What are we really selling?

In a flurry of realization, the “fitness” industry is realizing that the latest and greatest in programming, “get great abs now” promotions and sweat-flinging cardio extravaganzas just have not resonated with the 80% of the population that remains marginally active.  Wellness is the new buzzword and the majority of “fitness” industry product/service providers are scrambling for a new identity.
When asked about how they define wellness, 73 percent of respondents to The Hartman Group’s polling included “being physically fit” and “feeling good about myself” (74 percent) in their definition of wellness.
Imagine a 57 year old woman, let’s call her Sandra, deciding to visit the “Wellness Gym” in her town, already feeling strangely self-conscious in her new athletic shoes and sweatpants.  The locker room is a minefield of confidence-smashing experiences n itself.  Passing unfamiliar circuit machines, energetic gaggles of spin class experts in Lycra and finally settling in to her “Walking to easy Music” class just depleted the “feeling good about myself” momentum that got her to the gym that day.
What do we really need to be “selling” to the 80% of the population across age bands and conditions whose lifestyle, social culture and physical state have joined to create an inactive lifestyle?  We can provide the same ingredients that “fitness-seekers” look for when they go to a gym:
• Hope – for change in physical appearance, ability to perform in sport or daily life, more energy and health
• Social – a place to meet friends, make new ones feel accepted and welcomed
• Value – the ability to make a difference among peers, be a leader or accomplished member of a group
• Challenge/Reward – that is meaningful to the individual
• Goals – ability to define and attain meaningful goals over time
Back to Sandra.  Instead of creating a fitness class just for people in the “Sandra” profile, the well-meaning fitness club management might first take a long look at why that population chooses not to embrace regular physical activity.  In the same way that a fitness buff might not enjoy some sedentary pastimes, the inactive might not self-select active endeavors.  If we are going to meet the needs and benefit from internal drivers that influence daily choice among the inactive we need to really know our customer.  Once we understand what drives their daily choices, only then can we “sell” the right wellness options.
When we re-invent what a “fitness” destination is and open its design to be the best “wellness” destination for targeted age and condition populations we need to create a culture that population will embrace.
The reception area and specially trained staff are as important as your programming and energetic trainers.  Understanding what each individual hopes for as they visit your facility is crucial. There is no “one size fits all” in this game.  Active and skilled listening is not a one-time welcome process.  Know your customer, each and every one of them.
Why would Sandra and others like her want to bring friends with her to class and to the environment that is your “wellness” destination?  How might she be rewarded for inviting peers, coming often, engaging with peers in class or becoming part of the next layer welcoming newcomers?  The social piece is crucial.  Don’t let that slide by while your staff attends to choreography or music. When Sandra and her peers can deliver value that is real, not just a token, they will return and generate a culture of engagement and loyalty.
The Challenge/Reward that is meaningful to Sandra is likely not some 6 pack abs or personal best in a 10k, and actually that is a good thing.  Wellness is for the long term, like friendship, a favorite hobby or ingrained habit.  The better your staff can help Sandra be aware of how she’s reaching goals over time will make all the difference. Is a good goal, “lose ten pounds in 10 weeks?”  Ask the diet industry.  In the double-digit billions of dollars a year industry sustainable success has not happened.  Go back to what Sandra values: is she making new friends, has she found a way to support or lead/create value?  Has she visited your facility four times a week for four months?  How might you recognize and reward that?
Understand what you are really selling when you become the physically active part of the wellness equation for a huge population poised for success – yours and theirs – in the wellness game.
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