You could see it coming… and now it’s here.  Daily Burn has OFFICIALLY decided to compete head-to-head with your personal training business.

Check out their commercial.   At 1:10 they come right out and say it:

“For less than one session with a personal trainer,  you can access every Daily Burn workout for an entire year!”

And, here’s their second quote:

“Personal trainers are a lot of money.  Daily Burn is extremely affordable.”

Of course the fitness biz is full of competitors.  But, I don’t ever remember P90X or BowFlex saying things like “trainers cost too much” or bad-mouthing trainers in any way.    To my knowledge, this is a “first.”

So, should we view it as a MARKETING wake-up call?  I think so.

It’s important as a fitness marketer that you stay vigilant and AWARE of your new competitor.  And, later in this post I’ll share  some ways in which to not only defend against this new competition, but, to go on the offensive.

Eyes Wide Open

I know… I know…  your argument is, “Well, Art, those apps don’t offer anywhere near the service and hands-on approach I give my clients.”

That’s true!

But, those same arguments were put forth by travel agents when Orbitz, Priceline and Travelocity were launched.  Those were the same arguments from drummers when drum machines were introduced.  And, when ATM machines replaced bank tellers.

Trust me…  App developers are after the same customers and dollars as you!

Marketing is a War Game

In my early days as a strategic planner, I was retained to conduct research and analysis to help companies understand:

  • user perception of their company, products and/or services
  • their competition (competitive analysis)
  • their future moving forward (strategic planning)

Marketing analysis is not much different than “war games” where the competition is viewed as the opponent.  You identify strengths and weaknesses and, then, strategically maneuver to win the marketing war.  Apple, Samsung, and Microsoft all do it.  GM, Ford, Toyota and Honda do it.  And, so do Tide, All and Purex!

So, here’s my take on what’s going on in the consumer app marketplace and how it affects your fitness business.  Then, I’ll throw out a couple of ideas on what you can do about it.. right now.

How App Developers Look at Personal Trainers

Daily Burn, My Fitness Pal, Fit Day and other consumer apps are in a race to gain market share.  Their first choice of customers are easy targets — “low-hanging fruit” — which in this case, are young, tech-savvy, fitness enthusiasts.

I can assure you that all of them have assessed the Personal Trainer marketplace.  They know it’s deeply fragmented with club trainers, independent trainers, mobile trainers, health coaches, lifestyle consultants, bootcamp instructors, etc. all projecting different messages to different audiences with no single voice.

They also know that, without exception, they hold a price advantage.

The App Developers Marketing Message

The overriding message coming from these consumer app developers is a straight forward problem/solution scenario:

Problem:  Personal trainers are too expensive and require a time commitment.

Solution:  Our app is more cost effective and time efficient than a personal trainer.

And, then the message is embellished with the variety of different workouts and the convenience of using it any time – anywhere.

Crowded for Now…

Here’s some good news.   The app field is extremely overcrowded.  There are way too many players — many of them free.

So, they’ll be battling with each other to dominate the market and create a leadership position within the category.  And the free ones will fade into oblivion if they don’t figure a way to monetize themselves.

GgApp

This gives you some time to develop your own messaging as a way to fight back this new competitor.  And, I’m not talking about T.V. commercials or anything big.  It’s simple messaging.

Fight Fire with Fire

Just as the app developers use the problem/solution scenario to demonstrate their strengths.. so should you.  And, frankly, for the consumer who is really motivated to change his or her body… you have the better solution! 

Think about it.  Consumer-based exercise and nutrition apps are all about CONVENIENCE and PRICE.   It appeals to, and attracts, the Walmart customer. The “magic wand” customer.  The customer you probably don’t want in the first place – if you are a premium priced trainer.

BUT….  take another look at that commercial.  They roll out a slew of “before & after” testimonials who all make it look so easy.   So, even the most serious and motivated potential client is going to be attracted to the initial message of “Cheap and Easy!”

UNLESS... you get to them first!   And, when you get to them first, you absolutely must address the app issue — head-on! (It’s a guarantee they’ll end up making the comparison).

Identify the Weakness

O.K., so we already know the strengths of an app are price and convenience.   But, let’s take a look at the weaknesses.

