The new consumer: a case study


Case Study: Shanna and the gym

Shanna had a membership at a popular fitness club. She really loved the facility, the staff and the location. She worked with several of the trainers—overall it was a very positive experience. Shanna travels, moves frequently and works out at home most of the time, where she has plenty of specialized equipment. She joined the fitness center over the summer when she had some extra time. She wanted to work with a trainer to get some specific help. She was having trouble doing a deep squat after an injury with her ankle and the training sessions really helped her get her form back.

Since that time, Shanna has been immersed in an art project and has not been able to fit the club into her routine. She is stuck with a membership that she can’t use. But the club is losing out, too. When Shanna’s membership ends, she won’t renew it. The club will just write her off, along with others like her, and increase their advertising budget.

The club doesn’t seem to realize that Shanna is an avid consumer of fitness and nutrition products. Every few years she tries a new sport or physical art. More targeted offerings could have brought her back into the club again and again for special classes, training and other events. At the same time, Shanna is always looking for the latest fitness and nutrition information online. She would love one credible, go-to source that she can trust to giver her accurate information without trying to sell her something. Becoming a bigger part of her life as a trusted resource will pay off for the club as Shanna becomes a brand advocate and frequent source of referrals.

The new consumer: a primer

Shanna is not alone. For many people, the basic structure of their lives has changed. They do not live and work the way they did even 10 years ago. More people work at home, are self-employed and own their own business (or suite of businesses).

A basic gym membership is designed for a community of professionals who work a fixed schedule. A basic gym membership works well for people with that lifestyle, and probably will always be a staple offering of health clubs. However, the ranks of professional workers are steadily decreasing, and this trend will only intensify as more young people start businesses, join the mobile work force and represent themselves directly in the global market. This growing market is:

  • Very mobile: they travel and move frequently, often calling more than one location home
  • Episodic rather than linear personal narratives: their lives are distinguished by periods rather than one long developmental arc. They see themselves as a book of short stories rather than a novel.
  • Cosmopolitan and international: they are not bound by local or national identifiers, but select the best from around the world. They idealize cities even if they don’t live in them.
  • New is always better for these early adopters: Dissatisfaction with the world as it is leads them to seek out original concepts and ways of doing things.
  • Sophisticated and aware about health and fitness: Too many ads for supplements and changes to federal dietary rules have made them seek out independent verification for health and fitness claims.
  • Very active on the web and social media: The mobile web is their source for directions, definitions and news. Social media has proven essential to their lives for recommendations and entertainment.
  • “Everybody is doing it” is a big turn off for this crowd: The point for them is that everyone isn’t doing it, at least not yet—and then that they did it first.
  • Eschew tradition: This is a very important point considering traditional advertising works on a event-based holiday calendar.
  • Share a group identity: Although they reject mass culture, these niche consumers identify very closely with other members of their group. This is why you must win the whole niche to move these consumers. Like any group, though, there are influencers who have more weight than others. Winning over the influencers is the work of niche marketing. Precision, not reach, is the whole point.

Why do you care?

What is the point of trying to tap into these finicky, elite niches? Disposable income: they have it. They are well-paid and willing to spend a large portion of their income (they would never call it disposable) on looking and feeling great. Buying a yearly fitness club membership will not appeal to them, but training packages and other targeted offerings would because they would see immediate application for specific needs. A winning strategy would include one-of-a-kind classes, small group training, private instruction, and sports-specific training.

These pioneers are adventurous and independent. A central benefit of marketing to them is that it puts a company in the powerful position of producing concepts that will eventually have mass appeal. Think about how Magnolia Bakery and Zappos Shoes created their own industries and cultural movements.

How Shanna could have gotten her gym back

Shanna’s fitness center is part of a large chain of gyms and sports clubs. They have a enterprise level website and several of the clubs have their own Facebook pages. The parent site and the individual clubs don’t produce any original content though. This is their biggest mistake.


Shanna’s sports club is in an excellent position to leverage its physical presence in the region to become a thought-leader in the fitness industry and a recognized trend setter.

Original content would give the company other ongoing opportunities in the consumer market. The economic potential is enormous, but success will require the club to venture outside its traditional membership offerings. Just selling memberships won’t cut it. Without a solid plan that includes ongoing product development and partnership with others in your industry, promoting your business on social media won’t bring you any meaningful ROI.

