trainers skipping rope weights are seen placed on a work out mat on the floor

The Digital Fitness Revolution: Key Considerations for Future-Proof Fitness Brands

It’s no secret that the digital fitness industry is thriving. Growth has accelerated in the past 12 months, but its prevalence has been climbing for years.

A wellness mindset has permeated our global consciousness, affecting people’s daily decision-making; be it our food choices, a stronger focus on mental wellness and reducing stress, incorporating more movement into daily life, or a greater desire for social connection and happiness.

The rise of the health-conscious consumer has led to a greater demand for convenient ways to meet health and fitness goals through digital applications, products and online communities –– and that profound shift is driving powerful growth opportunities.

Wearables have more than tripled in the last four years. According to a study by Insider Intelligence, more than 80% of consumers are willing to wear fitness technology to monitor their own data.

Brands such as Peloton, Nordic Track and Mirror have been leading the way with smart fitness machines that offer endless classes and leaderboards to gamify the experience, all conveniently in the comfort of your own home.

But in the past few years,  it’s fair to say that the fitness industry has been dominated by in-person experiences. From high energy sessions offered by cult-like brands such as Soul Cycle, Barrys, 1Rebel and CrossFit, to dance cardio and hot yoga, it was all about the destination, with community being the main attraction. 

Living in London for the last decade, I had been taking full advantage of the growing number of fitness experiences popping up all over the capital. Spending £20 for one 45 minute class was not unusual to me and while much cheaper virtual options were available, I just wasn’t interested. Nothing could beat that post-IRL-workout-feeling.

That of course all changed when gyms closed their doors in spring due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Suddenly, thrusting around my living room in lycra in front of an IG Live class (while my partner was video gaming a meter away) was the new normal for working out.

In just a matter of weeks, digital fitness seemed to accelerate decades into the future. In the month of March 2020 alone, Google searches for “at-home workouts” rose by a huge 500% and the same month saw a 147% YOY increase in consumption of on-demand fitness classes via streaming apps and subscription platforms. 

Like many others, I found myself looking for new online experiences to engage with and equipment to invest in. And, given the convenience and new-found savings on expensive gym classes, I was learning to love sweating it out at home while also enjoying some “friendly” competition with the MOF Run Club on Strava.

For trainers, fitness studios and gyms, the lockdown created a make-or-break situation. The need to adapt to the new reality of digital fitness was crucial to survive.

It’s no surprise that digital-first fitness firms are thriving. 

Peloton had already perfected the at-home gym experience prior to the pandemic, with high-end virtual classes and beautifully-shot streaming content. Peloton’s offering continues to expand beyond the original product with the introduction of yoga, meditation, bootcamp and more, along with detailed performance metrics such as cadence, resistance and output. A digital-only subscription is also available for those that don’t have the bike or tread, with access to live and on-demand classes through personal devices. 

According to MarketWatch, by the end of 2020, Peloton’s stock increased by 29 percent in one month and the brand’s app reportedly saw five times as many downloads with more than 3 million members, with paid digital subscriptions up by 210 percent. The bike, which, in a cramped flat, might have once been considered an eyesore, has become somewhat of a status symbol. 

NordicTrack is another example of a “covid-proof” brand in the space, with its iFit powered fitness equipment –– from exercise bikes that physically move to simulate hills or valleys, to treadmills and customised work-outs via their bespoke digital platform and app. NordicTrack’s "Map Based Workout" feature allows you to draw a custom workout on Google Maps and pulls scenery from Street View so you can see where you're biking. Maybe you don't need to go outside during lockdown after all.

We’re also seeing brands reimagine the fitness experience through  integrated virtual reality (VR).  Not only does this offer an element of escapism and gamification, studies show that VR workouts can be more effective than a gym workout. Icaros uses VR to simulate the experience of human flight in order to distract people from the painful reality of having to hold a plank position for prolonged periods. Genius! This type of training is blended with social competition for extra motivation.

A younger player in the industry, Mirror offers a high-tech interactive home workout on a reflective screen that resembles a full-length mirror for £1000. For £30/month on top, you have access to live, on-demand workout classes. Your brand new mirror promises to be a cardio class, a yoga studio, a boxing ring, or a personal trainer, depending on your mood.

Mirror was acquired by LuluLemon in 2020, further strengthening its position in the industry and accelerating growth by leveraging the sportswear brand’s deep relationships with its guests, ambassadors, and communities, as well as the company’s infrastructure, including its store network and e-commerce channels, to acquire new users. The brand reportedly made over $100 million in revenue last year. 

What makes these products so much better than exercise machines of the past? It's clearly not just about the product anymore. These brands are offering immersive experiences with impressive volumes of high quality content. The classes feature instructors who have cult followings and are broadcast to people all over the world. Metrics and leaderboards unlock your inner competitive streak, without even stepping outside your front door. Users can even link up with pals who take the same classes. Community is still the big draw. 

