Few industries suffered the setbacks and disruptions of COVID-19 quite like fitness and health brands. While the digital fitness trend was already starting to take hold before lockdowns began in March 2020, many brands were unprepared for a full-scale shutdown of in-person workouts and tentpole organizations such as Golds Gym closed permanently.
Yet many upstart online fitness companies thrived as consumers yearned for a little sweat to break up the monotony of life under Covid-19 restrictions. Now that gyms are back open and some consumers are more confident working out in-person, fitness marketers are tasked with building a hybrid approach to reaching their customers that takes into account everyone’s workout preferences while building loyalty and retention on an individual level.
The impact of online fitness
It’s clear that the pandemic helped many reluctant consumers embrace online fitness in the wake of in-person options, but the digital trend was already established before COVID-19 hit. That means early brands that made the leap before the pandemic, such as Peloton, were fully prepared for the transition while others that were slow to adopt had to build digital systems and processes on the fly.
As the fitness industry was in the process of losing $13.9 billion in 2020, even boutique studios–which built consumer loyalty through in-studio classes that were as much a social outing as workout–transitioned to an online-only business model. Brands such as Corepower Yoga, Barry’s Bootcamp, and Body by Simone spent much of last year building digital studios that could at least partially resemble the intimate, engaging environment that kept so many members coming back day after day, week after week.
Sports hardware sales also contributed to the digital revolution. Stationary bike sales increased threefold from March 2020 to October 2020, while in the same year Peloton digital subscriptions, which do not require a branded bike, grew by 382%. Fitness advocates still wanted instructors and online classes to help guide them through workouts. With treadmill sales increasing by 135% last year, it’s no wonder forecasters predict the digital fitness industry will grow to $27.4 billion by the end of 2022.
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Fitness tries to find a new normal
Of course the pandemic is far from over. With the Delta variant ceding to Omicron, many consumers still feel uncertainty and anxiety involving public spaces. Because of the nature of fitness, this puts gyms, studios, and fitness centers in a sensitive position. How do you cater to a growing crowd of consumers that have grown weary of working out at home and crave in-person events and the normalcy of the pre-Covid days?
Because vaccination efforts in many countries have proven moderately successful, there is now a world of fitness fans that are eschewing the at-home set up and joining their friends and favorite instructors for a spin class or a crossfit session. The great outdoors has also played an outsized role in everyday fitness routines lately. Since May 2020, ClassPass saw a 917% lift in studios offering safe, outdoor classes.
It’s clear that the industry is in a new, hybrid world. Marketers have a complex goal ahead of them: create rewarding experiences that encourage the at-homes–64% of whom plan to continue using digital fitness after the pandemic recedes–while still engaging with those workout enthusiasts that have returned to the gym under some semblance of normality.
Data Personalization for Every Fitness Persona
Covid opened new worlds for fitness enthusiasts, which means marketers are now creating email and mobile campaigns based on athletes that are no longer bound to a time or a place for their fitness needs. Now consumers want to workout when and how they want, and expect brands to keep pace with them, not the other way around.
With this new power, however, comes the fitness consumer’s embrace of data and technology. People are constantly trying to beat their previous personal record, lose that last few pounds, run faster, or swim harder. For that reason, many people rely on wearable technology that tracks their heart rate, speed, cadence, nutrition, and any number of data points that marketers can leverage to create personalized goal updates that keep customers motivated and connected.
Whether it’s apps or digital wearables, the health conscious consumer’s need for technology has skyrocketed since the beginning of 2020. Downloads of health and fitness apps have risen by 27% since the start of the pandemic and 50% of U.S. smartphone users have downloaded at least one exercise-related app, a projected audience of 86 million. As of June 2021, 31% of U.S. households owned a fitness tracker and 23% owned a connected health monitor device.
The level of zero- and first-party data fitness marketers can access would leave many traditional industries salivating. And what’s more, exercise enthusiasts are a captive audience, many times relying on apps, wearables, and gyms to keep them honest as well as appraised of their progress. That presents plenty of opportunities for email and mobile campaigns that translate customer data into on-brand messaging that speaks directly to each individual customer.
More than half of digital health and wellness consumers would keep using an app or piece of equipment if they received personalized or better content. But it’s not just the digital fitness enthusiast. eMarketer found that 73% of consumers expect a tailored experience based on learned preferences.
Whether your customers workout at the gym, in studio, in the great outdoors, or the comfort of home, marketers can optimize email and mobile fitness marketing campaigns to speak to each audience segment by identifying how customers enjoy working out and to the individual by sharing relevant data that will keep them motivated and sweating.
What 2022 Could Hold for the Fitness Industry
No one knows what the immediate future of the pandemic holds, but it’s clear that many fitness consumers have embraced the at-home workout routine while others yearn for physical locations or have returned to the gym entirely. It’s clear that if consumer confidence rises and the world starts to look more normal, fitness marketers will need to embrace both to stay relevant.
There are plenty of challenges to come, including the possibility of new variants, Covid disruptions that could disrupt the flow of studios and gyms, and the yearly drop of resolutioners that struggle to embrace a fitness routine. Increased competition and competitor brands could undercut prices, making it difficult for established brands to win new clients.
But within the challenges are plenty of opportunities. Fitness enthusiasts are embracing a “work smarter” approach that data and connected fitness equipment deliver. Marketers have an amazing opportunity to retain new app or device users through personalized marketing campaigns that translate data into individual relationships.
Make 2022 the year that first- and zero-party data personalization drives your marketing campaigns.