Fitness tracking apps, wearable activity measuring devices and wireless gym equipment have all contributed to a re-invention of the way we, as a nation, exercise. Not only can health club members track and monitor physical activity, both inside and outside the gym or leisure centre, but they can now socially share their results too.
Not only that, but the data generated by this technology is also making it possible to reward individuals for the level of physical activity they’re achieving, opening up a new world of opportunity for operators keen to influence user behaviour and encourage brand loyalty.
The idea of rewarding behaviour is nothing new: supermarket chains have been influencing purchase decisions and encouraging brand loyalty through the use of reward cards for many years. It was back in 2002 that the Loyalty Management Group, chaired by Sir Keith Mills, launched the Nectar Card with BP and Sainsbury’s. The initiative is now recognised as the largest loyalty card scheme in the UK, followed closely by the Tesco Clubcard programme.
However, thus far, most schemes in the fitness sector have focused on rewarding attendance, rather than rewarding actual activity undertaken.
So could the proliferation of activity tracking devices, and the opportunity these present to create reward schemes based on actual activity data, prove to be the key in finally getting people exercising more often – and with it improve member retention?
We take a look at a selection of activity-based reward schemes to assess their impact.
Launched in 2012, fitness rewards app Bounts was designed to encompass both indoor and outdoor fitness activities. It allows users to track their choice of activity and earn points that can be redeemed for rewards from local and national retailers – over 300 household brands such as Nike, Argos, Debenhams, Starbucks and Sainsbury’s are involved, alongside smaller local business.
The Bounts platform and app control the reward points, but leisure operators have scope to decide how and why members should receive them up to a certain value.
Organisations can connect Bounts with their Legend or Gladstone membership software/online booking system, or use a simple reward tag offered by Bounts. But it’s been the decision by Bounts to link up with a number of established third-party apps and devices – including Map My Run, Runkeeper, Nike+, Fitbit, Jawbone and the MYZONE heart rate monitoring system – that has really allowed its rewards to be tied in to actual activity rather than mere attendance.
Points are awarded for the distance completed and time spent exercising through the likes of Map My Run. Meanwhile, when a member uses MYZONE, expended effort is rewarded through MYZONE Effort Points (MEPs). Bounts points are then appropriately awarded, heightening the personalised approach to exercising and rewards.
Bounts has been adopted by a range of organisations, from an NHS project to Active Stirling, Fusion Lifestyle, Oxford City Council, Sport Aberdeen and a number of single-site gyms and charities. The Barn, an independent gym in Oxfordshire, saw a reduction in monthly attrition rates from 3.1 per cent to 1.9 per cent in the first six months of using Bounts.
John Stuart, founder of Bounts, says: “A simple reward for a positive behaviour can be a very powerful motivator. Plenty of studies in areas like smoking cessation have shown rewards to work in the short term. The key is whether rewards can lead to a sustainable difference over months and years, and sadly many existing reward programmes in the fitness sector fail to deliver sustainable results because they have limited appeal – they don’t have the depth, breadth or frequency to engage people.
“If you want a reward to work, it has to have a high perceived value, but also has to be relevant to the individual. That’s why you need to include many brands, as each person will be interested in different things.”
Can’t cheat, won’t cheat
If activity data is to be used as the basis for rewards, of course the data has to be watertight. MYZONE CEO Dave Wright says: “We found that too many systems could be easily gamed, whether it was swiping into a health club to sit in the sauna or shaking an accelerometer. That all undermines the purpose of reward: increasing physical activity.
“But you can’t cheat your heart. With our system, it doesn’t matter how fit or unfit you might be, or what sport or activity you do – it’s all about the effort you put in.”
FitLinxx has also developed an intelligent device that can’t be cheated. Accurately tracking steps, distance, calories and time spent exercising, the Pebble tracks the hard work and effort applied during a workout.
Colin Neale, director of business development at FitLinxx, says: “The Pebble is smart enough to know whether the user is active or simply tapping their foot or driving a car; FitPoints are awarded for the actual physical activity completed.
“If tracking systems are to receive the wider support of the health promotion community, we must be able to prove that the activity measures are real. At the same time, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to a rewards programme. FitPoints are tailored to the individual – the 10 minutes that the retired teacher puts in on the bike are worth as much as a 10-minute interval run by a seasoned athlete – which keeps everything attainable.”
FitPoints are automatically recorded when a member logs on to FitLinxx. Every minute of cardio exercise earns the member five points; 10 points for every strength station; and one point for every 100lbs lifted. Members progress through various award levels, ranging from ‘White’ (15,000 FitPoints) to ‘Platinum’ (500,000 FitPoints).
Facilities can use points as they wish, but for example could reward 2,500 points with a free cup of coffee, 15,000 points with a PT session and 125,000 points with a free month of membership.
When analysing the impact on retention, FitLinxx compared nine leisure sites managed by a leisure trust. Three were using FitLinxx technology, and these three sites reported 15 per cent better retention rates than the other six centres that hadn’t yet rolled out the tracking technology.
Financial rewards are proving a successful tactic for US-based company Pact (originally launched as GymPact – see also p44). Compatible with both iOS and Android, the Pact app tracks increased exercise and healthy eating, allowing users to earn cash paid by other members who fail to reach their weekly goals. And the data is robust: “GPS and photos are used as evidence for honest exercise reporting. All actions must be verified in order for them to count towards a Pact,” says Marissa Window, Pact marketing lead. The app has motivated 6.5 million workouts since its launch in 2012, and is used by gym-goers for an average of six to nine months.
Also tapping into the competitive nature of today’s members, Technogym’s Challenge app allows operators to create, manage and measure effective member challenges via an online portal – challenges based not only on number of gym visits, but also on intensity of movement, calories burned and distance travelled. Launched in 2012, the app sits on the mywellness cloud platform, with a live leaderboard spurring members on to achieve higher rankings and – if the operator wishes – prize wins.
Not only does this approach help clubs build a relationship with their members, but it also establishes a club community – both factors that research has shown time and again to positively impact on retention.
Goal-setting is another way to motivate increased physical activity. Precor’s Preva Personal Accounts allows exercisers to set long- and short-term goals and choose relevant targets based on distance, calories or duration. Virtual rewards are then used to acknowledge progress and keep members motivated towards their end goal, with badges awarded to mark milestones along the way – ‘Golden Gate’, for example, which is awarded for burning 232 calories, the average calorie burn when walking across San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.
The virtual badges can be viewed in an online gallery and shared through social media, and prove that rewards don’t have to be expensive for the operator – although feasibly an operator could allocate actual, physical rewards and prizes when members attain significant milestone badges.
At Wellington College’s Total Body Gym in Berkshire, 89 per cent of the 2,500 members said that Preva increased the likelihood of them completing their workout; the gym also saw a 25 per cent reduction in membership cancellations over the course of 12 months after installing the networked system.
Time will tell…
We already know that the easier it is for the user to accurately track their workout and see their results, the more likely it is that they will keep exercising and maintain their membership: Precor’s research, for example, shows that exercisers who set a weekly goal through their Preva Personal Account visit their fitness facility, on average, one and a half times more per week than those who don’t.
The longer-term question we must seek to answer, though, is this: to what extent are members motivated by their fitness goals in themselves – and to what extent do they need rewards to make them stick to the day-to-day actions needed to achieve those goals?