How Fitness Companies are Using Music to Engage their Customers
This is a guest post written by Jeff Yasuda, founder and CEO of Feed.fm (Feed Media Inc.). Feed.fm helps game developers, content publishers, and e-commerce retailers increase customer engagement, retention, and conversions by incorporating popular music into their environments– at the lowest possible cost. Improving engagement in turn improves an app’s ability to monetize.
Over the past 6 months, I’ve met with nearly 60 fitness companies. It’s been an amazing experience seeing the different ways that they work to engage their customers. I asked them about their goals, product ambitions, key performance indicators, how they measure success, and their content strategy. Some use a combination of wearable devices, physical equipment, or just software alone to motivate people to get off the couch. Moreover, there were a multitude of strategies to help create a unique fitness experience that got them coming back weekly. However, the one consistent challenge that these companies have faced is how to incorporate music that, well, doesn’t suck.
In fact, for every single one of these companies, music plays an integral role in their user engagement strategy. This comes as no surprise given the countless academic research studies about the effect of music on fitness. Below are a few classic examples.
A study conducted at Brunel University London discovered that music can actually enhance endurance by 15% and improve the mindsets of athletes. The Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports published research proving that music gets the brain excited and makes the listener move faster. It went on to report that the right music mix can get you through a tough workout and help push performance to the next level.
The primary challenge for picking the right music is that it is very subjective. Music is art: some people like blue and some people like red, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that one color is better than the other. Moreover, peoples’ music tastes are always changing; as frequently as multiple times a day. Dr. Melanie Wald-Fuhrmann, a Musicology Professor at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, says that people choose their music, which includes very contrasting pieces, based on their mood and activity. That being said, it’s probably fair to say that picking the right music for the right person at the right time is not an easy task.
I recently spoke with Simon Sollberger, Founder of Pear Sports, a fitness training app, and asked him about the importance of music in fitness. Here’s what he had to say.
“So much of working out is about how we feel and its emotional context. Music is extremely important because it works on the sub-conscious and has been scientifically proven to improve performance.”
Pear Sports provides an engaging workout experience, giving users the opportunity to work with actual trainers and get advice from fitness specialists, often in real-time. “We frequently hear from our customers that they love coach-curated music that is tailored specifically for the workout as opposed to having to find their own music to play. It builds a better connection and a more unified experience when music and the workout is paired together.”
I also asked how the trainers feel about adding music to workouts and whether it was an important part of their content creation endeavors.
“Our fitness instructors like to specify the soundscape for their workouts. It’s like having a bespoke session for an individual and it just makes the overall experience better. Plus, the instructors have a lot of fun using music to personalize the workout and make it unique to them.”
While selecting the right music is important for building the “soundscape,” as Sollberger puts it, picking the individual songs from limitless choices isn’t easy. In some circumstances, the music might be appropriate, but in other situations, the same song might elicit a bad response. One popular gym with a nationwide presence here in SF has been consistently lambasted for having terrible music. On the flip side, other smaller studios like SoulCycle have been praised for having fantastic music. How is this possible and how can a fitness center avoid the “bad music” moniker even when some of the same songs are played?
The answer is context.
For starters, the customer use cases are entirely different. Large gyms try to cater to many types of people and try to provide an experience that works for everyone. As we all know, you just simply can’t please everyone. SoulCycle, on the other hand, is a curated approach whereby each instructor chooses his or her type of music and specific workout. These innovative cycling instructors are essentially DJs, often with mixing boards next to their bike. Participants self-select to go to a class based on the workout and invariably, the music. In many ways, they are actually fans and attend classes with nearly religious zeal. It’s almost like they went to see a particular DJ at a club.
Janet Fitzgerald, a senior master instructor at SoulCycle, said in Women’s Health Magazine said that she creates her class playlist the morning of because it’s what represents how she’s feeling that particular day. If she’s feeling her music, she knows her riders will be able to feel it, too. She also said she never uses the same playlist twice. Again, it is the personalized soundscape that makes the class unique.
Song selection is tough and gyms struggle because there are so many different music tastes. It’s not economically or physically possible to have different workout areas playing music better suited for different exercises.
So, how can fitness centers pick the music and provide a great experience?
The answer lies in collecting data at the personal level. It’s nearly impossible to determine whether someone likes music at a physical location. The amount of times someone bobs their head to a song is not likely a reliable metric. Taking surveys at the aggregated is also not useful. But, collecting data digitally can work.
Several gyms now have apps which showcase new instructors and fitness schedules. Many require that their members use the app to check in, thus forcing user app installs. The most experimental are even providing music that can be played right from the app. They collect data from their users about their music preferences. Some may like classic rock while others prefer EDM. It becomes particularly interesting when the music in the gym can change based on who is in the gym at that exact moment. The app knows who is in the gym since a certain member and their listening habit just checked in. It seems logical that a smart content system could alter the music in real-time based on an assessment on who is in the venue at that moment. Better targeted music creates happier customers who in turn will continue to come back.
Perhaps this is the future of fitness music in the brick and mortar world.
The reality is that music, like art, is highly personal. You can’t ever please everyone. However, I can envision a world,where the right music can be played for the right person at the right time. I think data is the key. It may seem like that’s a long way off, but we think it might be just around the corner…
Author: Jeff Yasuda, founder and CEO of Feed.fm