I’m a runner. It’s one of the words I used to identify myself, just like “I’m a glasses-wearer.” These things are ingrained in me. I’m not fast and I don’t race much, but I’m a runner. And like a lot of runners, the “dreadmill” is a necessary evil. I love to run, but I don’t love to run on the treadmill.
So when I received an e-mail from my healthcare company offering me the Peloton app for free, I thought, why not? I’ve always associated Peloton with spinning, but a friend of mine had been using the app outdoors recently so I was game to give it a try. (The “outdoors” workouts are audio only and the instead of calling out treadmill speeds, instructors suggest things like “your sexy pace” to keep you pushing.)
I climbed on the treadmill, found a running workout on the Peloton app and pressed start.
Immediately I was welcomed into a new and exciting club. A club filled with dedicated, inspired, athletic, in shape people. Although I don’t have a Peloton Tread (their branded machine), I was suddenly a part of the Peloton.
“Let’s go, Peloton.”
“Come on, Peloton.”
“Don’t quit on me, Peloton.”
It’s kind of a no brainer to understand that Peloton has had insane growth during the pandemic. Since March of 2020, they’ve more than doubled their subscribers, with almost a million digital only subscribers (people like me who use the app without Peloton equipment) with a retention rate of 92%. According to Backlinko, Peloton subscribers complete an average of 19 workouts a month. Did you go to the gym 19 times last month? The last time I had a gym membership, I’m not sure I used it a total of 19 times.
Some years back, I remember watching a series of Peloton holiday commercials—”His & Hers”—in which a husband purchases a Peloton bike as a gift for his wife, Jill. (Peloton later got into marketing hot water for a similar scenario with their 2019 holiday spot.) In the “His & Hers” campaign, in the weeks leading up to Christmas the gifting husband is tempted into testing the bike out in the garage and surreptitiously begins fitting in pre-dawn workouts. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to him Jill discovered the bike herself and has ALSO been sneaking out to use it in the wee hours of the night. The two commercials brilliantly made using a Peloton seem simultaneously addictive and powerful. Imagine if working out was something you craved doing? When viewed serially, the campaign seemed clever and funny (and not sexist, which was the general reaction to the 2019 commercial.).
Anyway, for those of us who are not Tour de France aficionados, a “peloton” is defined as: the main field or group of cyclists in a race. So when a Peloton instructor hollers out, “Come on, Peloton” they are speaking to us as a group of people participating in their class.
And let me tell you, it may seem silly, but that feeling of belonging to this amorphous, undefined group of people I imagine as “really fit” is far more powerful than it seems.
Suddenly, it is not me alone struggling to run for one more minute on my treadmill alone in my basement. I am part of the Peloton! I’m staring at an athletic instructor, who is doing what I am attempting to do, and encouraging me to keep going because as a part of the Peloton, I am simply not allowed to quit.
Overall, my limited, early experience has been overwhelmingly positive with the Peloton app. I don’t dread the treadmill. I’m running faster and more consistently than I probably ever have. I’m even doing post-run stretches and mixing in some strength and cardio classes. The instructors are varied, the music covers a wide-variety of genres (I recently did a “Drum & Bass” run with Jermaine Johnson), and the classes are adjustable to your fitness level. The overall feeling is less punishment and more positivity. I’ve just about committed Chase Tucker’s workout-ending affirmation to heart: “I am in competition with no one aside from who I was yesterday…“
But it’s that belonging that gets my little marketing heart going pitter pat as much as the workouts. As marketers, how do we create that? How do we harness people’s desire to feel like they belong to a group? That they are a part of something bigger than themselves? That they can add this little checkbox to their identity. I’m a part of the Peloton.
It is no mistake that Middle Grade and Young Adult fantasy books are filled with the inevitable “sorting” into Hogwarts houses or some particular type of magic user. As we get older, we may find such boxes confining, but as a young person seeking identity, there’s a simplicity to the idea that we can take a quiz and find out what kind of person we are. There’s a comfort to blaming chronic tardiness on our star sign, after all. It’s not a character flaw, it’s just… you know… the zodiac! It is mildly soothing to think there might be this group out there that we unconsciously belong to.
This isn’t “brand community.” This isn’t a loyalty club, or contests, or any of those things that keep people coming back to Chipotle to earn their rewards. This is about how it feels good to belong. And how that good feeling breeds brand loyalty.
In other research I’ve been doing, it’s becoming more and more clear to me that changing your life has less to do with powerful motivation or incredible discipline, but more to do with creating simple habits which encourage movement toward your ultimate goal. Do you brush your teeth every night because you are motivated or disciplined? Or you’ve simply done it so many times in your life that it feels weird to crawl into bed with unbrushed teeth?
Brand loyalty is often about a habit. Do I honestly believe that my Tide laundry detergent is truly leaps and bounds above another brand? Probably not, but I buy it habitually. It’s just easier not to have to think about it when I’m zooming through the grocery aisles.
However, as a runner, I do take my running shoes seriously, and yet… my shoe buying is basically habitual. I replace my shoes at least 2x per year. I’ve been wearing ASICS for 20 years. When I go to the shoe store, I tend to find the latest version of my favorite model, and buy it.
It’s not all habit though. My choice is to go to a local store specifically for runners. I make the choice to support that local store. I do it because it makes me feel good. Going to the running store makes me feel MORE like a runner than if I pop in to a chain store. Buying ASICS brand shoes also makes me feel MORE like a runner. Although they make a variety of athletic shoes, their marketing is geared toward runners. Identifying with the ASICS brand makes me feel included in a little like a secret society. I’m don’t just run to exercise, I am a Runner. Identifying as a Runner makes it easier for me to justify spending what some might believe to be a bizarre amount of time running, and a portion of my income on shoes and clothes to run in.
(ASICS, incidentally, gets its name from the initial letters of the phrase “Anima Sana In Corpore Sano” = essentially “sound mind in a sound body.”)
My point is, we form emotional bonds with brands we support. These bonds may not be something we consciously recall forming, but they are there. Ask people if they prefer Coke or Pepsi, or what their favorite pizza is, and people almost always have an opinion about these things. They can debate the merits of their preferred brand.
Our job as marketers is to know what it is about our company that might spark that emotional feeling of belonging (if there is something), and understand how we can encourage that feeling through our branding and marketing efforts. How can we form links to make it more apparent to people that they have those bonds? Is it color? Mood? Reinforcement that they have made the right choice by choosing a brand? As always, understanding our audience is key.
Peloton seems to have me dialed in right. All I need is that little “Come on, Peloton” to keep me going when I’m on my treadmills runs.