  • Impersonal:  An app doesn’t know you.  It doesn’t know your history. It doesn’t know if you are working around an injury or other special conditions.  And, furthermore, an app doesn’t care.  This is just the opposite of what real personal training is all about.
  • Guesswork:  Most exercise and nutrition apps are database driven with huge inventories of exercises, workout videos, and foods.   But, most users have no idea what exercises are best suited for them based on their current condition, age, lifestyle, etc.   Nor, do they know much about the huge quality differences among macro nutrients like proteins (peanut butter vs. turkey breast), carbohydrates and fats.  So, an app is mostly guess-work – as opposed to a complete individualized assessment and appropriate plan provided by a hands-on personal trainer.
  • Technique and Form:  Imagine how many people are exercising toward injury!  Apps can’t assess activity performance or technique.   Remember, they are nothing more than databases that can only measure hard metrics like time, reps, weight, heart rate, calories, etc.  A trainer, on the other hand, can track all of that…  PLUS… the intangibles like technique, range of motion, flexibility, muscle fatigue, motivation level, stress level under load, etc.
  • Metrics:  Almost all apps use “pounds-on-the-scale” or “body mass index” for input calculations as well as achievement goals.  This, in and of itself, should disqualify about 98% of all exercise and nutrition apps from being relevant.  To this day, I do not know a single, credible trainer who does not use BODY COMPOSITION as the metric upon which goals and achievement benchmarks are set.

These are just four identifiable weaknesses of apps —  compared to a live, hands-on personal trainer.  There are plenty more and you should identify them as you see them.

The Trojan Horse

There are thousands of trainers, clubs, studios, etc who see nothing wrong with their clients using some of the current exercise and nutrition apps as a way to enhance the personal training experience.

Dennis Monroe, a studio owner in Cleveland, felt that way until he stumbled onto a marketing secret.

He learned that many of his app-using clients were receiving all kinds of sales and marketing emails from their workout apps.  One popped up on his client’s iPhone during a session!  Everything from up-sells and supplements to affiliate programs, coupons and home fitness equipment.

“That would be fine,” he told me.  “Except that it started to interfere with my pro shop business.”

In marketing circles, that’s known as a trojan horse.  It’s a tactic where a competitor enters your business… as one thing, but turns out to be something else.  In this case, a workout app that turns into a sales and marketing machine!

Where Do They Go From Here..?

What’s in store for consumer exercise app developers?  They live in a world of constant development.  It’s easy to think they might start licensing celebrities for their workout videos.  Then, they could market premium apps like, “Workout with Beyonce.”   Or, “Train with Kobe Bryant.” 

And, what if they decide to open physical locations.   Both Apple and MicroSoft opened retail stores, so why not a “Daily Burn Studio?”  Or a MyFitnessPal location complete with a juice bar and cafe?  They already have online communities and forums.

There’s a Difference

Having said all this… you might think I’m some sort of Luddite who wants everyone “off the grid.”  But, it’s the opposite.

I’m actually a big fan of technology.   My company develops technology products.  In fact, we’re in process of an upgraded MAP System to make it cross-platform mobile-friendly.

The BIG DIFFERENCE is that we develop technology, with credible protocol (body composition), to BRAND, ENHANCE and CREATE NEW PROFITS for your fitness business.

Consumer apps, do nothing for your fitness business.  Instead, they actually COMPETE with you for the minds, bodies and dollars of new clients.  And, to that end, I see nothing good about them at all.

What This Means for YOU..!

In a nutshell… most trainers, clubs, studios, etc. will need to UP THEIR MARKETING GAME!  That’s right. Become even better than you already are.  And the first step is to INCREASE your VALUE PROPOSITION.

Get Your Message Out

Or, if you’re already awesome… then, make sure you are getting your message out there!

  • Public Speak at every opportunity (Apps can’t do this!)
  • Conduct Seminars and Workshops – include the difference between you and an app! (Apps can’t do this!)
  • Offer Fitness Education and Weight-Management Classes (yes this is shameless plug for this...  and this…)
  • Establish Your Leadership Role as a HEALTH INFORMATION PROVIDER (Apps can’t do this!)
  • Clarify and constantly articulate the DIFFERENCES between a “hands-on” Personal Trainer and a consumer workout app at every opportunity.

One of my favorite fitness partners is a personal trainer who continues to mandate the Daily Journal.  She puts it this way to her clients:

“If you want to use an app, use it on your own time. But, when you are here with me, we are going to use the tools that I personally know really work.”

Stay Hungry

There will be plenty of fitness professionals who read this post and say, “Art, you’re just being paranoid.”   And, well, maybe…

But, I’m older than most trainers and have already seen this same commoditization occur in the music business, banking, travel, hospitality, graphic arts and many more.  It follows the same pattern.

And, in some ways it’s healthy to be paranoid.   It keeps you sharp.  Keeps you focused.  It will force you into “excellence” just to survive… and then succeed and prosper.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what I think.  It’s what YOU THINK and what ACTIONS YOU TAKE.

One of my marketing mentors once offered this old adage:

To be forewarned is to be forearmed.”

Amen!