Sweat: How to win in the crowded space of digital fitness training
Sweat became the number one most downloaded fitness app in the world by using the power of digitalization and social media to create a loyal community and clearly winning in this highly fragmented market.
Back in the days, personal trainers would train people in person at the gym. Later on, whoever started marketing their programs in e-books, and/or DVD’s became a fitness guru. Nowadays digitalization has transformed the fitness industry. Everything is an app business full of video tutorials that users have on their fingertips.
There are countless training apps in the AppStore or for Android platforms but in 2017 Forbes named Top Fitness influencer Kayla Itsines co-creator of the BBG (Bikini Body Guides) and in 2016 Times Magazine named her among the 30 most influential people in the internet. Her app Sweat was the number one downloaded app in the 2016 Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference in San Jose, California and brought in $77M USD, aiming for $100M USD next year. Kayla launched the app in 2015 but in 2016 they did a re-launch with 3-4 times more content. The CEO of Sweat is her fiancé Tobi who is also a trainer. The couple is in their late twenties now and their worth of $50M USD comes solely from the fitness app.
The app is only targeted to women and contains several programs from different trainers beside Kayla, including yoga and post-partum workouts that you can do at home or at the gym. The monthly subscriptions costs $19.9 per month or 50% less if you buy the yearly membership.
What is the secret sauce that made Kyla number one in the online fitness industry?
The key to her success has been social media. When Kayla was training her 11-year old cousin in the gym, she told her to go on Instagram and post pictures there so she could get more clients. Kayla mentions that growth has been organic for the most part in the beginning and if it wasn’t for social media platforms, they would have never become so big. She has been able to use the media for good and help women worldwide. But you would say all the trainers are in social media today and it is not enough. Kayla had the first movers’ advantage, none of the trainers had a presence in social media when she started.
Social media is not enough if you don’t manage to build a community. Kayla did not only post pictures of herself all the time, she was focused on posting 60% of the time clients’ transformations. Her strategy has been: Community first. She flies around the world to host bootcamps and announces different challenges within the app that bring women together. Kayla is not obsessed with herself and her training, she added more trainers to her app, so the community grows. What specifically grew this community so fast is the social sharing and the reposting which increased user engagement. The BBG hashtag in the transformation pictures was a very clever move of levering the testimonials and women were following and congratulating each other. The before and after jaw-dropping pictures attracted more women to start and then the community helped them with motivation, empowerment and not fall behind. Kayla keeps the women more engaged by leveraging novelty and posting about five times a day pictures, recipes and motivational quotes. She is authentic and let people in her life by posting pictures with her family and her dogs, so the community feels closer to her like they know her. Another clever move to keep the community tight is that Kyla focused on women since the beginning and the target group has not changed or enlarged over time, she didn’t fall for the mistake of trying to target everyone. If you are not convinced yet to try the paid app no problem, you can use the free trial which helps attracting more skeptical people into the BBG group.
The idea of the community and social sharing is great in general but Sweat has also implemented everything in a perfectionist way. Kayla’s app is very well build, super easy-accessible and highly customizable for your needs. The design and colors are specifically targeted to women and the tone is conversational. Kyla is not preaching; she is trying in a friendly way to encourage women to improve their lifestyle. The app is seamlessly integrated with music playing apps as a bonus feature.
Sweat is using technology advancements in their favor. An apple watch app is coming where audio cues almost simulate a personal trainer. The program is also expanding into Apple TV. And last but not least they are working on using augmented reality for their program.
Student comments on Sweat: How to win in the crowded space of digital fitness training
I was intrigued to learn of the beginnings of Kayla’s social presence. In the world of social media and self-promotion, it seems counterintuitive (albeit refreshing) that she would grow a following by pointing the camera on people other than herself. In this way, as you say, she was able to build a community. I wonder if as her brand grows (in users and across platforms, e.g., apple watch, tv) that the value of her community and the tight-knit nature of its participants dissipates. That is, as the community grows, can it still be as strong?
Hi Jona! So glad to see your post is on SWEAT and Kayla– she has been my fitness guru (hence the first-name basis) on and off (hard to stay consistent) since 2015. Interesting to hear your thoughts.
I couldn’t agree more that one of Kayla’s secret ingredients is her social media presence through which she fosters a strong community of BBG followers that inspire and encourage each other to get through the programs. Yet there are countless of other personal trainers, many targeting only women (as you mention is a strength), that are seemingly copying Kayla’s social media strategies almost entirely. They, too, are creating communities through transformation photos of followers, motivation posts, conversational tone, sneak-peaks into the lives of the trainers (without appearing too self-obsessed), etc. Even her fellow personal trainers with whom she shares the SWEAT app have similar strategies, the same app, but do not come close to Kayla’s success. How come?
One HUGE explanation, as you mention, is of course her large first mover advantage. Women start with Kayla, and seeing that it works, they continue – they have no incentive of switching. In fact, there is a high switching cost, because trying another program may not give you the results you are looking for; you are risking your looks – a huge price, particularly for women who are in the community because they want to improve their looks (and health, of course). People see that it works for their friends, join, and so on.
But I think we’re forgetting about one crucial aspect of her success: the program itself. It gradually builds up in difficulty level and thus is appropriate for women of any fitness stage. But above all: It is convenient and can be done in your home without much extra equipment (!), and it only requires ~3 exercises / week for 28min each. It sounds like I am marketing the program, but in fact, it is fairly unique in its simplicity and further has proven effects (through transformation photos, as mentioned) – a combination few others have, at least from what I have seen.
I think it’s very important to remember the product / service itself, because even though her first-mover digital social media entrance made her big, it is the simplicity of the program and its proven effects that keep her at the top. Without a great product / service, sustainability is difficult. It may seem obvious but I do think that sometimes we are so focused on the innovation and delivery of a product / service that we forget about the offering itself.
Last but not least, Kayla’s body (mix of good genes and training) appeals to a very large group of women, perhaps the largest, more so than most other personal trainers in the space that I have seen. Kayla follows her own program, so we must look like her when we’re done – or so the mental reasoning goes. Kayla, in this sense, is a representation of the product we are buying, further elevating its strength.