Around 600 people from 30 countries signed up to the recent Retention Convention to get advice on creating exercise adherence and building loyalty and retention through workout-related customer experiences.
Organiser, Paul Bedford, said: “You only have to look at the investment brands such as Apple and Peloton have put into creating their experiences to realise that if operators don’t ramp up in-club exercise experiences, the difference will be so significant it will be disappointing.
“These fit tech companies design everything around entertainment and it’s important to be constantly examining what health club operators can do to provide memorable in-club workout experiences that compete.”
The Retention Convention kicked off with a session on designing memorable exercise experiences.
Bedford said: “The routine of going to the gym can get boring. We need to focus our energies on improving the exercise experience and creating memorable workouts for members who are just going through the motions.
“Things don’t have to change every time they visit, but at least every four to six weeks something new needs to happen to maintain motivation and interest and to ultimately improve retention.”
The session focused on exercisers who want to work out a couple of times a week. “Exercise doesn’t always fulfil them emotionally,” he explained. “It’s a bit like grocery shopping or commuting, it’s a task that has to be done. We need to inspire these people to become enthusiasts, so they come more regularly.
“Since lockdowns were lifted, we’ve seen some people quitting six months after joining. Between 90-270 days is the point when some become demotivated; this is the weak spot where we need to take action.
“Group exercise has really moved on, driven by the rise of boutiques and their great content, but the gym floor doesn’t have those dynamics – it’s often just a vast array of kit. We need to make workouts here memorable and pleasurable, so people don’t have to rely on willpower to keep coming,” said Bedford.
“They need guidance and a sense of progression, otherwise it can be like playing a video game – if you’re stuck on one level, you’ll give up.”
Designing an exercise experience
Bedford – who has been studying the creation of memories – explained that days are made up of moments, remembered as good or bad, which are linked to emotions. “If you can attach an emotion to something,” he said, “it will create a memory, and memories build relationships”.
“Exercise doesn’t always need to be fun, but it does need to be enjoyable – even discomfort can be enjoyable for an enthusiast; feeling the ache becomes something you look forward to, as the chemical bombardment makes us feel good. But new exercisers must get used to the ‘hump of discomfort’. There shouldn’t be pain, just discomfort related to the level of effort needed for results.”
Bedford said people must be able to complete their workout – it should never be so hard they have to abandon it – and suggested setting individual challenges that build over time. “Perhaps work towards one day near the end of each week when they really challenge themselves; this will encourage them to attend, as well as offering the ‘reward’ of having the weekend to recover.
“Or look at the order in which they complete exercises or move the major muscle groups around to focus on a peak-end moment, rather than splitting muscle classes into different days.”
Bedford’s advice was to make sure members know what’s coming, so they’re mentally prepared and more likely to have a positive experience. “Exercisers need to feel the effects but not fail. Get them to attempt a personal best or complete a set for the first time – create one moment that stands out – each week or each month.”
His final message was to think about what feedback you give and when. Praise the positives, the technique and the effort, be mindful that silence is also a powerful tool and think about where you stand as you give feedback so you can encourage their experience without interrupting it.
Richard Playfair from Sweatlife Films discussed creating on-demand workouts that meet changing customer expectations. In his session ‘The Studio to Screen Strategy’, he told delegates to focus on quality content: “It doesn’t matter how good the set looks or how good the sound is if the end-user feels frustrated or disconnected.”
His top tips included utilising audio, video and graphics to create a frustration-free workout that’s easy to follow. You’ll need at least two cameras for full body and tighter shots. Use head mics and be aware of hair or jewellery that creates background noise which is difficult to remove in post-production. Users may stack classes, so remain consistent with your audio.
Encourage instructors to wear colourful clothes, as movements can be difficult to distinguish in black, but avoid tight patterns and fluorescents, which can look strange in finished production. Timer bars can be really useful, but their placement should be determined in pre-production to ensure camera angles work.
Subtitles are inexpensive to add in post-production. Always make sure presenters run through in real-time to spot mistakes and practice sounding authentic on camera.
“The aim is to leave the exerciser feeling so successful they can’t wait to come again. But any fitness fan will tell you, doing it online is not the same as in person,” said Playfair. “The same goes for the instructor. Connecting with an audience through the camera is a whole new skillset.”
Consistency is key
“Your four main aims should be: to become known for what you do best; to create signature workouts that stand out from the competition; to create opportunities for more meaningful interactions; and to deliver a consistent omnichannel experience,” said Playfair.
“Determine how much content to create and how often you need to release it to keep members happy. Too much and they can feel overwhelmed. Be aware live-streamed videos may feel inferior next to on-demand workouts in your library, especially if the instructor stops to engage with the live audience.”
