Over lockdown, we spent time considering the brands that helped us through those challenging months - and for many of us, that support came from fitness, wellness and lifestyle brands. When all else was shut and many of life’s enjoyments were being taken away, one thing that remained was the ability to go out and enjoy some exercise, or even get your heart rate up from the comfort of your own living room thanks to Joe Wicks’ daily videos. Fitness has become so much more than losing fat and gaining muscle. It’s evolved into an integral part of holistic wellbeing, impacting mental health, sleep and overall happiness as well as weight, physique and physical health - all things that are vital to consumers in the midst of a global pandemic.
The past few months have been challenging for all, but the renewed interest in fitness has surely been a silver lining. In the UK, from March until the end of June, there were almost one million downloads of NHS-backed Couch-to-5K app – a 92% increase compared to 2019. According to the National Trust, 68% of people have noted that nature around them has increased their happiness, with the majority planning to spend more time outdoors from now on. And at-home exercise has flourished too, with Sport England finding almost half of those surveyed now regularly workout at home.
So with this rising interest in keeping fit and healthy, what can brands do to better serve and support their audiences and tune into these developing trends?
With a growing appetite for at-home workouts, brands are presented with a huge opportunity to reach their audiences in a new location.
Front-room fitness allows consumers to play by their own rules and exercise the way they want, with democratised access to classes from the best gyms and trainers as well as the option to purchase home kit to suit their needs. With continuing trepidation over visiting public spaces, more fitness brands should be considering a digital approach to connect with their customers. Platforms that help foster community and communicate brand personality will prove the most popular - Jessica Ennis’ app is a great example, with a friendly and ‘real’ tone of voice that particularly appeals to her female audience.
There’s also an opportunity here for brands to update their offer to include equipment that complements the consumer’s way of life, as well as their decor. A designer collaboration with a leading fitness kit supplier could be an interesting move to target style-conscious homeowners. Lululemon’s acquisition of Mirror is a game-changer in this space, connecting the dots between fashion-forward athleisure and home fitness to create a mini-ecosystem for the brand’s followers.
Subscription models are a great way to engage new audiences when initial investment can pose a potential barrier. Brands like Peloton have been able to open up a new pool of customers who value the ability to workout on their own terms. And the recent announcement of Apple’s Fitness+ subscription service is sure to shake things up - a clever move by the brand, who now not only provide the tech needed to monitor health and fitness, but also the services required to improve and action changes.
Opportunities aren’t just limited to the workouts themselves. The popularity of athleisure fashion has been rising for a while, but the pandemic has accelerated this trend, with more people blending domestic life with exercise and therefore looking for clothing that doubles-up on comfort and functionality. The UK saw a 97% increase in activewear sell-outs in March alone. Lululemon and Sweaty Betty have already nailed the aspirational athleisure look, but it’s interesting to see lifestyle brands such as The White Company make the move into activewear - others should consider following suit and bringing their existing following with them into the fitness world.
There's still a gap in the market for a designer activewear range that's fully functional - beyond just a pair of luxury tracksuit bottoms. It would be interesting to see a high-fashion brand develop this idea. In turn, traditional sports brands should also be reacting to the casualisation of active clothing and exploring the possibilities of relaxed loungewear within their offer.
As the crossovers between fashion, leisure, and fitness overlap further, brands in each of these camps should consider how to pivot in order to elevate the experience for their customers every day.
Since lockdown, it seems people have developed a renewed appreciation for outdoor spaces. Local beauty spots could be reimagined as backdrops for fitness - there’s potential for sports brands and gyms to tap into these spaces through unexpected collaborations in order to extend their reach to a new audience.
We’ve also seen emerging modes of travel as exercise, with people shunning the bus and tube in favour of walking, running, cycling, and scooting. With bike sales up at major retailers including Halfords and with the government-funded voucher scheme, cycling is seeing a particular surge. Bike and scooter brands should consider offering subscription models to respond to this demand - as Brompton has recently done - allowing consumers the flexibility to rent a set of wheels at a time where incomes may be unstable. There could also be an opportunity for park and ride cycle hire systems in edge-of-town destinations. Brands could evolve this idea further, for instance by introducing food and drink offers to play into the velo cafe culture or by setting up specialised repair workshops to introduce a full-service offer and support cyclists when they need it.
There’s also potential in this space to support your customers with their progress wherever they are. Under Armour's MapMyRun app is a great example - could you introduce a reward system or a gamified digital experience to help your customers achieve their goals whilst out and about?
As an appreciation for the outdoors continues to grow, brands should be seeking ways to support consumers on their fitness journeys and help to integrate exercise into their everyday lives.
Whilst at-home and outdoor exercise trends are rising, there is still a significant need for brand spaces to forge those all important connections with customers face-to-face. But fitness brands may need to rethink their strategy in order to appeal to the new era consumer.
We’ve seen a huge shift to local over the past few months, with many preferring to shop and socialise in their own neighbourhoods. Nike is a fantastic example of a brand that’s been reacting to this localised trend even before the pandemic, with community stores employing local staff and supporting nearby organisations and projects.The COVID-era consumer enjoys being part of a community, and fitness brands should listen and act upon that in order to engage effectively.
The introduction of pop-up formats could also help brands reach and connect with new audiences. Responding to the trend for outdoor activities, mobile retail units positioned near popular nature trails, bike routes and sports facilities could prove popular with consumers, offering relevant products, guides and expert advice on their chosen activity as well as providing them with a chance to connect with other members of the active community.
By pre-empting how and where exercise enthusiasts want to be served, brands can get to know their audience on a deeper level and help secure their own spot in the future of the fitness experience.
We’ve explored how brands can tap into growing trends for fitness at home and outdoors. But we believe the real future of the fitness experience lies in becoming a long-term health and fitness partner for your customers.
Building a more DTC-focussed strategy will help fitness brands become closer to their customers and own the conversation. Nike is leading the way here with their ongoing pivot to become more focussed on direct sales. By reducing their distribution partners and focussing on data and digital tools (in particular their Nike+ app) they are able to gain better insight into their customers and create their own network of local stores fueled by this knowledge. This all works together to allow them to be more connected with their customers, providing a more personalised and rewarding experience every step of the way.
Those that are still selling through third-party retailers only should take note and consider how they can strengthen their own brand experience by going direct to the consumer in order to drive loyalty and engagement - it’s the best way to connect with your audiences on a deeper and long-lasting level.
The use of data is also vital to the future of fitness. The rise of wearable tech has normalised the collection of consumer health data - the next step is for brands to use these analytics to provide a connected service specific to individual requirements. For instance, if Fitbit or Apple entered into collaborations with Boots to offer wellness suggestions, 1Rebel for class recommendations and discounts, and Headspace for tailored meditation session - all using linked-up data that reveals what individual customers need.
As the world of ‘wellbeing’ continues to expand to include sports, healthcare, fashion, lifestyle, beauty and more, there are endless opportunities here for compatible brands to create their own interconnected eco-systems and position themselves as long-term fitness partners in their customers’ lives, wherever they go.
The level of opportunity across this category is huge right now. We believe that by elevating the customer experience across these various areas, brands will be able to create new, meaningful fitness experiences that will ensure lasting success during and post-pandemic.
For more information on how we can help you reframe your brand experience, please get in touch.