Meaningful growth in this difficult economy requires ongoing, responsive creative strategy. Many companies have cut their way to profitability, hoping to outlast the bad economy, but recession is probably the long term fiscal outlook for consumers and businesses. At a certain point, cutting begins to cost more than it saves. Many businesses are now reaching this point.

As more money is concentrated in fewer hands, Shanna’s health club is facing a consumer that has many options, including the resources to fund a work-out space at home, take up outdoor sports, or work out in a space provided by their residential community. There is plenty of negative press about health clubs, too. From concerns about germs to YouTube videos offering free fitness training, this model is fighting a battle to remain relevant.

Now is the time for industry fixtures like the fitness club to reinvent themselves, while they are still profitable enough to allocate the resources to the effort.

Shanna’s club could partner with others in the fitness industry to center the club as fitness hub for the sports-minded in the region. They could produce cutting edge, original content, becoming the go-to source for accurate, timely information. They could build a strong brand that could support a vibrant ecosystem of niche communities.

They could not just anticipate trends but co-create them. Knowing their people well, they could work closely with designers, retailers, manufacturers and suppliers to bring their community what they need.

Multi-channel identity

Managing a multi-media web identity on a multi-channel network requires you to be everywhere at once, while consistently delivering a coherent brand narrative. It is really like an ongoing show that demands both creative direction and careful stage management. Understanding the basic elements of a story, how to use them to move people and how to deliver that story across new media is complex.

Social media done badly is worse than no social media at all. If you are simply interested in promoting your business—rather than expanding it—you’d be better off putting up a simple but well done website that is on point with its SEO strategy and regularly optimized.

Social media and in particular content marketing involves a larger commitment of resources. Full representation on the web means responsiveness and real-time engagement. To grow your business using social media, be prepared to act quickly on business intelligence gleamed from social networks, and emerging trends. It’s all about harnessing the power of now, and getting ahead of the moment.

This full representation ensures that you own your own market research and data. Big data is great for companies involved in e-commerce on a large scale, but niche marketing demands immersion in the media. It is hyper-social—you should be building relationships not just with your customer base, but also other businesses whose interests—and values—coincide with yours.

It also allows you to control your narrative. Controlling your narrative is very important, because other people will use your story to tell their own, and co-opt your narrative. For example, we found a story online entitled A Long Wait in Line for the Bench Press. The executives interviewed in it probably agreed to appear in a piece about the seasonal (traditional) New Year’s rush to get back to the gym.

The picture it paints of long lines, crowded spaces, and the unavailability of seats in spinning classes, is a turn off to the niche consumer. The “everyone is doing it” message is not effective. And in fact, not many discerning consumers want to be a part of a mass stampede to the gym, where they may or may not even be able use their favorite piece of equipment.

Strategy is both offensive and defensive

Acting opportunistically is a must in the current business climate. At the same time, you can do this and add value to your clients lives. Because great, timely information is what everyone is desperately looking for. One of the biggest challenges facing consumers is how to find credible information about the things they care about. There is a big opportunity for major players to step forward and become an important resource to their community, and a leader in their industry.

A comprehensive media strategy should:

  • Represent you dynamically across the web—in real-time
  • Design a representative voice for your brand
  • Create original content for your brand, including video and unique images
  • Develop a coordinated and budget-accountable media strategy
  • Train staff when necessary and help you locate talent and support
  • Place content in the right venues
  • Source and curate original content, images and other media
  • Broadcast a consistent, compelling voice across multiple channels
  • Design product-specific campaigns to drive revenues and measure ROI

The social web is always changing. Rather than relying exclusively on advertiser-driven networks, where your interest can become quickly diluted, companies can also create and host their own social spaces. Shanna’s health club could become a fitness hub where people can meet, exchange ideas, and obtain quality information about a healthy lifestyle. Trainers could build relationships with groups and individuals, bringing the clients a better and more social experience. Consumers can find products that enhance their fitness experience: a win-win situation for all.

As health moves onto the stage and into the national consciousness, fitness-related businesses and entrepreneurs can find growth opportunities in the wellness space. This will mean more than marketing fads and trends, it will mean producing real results.

 Questions? Contact us and we’ll see if we can help.






























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