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CrossFit, SoulCycle, FlyWheel: Fitness Brands Or Ready-Made Identity?

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CrossFit, SoulCycle, FlyWheel: Fitness Brands Or Ready-Made Identity?
Boutique fitness brands now make up 35 percent of the U.S. exercise market.
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A lot of people who sweat together feel they belong together, bound by connections deeper than spinning or Pilates.

A recent Atlantic story compares an evening fitness class to a religious service: "You know who will be leading the evening; you can anticipate the general contours of its energy. You know you will recognize familiar faces among the participating crowd."

This pitter-patter is sacred, somewhat spiritual — deep. But if I can just interrupt that divine flow for a moment, it's also the product of identity-driven marketing.

No matter the business — Frisbee or FlyWheel — it works this way

— Identify the specific audience or customer base you're going for

— Then engage with a targeted advertising and social media campaign

— Throw in a branded product or service to get free advertising in selfies

You're on a roll. If successful, word not only spreads, but customers increasingly identify with the business and, since they have something in common, begin to identify with each other. 

Of course, certain personalities are predisposed to certain workouts and communities to begin with. The identity marketing strategy is especially successful at boutique gyms.

SoulCycle, for instance, has been credited with starting the boutique trend, laid out its half-social, half-spiritual strategy when it was considering going public: First, riders are led through an "inspirational, meditative fitness experience" in candle-lit rooms. "The experience is tribal. It is primal. And it is fun."

Second, fellow riders "feed off the group's shared energy." Riders show up early and socialize afterward. Third, the company maintains contact with riders across social media platforms.

And fourth, SoulCycle riders are identifiable in SoulCycle apparel.

This all seems to be working like a charm. Cycling, spinning, yoga, barre studios — they've opened in cities across the country, reports Vox, and now make up 35 percent of the U.S. exercise market, according to an industry group. The fitness biz overall generated $25.8 billion in 2015, that's up from $20.3 billion in 2010.

Much of that growth came from boutique facilities, which have continued to grow and grow despite stagnation in the overall market. Millennials are driving the growth. Many are abandoning $30-a-month gyms for trendy studios where a single session can run $30 — surrounded, of course, by their peers doing the same.

Identity-bolstering gyms are thriving. And the benefit to members is two-fold: community and cachet.