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5 marketing mistakes to avoid for fitness branding in 2024

Chelsea Erieau-Larkin
February 14, 2024
5 marketing mistakes to avoid for fitness branding in 2024

Fitness branding is one of those things existing at the junction between aspirational and inappropriate. Get it wrong, and you can both publicly criticized (not fun), and your bottom line can see genuine impact (even worse).

Here at Hapana, we keep our fingers on the pulse of fitness studio life, so we can tailor our management software to the specific needs our clients face. Here’s our roundup of the top mistakes to avoid for your fitness and wellness studio marketing this year. 

1. Ignoring social responsibility and inclusivity

In today's environment, consumers expect brands to be socially responsible and inclusive. This involves addressing a wide range of body types, fitness levels, and ensuring that your branding does not perpetuate stereotypes or exclude potential customers. Ignoring these aspects can alienate a significant portion of your audience.

For example, Lululemon faced criticism for its lack of size inclusivity, with complaints about its limited range of sizes that did not cater to all body types. Employees reported being told to hide the larger sizes in the back of the store. This exclusion sparked discussions on social media and among fitness enthusiasts about the need for fitness brands to be more inclusive of various body shapes and sizes.

Lululemon defended this choice, even saying in 2013: 

"Our product and design strategy is built around creating products for our target guest in our size range of 2-12. While we know that doesn’t work for everyone and recognize fitness and health come in all shapes and sizes, we’ve built our business, brand and relationship with our guests on this formula."

However, this wasn’t going to work out for their bottom line - especially with competitors like Nike becoming more inclusive by the day. By 2020, Lululemon expanded to include sizes up to US 20. By 2021, they had established a full department committed to diversity and inclusion.

But size isn’t the only category to be conscious of - some companies like Peloton have been praised for their efforts in inclusivity, but still faced broader industry criticism around the high cost of equipment and subscription services, which can alienate lower-income individuals.

Or take SoulCycle, which came under fire for encouraging donations to charities helping issues of racial inequality, even though SoulCycle itself had never donated. A study from Quantilope in 2020 found that using the idea of inclusivity simply for marketing purposes turned customers off - they preferred real concrete action. 
But the cost of doing nothing is severe. At least 72% people born between 1980 and 1996 believe diversity and inclusion is important. For fitness studios, this is their ideal demographic - refusing to cater to three-quarters of your target customers would be a serious mistake in 2024.

2. Overlooking online engagement

The pandemic has permanently shifted many fitness routines and preferences online. Brands that fail to maintain a strong online presence, including virtual classes, engaging social media content, and digital community building, risk falling behind.

24 Hour Fitness filed for “Chapter 11” bankruptcy in mid-2020. The brand struggled to pivot to online offerings quickly, losing ground to digital-first fitness platforms that catered to the home workout trend during lockdowns. On their return in 2021, they had a full brand refresh, and relaunched alongside an app that allowed their customers to access virtual workouts. 

Similarly, SoulCycle lost out to Peloton and relinquished a huge amount of their market share during the pandemic, having to close all of their studios. Peloton was able to quickly pivot to at-home streaming classes, while SoulCycle had no streaming infrastructure in place.

The pandemic is not one and done - it’s a harbinger of the future. Fitness studios need to keep online engagement front of mind to stay ahead of the game.

At Hapana, we think online presence should match or exceed your real-world experience. Surprise and delight your members with Hapana’s comprehensive suite of engagement tools and build long-term relationships that flourish both online and offline.

With Hapana, transform your digital footprint through:

  • A custom-branded member app that reflects your studio's unique brand and ethos
  • Multi-option check-in and self-service to streamline operations and enhance member convenience
  • Configurable engagement features designed to keep your community active, connected, and motivated

In a landscape where digital adaptation is key, Hapana empowers fitness studios and gyms to not just compete but lead with innovation. Stay ahead of the curve by ensuring your online engagement is as compelling and effective as your in-studio experience.

3. Failing to differentiate

The fitness industry is crowded, and standing out is more important than ever. Brands that fail to clearly communicate their unique value proposition, be it through niche offerings, community aspects, or innovative services, may struggle to capture attention.

One example is Anytime Fitness. While successful, Anytime Fitness faces challenges in differentiating itself in a crowded market of 24/7 gyms. Its efforts to stand out have included focusing on community and local engagement, but the brand continues to navigate the fine line between blending in and standing out.

Similar to Anytime Fitness, Snap Fitness struggles with differentiation in the global gym market. It’s hard to nail down a unique value proposition - “convenience and accessibility” is already used by every other fitness studio.

4. Ignoring mental health

The connection between physical and mental health is increasingly recognized by successful fitness studios. Brands that solely focus on physical aspects without integrating mental health considerations into their messaging and offerings miss an opportunity to connect with consumers on a deeper level - and they miss out on a trend that’s sweeping the world and here to stay. 

Many traditional fitness centers and gyms have been slow to integrate mental health into their programming, focusing primarily on physical fitness. This oversight misses an opportunity to support holistic wellness among members. 

There’s another side to this trend - continuing to focus solely on physical fitness runs the risk of contributing to unhealthy body image issues. As people return to linking health with both physical and mental wellness, ignoring the “emotional” aspect makes the “health” angle seem much less convincing. However, the only thing left other than health is reaching a visual aesthetic. Some fitness apps have been already been criticized for focusing too much on physical results (like weight loss) without considering the mental health implications of their messaging and challenges.

One fitness club leaning into this well is Equinox - focusing on holistic wellness through programs like yoga, Pilates, meditation classes, and nutritional counseling. In December, they created a health advisory to guide their holistic wellness initiatives.

5. Overlooking sustainability

Sustainability is a growing concern among consumers, including those in the fitness sector. Ignoring sustainability in your products, packaging, or corporate practices can make your brand seem out of touch with current values.

Look to fitness apparel company Gymshark as an example of what not to do - they’ve been criticized for their environmental impact, including the use of synthetic materials that are not biodegradable and contribute to microplastic pollution. Although Gymshark has made commitments to improve - including launching collections made from recycled materials - critics argue that there is still a long way to go in reducing the company’s overall environmental footprint and enhancing the sustainability of its product range.

Even Peloton has faced scrutiny over the environmental impact of producing and shipping its heavy equipment. The energy consumption of their treadmills and bikes, as well as the life cycle of these products – from manufacture through to delivery and end-of-life disposal – have created backlash from the public. Customers argue that the company could do more to address the carbon footprint of its manufacturing processes and supply chain logistics, as well as to enhance the recyclability of its products.

To protect their profitability for the future, Peloton is making sure not to make this mistake in 2024, committing to several ambitious ESG initiatives in 2024, like getting to 100% renewable energy by 2026.

How Hapana can help with fitness marketing

Keeping these points in mind can help you navigate the complex landscape of fitness branding this year. Remember, acknowledging and addressing these mistakes is not just about avoiding failure; it's about setting your brand up for success and connecting with your audience in meaningful ways. Stay engaged, listen to your community, and always strive for authenticity in your branding efforts. This is where Hapana can help support your journey towards more meaningful engagement and authentic branding success.

Do you want to elevate your brand with Hapana?