David Langridge, Fitness First’s Connected Fitness Labs Managing Director.
People’s attitudes to fitness, and what motivates them to be active is a fascinating subject and something that I have spent a number of years trying to develop a better understanding of. I am not an academic, so I draw on experience and research I’ve been involved in over the past 20 years in the fitness industry working alongside behavioral psychologists, data scientists, fitness experts, research and branding experts.
I think we’re all now aware of the global macro trend of fitness led technology, wearable trackers, mobile apps, and what’s broadly described as “quantified self” or “digital fitness”.
So what is it and what role does the fitness industry have in it?
Let me relate my answers to fitness and our industry. To be active people essentially have basic human needs to fulfill, and those needs require us to have autonomy and choice. But autonomy can only be positive if we feel competent, that means knowing what choices are good for us, and how our actions contribute to progression and a healthy or positive output. However, the output we see has to relate to a positive social outcome. In other words, our fitness actions should benefit us in a holistic sense in health and in life too. If these are fulfilled, then we tend to see people develop intrinsic motivation.
Gym user segments: The confident vs the unconfident
From a number of detailed and ongoing research projects, what we have learnt at Fitness First, and now in Connected Fitness Labs, is that there are broadly six different types of gym user segments and these can be split broadly into two persona types;
The confident – People who want their fitness to progress
The unconfident – People who don’t believe they can progress; without significant levels of persuasion and continual extrinsic motivation
Without going into the detail of the six personas, we know that three of the personas are positioned in the confident type. Broadly speaking, these members want inspiration and show behaviours of being focused. These three personas tend to be high achievers in life as well as in the gym. While being goal-oriented, they seek confirmation of progression to drive further intrinsic motivation to do it all again the next day.
Fitness Technology can inspire those with confident personas if it confirms they are in a fitter place than yesterday.
On the contrary, there are two personas positioned more as the unconfident type. They require ongoing support from an expert. They tend to be unhappy with their body shape and feel intimidated in the gym. These members see exercise as a chore but seek to learn, and in some instances, are keen to keep track of their progress.
Fitness technology is of interest to those with unconfident personas if it provides learning experiences.
One of the personas sits in the middle, the neutrals. I guess in all segmentation studies there tends to be people who just don’t know. These people see going to the gym as low priority. They are aware that exercise can make them feel better but not enough to develop a habit of it.
Clearly there is a marketplace for all segments in the health and fitness world, although the gym industry tends to focus on those who are confident, as they are easier to recruit and retain, and cheaper to service. Additionally, they fit nicely into our business model of membership contracts and low touch service propositions.
So why are we seeing an explosion in the “quantified self” macro trend? In short, people are in search of confirmation that the effort they are putting in has an outcome, validation that it makes a measurable difference to their life. The question is, does the quantified self-movement currently provide output or outcome?
What’s the difference between output and outcome?
Currently digital fitness leans towards instant information to output; distance, calories, heart rate, sleep time, blood pressure etc. But digital fitness is currently inadequate in terms of meaningful outcome: How will it affect my life? Who will notice? How will I feel? Outcome gives us feedback on a sense of belonging to a fitness and health community. This sense of belonging can be confirmed through additional social recognition that you are progressing. A hundred “likes” from peers is much more powerful than a lonely “thumbs up” from an algorithm. Some apps and wearables recognize this, but in my view, the majority of fitness technology has a long way to go.
In past research we have asked the following question of all segments; “How do you know if you’re making progress in the gym?” The top two answers they give is that they receive feedback from the mirror and the scales. This is understandable as both tools are instant, easy to understand and low cost. Both tools provide us an instant snapshot of our self-esteem, an outcome not just output. However, the mirror and scales are very divisive, tending to polarize and reinforce perceptions of success and failure. The informative simplicity of the mirror and scale is not easy to replace with technology and we see it as the main competitor of all tracking apps and wearables in the market today. Technology will have to find a way to be as easy and as informative as the scales and mirror.
At Connected Fitness Labs we have developed a mobile app that focuses on output, as well as outcome.
We have teamed up with Wexer Virtual to develop white label products and services to support the Fitness industry to be part of the quantified self movement. Wexer Virtual have a clear vision and a wealth of knowledge in the fitness digital space. They complement our app with thousands of group exercise classes – an attractive option for the unconfident and intimidated member as it allows members and non-members to stream group exercise content in their own homes, to practice, develop competence which in turn will drive confidence.
This will help gyms attract new unconfident markets and improve retention of current members. Our app now has the potential to allow people to generate and create workouts, stream group exercise and support the gym industry to extend their brand presence beyond the gym walls.
Today, I believe technology is second to the mirror and scale and there is a huge opportunity for our industry to play a part in the macro trend of the ‘quantified self’. People are in search of better ways to take control, build competence in fitness and develop confidence to go further in life. But to do this, technology must provide us with an outcome, not just output.
To find out more about the app, get in touch with Wexer today at firstname.lastname@example.org