Playfair’s top tips for talent include:
• Script to remove ‘umm’ and ‘ahhh’ filler words, so instructors can be relaxed and their personality can shine through
• Avoid long intros, which can be frustrating
• Replace the term ‘guys’ with ‘you’, so people feel you’re talking directly to them
• Remember that body language that feels natural in a studio may not work on camera. Audition and up-skill your team so they don’t disappoint fans online
• Be aware viewers can’t always see the screen, so give exact descriptions
• Don’t be tempted to fill empty spaces with chat – gaps help coaching tips sink in.
Adam Zeitsiff, president and CEO of online fitness class platform, Intelivideo, opened his session by saying: “Digital meant survival for operators early in the pandemic, but it will be an important crutch going forwards, too.
“Lockdown acted as an awareness campaign for digital, but people continued using Intelivideo when the clubs opened in July 2021, and we even saw a New Year bump coming into 2022.
“Members are returning and in-gym will always be the best experience, but consumers are still engaging with our platform – we haven’t seen a dip – so, we need to recalibrate what in-person vs digital looks like to ensure members stay.”
Ashley Poodle, Intelivideo’s CMO, backed this up with stats showing:
• 80 per cent of members plan to continue using digital in addition to live workouts (Source: Les Mills 2021 Global Fitness Report).
• 59 per cent favour a 60-40 split between in-club and at home, so it must form part of an overall retention strategy (Source: Les Mills 2021 Global Fitness Report).
• 22 per cent increase in monthly exercise frequency by those using digital programming as well as in-club, so people are actually working out more (Source: Les Mills 2021 Global Fitness Report).
• On average, the Intelivideo platform sees bricks and mortar members checking in digitally to complete a workout 3.8 times per month. (Source: Intelivideo).
“If members are engaged both physically and digitally you’re winning, as your brand has more affinity than before,” said Zeitsiff, who believes digital doesn’t just have to mean workouts – it can be used for onboarding, to reduce new member anxiety, for education, coached sessions and technique development. An Intelivideo client case study showed hybrid content can be bundled into premium memberships and used to generate leads, convert walk-in trials and increase membership fees.
Zeitsiff highlighted three types of hybrid strategy:
• Simple exercise replacement – how can I keep members engaged with my brand when they can’t get to the gym?
• Concierge content – adding nutritional content, wellness advice or recovery videos that may keep members engaged by driving additional check-ins when they don’t want to come to the gym
• Gym-timidation content – such as ‘how to’ videos or workouts to do in the gym, to build confidence and make the experience less intimidating for people new to the club.
“We often see people with their phone propped against the wall playing YouTube exercise videos in the gym – if they’re doing that, it should be your content they’re engaging with,” said Zeitsiff. “If they want to do a quick workout before they leave the gym, you need to be offering that ... or someone else will.”
Closing the seventh annual Retention Convention, Barry and Shay Kostabi, co-founders of Fitness Career Mastery, explained why simply offering workouts isn’t enough anymore.
“The future lies in the meticulous design of the experience people have – well beyond the workout. Members need to fall in love with what it feels like to be a part of your operation,” said Barry Kostabi. “We all know ‘unicorn’ instructors that make a class so much more than a workout, and there’s a science behind it.” He advised operators to ensure they market the benefits of belonging to their tribe, the unique traits of their instructors and the transformations clients have achieved, not just the club’s amenities, equipment and workouts.
Shay Kostabi then explained the basics needed to design a memorable client experience. The workout space should reflect your brand identity and deliver on your promise. Music is a huge part of the experience and audio equipment is needed to protect your instructors’ vocals, so invest in an excellent sound system. Lighting doesn’t have to be fancy, but ambience helps, and provides brand consistency through signature programming where all instructors are equally good.
“Instructors can hop online and earn up to US$600 in their living room, but most still prefer teaching in a studio. They want to show up and do what they’re good at, so help them to do this,” said Shay Kostabi, before revealing four essential skills instructors need to deliver an addictive workout experience:
• Persona Help instructors – cultivate the power of persona – who they are on stage. Being super clear on their style will help you market them more effectively too
• Flow state and collective joy – members should lose track of time and be fully immersed, despite the perceived challenge, with the feeling of collective joy you get from sharing an experience with others
• Mastering the art of coaching and cueing –instructors should record and review themselves regularly to ensure they’re still teaching and speaking to a multitude of people with different learning styles
• Musicology – tap into the psychology of music to create concert-level playlists that transform workouts into immersive experiences.
Shay advised operators to take their instructors’ classes and see if the music draws them in. “Can you get lost in the moment? Does time fly by? Does the music support the movement and motivate you to push yourself more? Do you experience feelings of joy or an emotional release? Was there a song that empowered you?” he asked, reminding delegates of the power that comes with doing it well.
If you missed the 2021 Retention Convention you can access the videos at: www.retentionguru.com