, it will communicate that you value your members and pay attention.
5. Motivation through new technologies
As you’re running a business in the fitness and health industry, one of your main goals is to help your clients live healthier and better lives, while also running a successful business. Thus, keeping your members motivated is at the heart of all successful member retention strategies.
So why not benefit from some of the new insights and technologies of the digital age?
In 2015 UC Berkeley published a study that suggests the “gamification of fitness” will change the way people exercise through integrating “collaborative and competitive games” into workouts. The study points out that creating “motivating fitness games” could make long-term fitness engagement more attractive for people who are not intrinsically motivated.
Now, you’re probably not an app developer, but you can nonetheless benefit from some of these findings. You can, for example, invest in modern motion-capture technology and interactive circuit training, which lets your clients track their own success and compare and share it with others. That way you could have monthly competitions about who exercised the most, or who was the most consistent. In any case, staying up to date and considering new ways of keeping your clients engaged is essential for boosting retention.
With a turnover of 27.6 billion dollars in 2016, the US fitness industry is clearly the largest market globally, earning as much as the UK (6.1 billion), Germany (5.5 billion), Japan (5.1 billion), France (2.7 billion), Canada (2.5 billion), Australia (2.5 billion) and Italy (2.45 billion) combined. So clearly, there is much to be learned from the fitness entrepreneurs of the land of the free. Especially when it comes to new business models and new concepts. In the last five years there was much buzz about “boutique fitness”, an up-and-coming business concept — and rumor has it that it will turn working out into the new going out. But what exactly is boutique fitness and what can we learn from this trend?
What is boutique fitness?
Boutique fitness studios are small gyms of usually between 100 – 300m², which specialize in certain fitness areas. For instance, they offer boxing classes, cycling, functional training or ballet. This specialization allows them to design their studios in minimalist ways and to invest only in the equipment their customers truly need. At first glance they often resemble exclusive clubs, lofts and even art galleries more than actual fitness studios. As they focus on customer experience, they differ from older fitness models. They emphasize the social aspects of exercising, while also offering high quality workouts. Sounds expensive? It is. Skirting traditional contracts, boutique fitness clubs are usually pay-per-hour. But this comes with a premium price tag. For one group session they generally charge between $20 – 35 per person. Yet, people are more than willing to pay for an hour of training, accompanied by hip hop or electro beats, especially if they are led by top-notch coaches. According to Forbes, some of the customers of the exclusive fitness studios work out up to 15 times a month, spending around $142 in total — way more than the $70 they would pay in an average gym. Boutique fitness therefore has evolved into a lucrative business model that promises high revenues to entrepreneurs. SoulCycle, one of the most striking boutique fitness chains, generated a profit of over $25 million before their initial public offering in 2015. And they are not the only ones turning a profit. Others have long caught on to the idea and companies like The Bar Method or CrossFit rank among the most prominent competitors in the boutique fitness business, with some of them generating $4 billion in annual revenue.
Data-driven workouts are the future
But boutique fitness is growing increasingly competitive with more and more players entering the market. This also puts pressure on businesses to stay innovative. Alex Fell, the cofounder of Warrior Fitness Boot Camp, a successful boutique fitness studio that focuses on functional training, sees the future in going digital. Tech is key, according to him, and not only when it comes to booking classes, community building and advertising. The industry is headed towards data-driven workouts that make progress quantifiable. Therefore it’s not only about creating “lifestyle companies”. It’s also about enabling clients to track their own progress and achievements through personalized feedback.
So what can we learn from boutique fitness?
Fitness in the digital age is not merely about getting people to sign a contract to a fitness club. It’s mostly about fostering long-term engagement. That way, business concepts that rely on pay-per-hour models can be more lucrative than traditional gyms. Most of all, customer experience is essential. Creating spaces that facilitate community building and accommodate the lifestyles of clients, while also offering high quality workouts, is crucial to retaining them. Therefore new technologies and data-driven workouts are increasingly gaining importance and are now key competitive advantages.