Peloton offers lessons in community building even in rocky times

Peloton offers lessons in community building even in rocky times

During lockdown, Peloton persuaded many sedentary consumers to swap the sofa for the saddle. It may have since hit some bumps in the road, but brands should pay heed: its marriage of tech and community is exemplary.

The rise of digital experiences in the health and fitness space was already well on the way pre-pandemic but when Covid struck, brands including Gym Pass, Whoop and the Body Coach all capitalised on the perfect storm of opportunity provided by the lack of access to physical locations and the limited equipment available.

The real star of the show was Peloton, which recorded a revenue jump of 172% year on year in 2020 while its membership hit 3.1 million in the summer of the first UK lockdown, doubling the number from the previous year.

Peloton has since made headlines for all the wrong reasons: the chief executive left, the share price dropped and rumours abound of a possible sale, as Nike and Amazon evaluate bids. The fitness firm was expecting sales of $4.4bn this financial year but due to the current rocky road it has been riding, it has revised that forecast down to between $3.7bn and $3.8bn.

Despite this, Peloton should be closely observed in terms of its meteoric initial rise to success and brand fame. The exercise empire has a 92%-plus retention rate – a figure most businesses can only dream about.

The average one-month retention rate for health-related apps is 4%. Even the most popular apps like Headspace manage only 8.5% one-month retention rates. So how will Peloton weather the storm and keep its members coming back? The key is in changing behaviours to create habits and supporting its community.

Capitalise on your community support

Peloton managed to hit a sweet spot for behaviour change using encouragement, community and convenience. There are five-minute plans for those who don't have time for a 40-minute workout and the presence of that expensive bike in the home is an ever-present reminder to get up and on it frequently. When we can easily turn off things like phone notifications, this physical cue differentiates the brand and increases the possibility of use. With similar users in the community, there's a sense of being in the same boat and those five-minute workouts are not something you should feel guilty about, but rather proud that you and your cohort got on the bike.

Looking forward to specific trainers

Getting personal with trainers might not seem like the first and best option, but Peloton trainers sharing details about themselves creates a bond with users – one even announced her pregnancy during a ride. This para-social communication technique is similar to when people engage with their favourite characters or celebrities on TV.

Turning motivation into a habit is the holy grail, of course. Peloton still peppers users with multiple forms of motivation, from frequent acknowledgement of accomplishment to driving accountability with a real, live trainer cheering you on and watching your progress. Along with this, you are accountable to the Peloton community. Workouts show when your friends are in the same session or working on the same challenge and the leaderboard is not only competitive, it shows that you're not exercising alone.

Apart but connected

There's that community spirit again. Being a part of something greater than yourself can be competitive, like pedalling your way up a leaderboard, or it can be about cheering on other users as they log their improvements and personal bests. The idea of cycling in place, alone, to the radio, in an empty room, is not a great sell, but it is community awareness, boosting, support and sharing that helps tether users to the service and acts as a great spur to loyalty – things are more fun when you're socially connected with a similar aim in mind.

It might seem that Peloton is unique in its product and methods, but the principles of community, encouragement and loyalty can be applied to so many different sectors. Peloton uses technology and behavioural design to connect the world through fitness. It strongly addresses the human desire for belonging and interaction. The point of Peloton is not the bike, it's the experience.

These ideas can be brought to different businesses. We all know that to succeed, you need to get to know your audience, but what if you extend from product through to holistic experience? How can you go from target audience to raising a community for support? When you design for behaviour and human connection, you end up with a loyalty that is strong and lasting, one that exceeds retention rates and hopefully can weather the more notorious headlines.

Cameron Day is managing partner at Future Platforms

Photo: Getty Images/Ezra Shaw

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