Tech Giants want a piece of the action.

In the race for subscribers, the fitness industry was given a head start but now Big Tech is muscling in. 

We’ve recently seen  a flurry of new entries into the space, with Apple launching its Fitness+ streaming service, Amazon releasing its Halo health tracking device, Facebook introducing its gamified Oculus platform, and more recently, Google’ $2 billion acquisition of Fitbit. For companies like these, it is all about gathering (and selling) data and it will continue to be one of the economic drivers of new technology in the industry. 

smartphone and smartwatch with amazon halo open on screen

Amazon Halo

Trainers and boutique fitness brands were forced to pivot quickly.

Meanwhile, it has been an incredibly challenging year for many boutique gyms and studios. According to recent data, the fitness industry as a whole lost £5.9 Billion in revenue as of last July, and continues to lose revenue throughout the second wave of non-essential business shutdowns.

Brands such Barry’s Bootcamp and BLOK had to respond quickly, scrambling to provide live virtual workouts on social channels as a temporary solution, to maintain engagement with their followers. Almost a year in, the pivot has become a long term portion of many brands’ strategies.

For individual trainers and influencers, who rely on monetisation from social networks like YouTube and Instagram, the increased online engagement during lockdown is proving to be beneficial due to the considerable rise in social media use since the outbreak.

Joe Wicks aka ‘The Body Coach’ pivoted his offering to a workout aimed at children and indeed their parents looking for some light relief from homeschooling. While his initiative was almost certainly an altruistic one, he’s also gained more than 2.25m YouTube subscribers –– something he’ll certainly capitalise on.

In an already crowded industry, brands and trainers need to consider the unique value they can bring to digital spaces as well as physical. For paid services, participants will expect a supportive community with personalised guidance and accountability to ensure progress.

So what does the future hold for the fitness industry?

The fitness industry has transformed and as outlined above, digital-first brands or those who have pivoted quickly, are already benefiting from the change. So what should fitness brands and professionals strive for in the near future to stay ahead? We’ve outlined five key considerations. 

01

Online and on-demand services are here to stay (as part of hybrid offerings)

There’s been a worldwide realisation that it’s possible to work out effectively from home and reach your fitness goals while being cost and time-efficient. Even when the gyms reopen, a hybrid offering of online and offline services will be the “new normal”. You need to meet the member where they are. Brands should consider shooting premium, ownable content that is representative of the physical brand experience.

02

Digital socialisation will continue to be instrumental for customer acquisitions and retention

Fitness brands, trainers and influencers are seeing continued evidence of their importance not just in marketing metrics, but also in the ability to build meaningful connections with audiences. Brands should take the time to understand their customer needs and regardless of channel, nurture their community as a commodity to attract and maintain a captive audience.

03

Health and fitness tracking via wearables have become a key part of today’s fitness culture, and will continue to expand

Data tracking is one of the economic drivers of new technology in fitness and we are already seeing big investments from tech giants in this space. This will continue to be a theme, with users willingly sharing their data for the purpose of managing personal health and fitness goals. Brands should think about how to capitalise on this rising trend.

04

AI and VR fitness are only just scratching the surface and have the potential to shape the in-home fitness experience

Artificial intelligence and virtual reality are modernising the health and fitness industry at an exceptional rate and it is only really just beginning. These technologies are helping businesses in this industry improve their marketing and sales strategies with the ability to completely transform the at-home experience for their audience. It should no longer be considered a gimmick but a key consideration for any business in the industry.

05

It’s an opportune moment for brand partnerships to boost awareness and leverage reputation

There has never been a better time to boost business through partnerships. Collaborating with brands that share similar values but are uniquely different to your offering can increase your brand awareness as well as leverage a different community, opening up new revenue streams.

The digitisation of fitness is here to stay.

The pandemic has led to digital fitness progressing faster than ever, and has transformed the way we work out, potentially for the better (aside from those with upstairs neighbours). 

The current chaotic landscape of the fitness industry is temporary, but the rapid digitisation of services is not. It is a clear wake up call to fitness industry players, big and small, to invest in their digital strategies.

Data and technology will continue to drive the industry, democratising fitness and taking it to the masses, but it is nothing without a connected community.

Get in touch

If you’d like to discuss how Matter Of Form can partner with you to provide strategic design and tech services, please get in touch with our consultant and fitness enthusiast louise.earl@matterofform.com

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Louise (3)

Published by Louise Earl

Senior Account Director

Lou has over 10 years experience working in top London agencies and currently leads MOF’s key luxury travel and hospitality accounts. Lou strives to maximise business growth and brings a level of friendly competitiveness to this, perhaps due to her love for team sport and fitness.