Fitness Products Are Human Behavior Products
Ryan Frederick | January 31st, 2022
Peloton is spinning in the wrong direction (pun intended) from practically every perspective, and it is all predictable. The stock is down 85% (as of writing this) since opening, and reports are the company recently hired McKinsey to help it assess operations to cut costs. If the company is now focused on cost-cutting, the writing is already on the wall for the company’s future. We’ve seen this movie before and know how it ends.
IoT products are complex. They are more complicated than every other type of product as I’ve written about before. IoT products have to be world-class physical, data, and software products. Get one aspect wrong or be weak in one, and the whole product doesn’t work. By all accounts, Peloton is a good product and provides a good overall user experience. (Disclaimer: I’m not a customer.) That’s why the company has gotten to its point, but being a good or even great product in the fitness space isn’t enough.
Most fitness products, digital or otherwise, end up collecting dust. The problem with people and fitness isn’t better products. It is behavior and discipline. Fitness products have to deal with people’s complications more than most, if not all, products. Other types of products benefit from tapping into and leveraging human behavior, such as social media, shopping, and games. We don’t want to be bored, we want to share content, we want to stay connected, and we want to have fun. What most people don’t want to do is work out. Sure, people will say they want to be fit and healthy, but it remains just that…talk for most. Everyone knows there are only two principles to being relatively fit and healthy outside of disease or chronic illness. Eat well and do some strenuous exercise consistently. That’s it, that’s the formula. But people don’t because they both require discipline, and most people are undisciplined. This lack of human discipline is why fitness products and companies that make them don’t have sustainable growth. With only a few exceptions, fitness products plateau.
Strava is probably the most successful fitness product with a big caveat. Strava is used by people who would be active without. Strava doesn’t have to and doesn’t attempt to change people’s behavior. It reinforces the behaviors of people who are already bought in. It makes the experience of being active better. Strava also knows its place and value. It isn’t trying to be all things to all people or to take on the task of making people value fitness.
People committed to living a fit and healthy lifestyle doesn’t need a Peloton bike, a Tonal machine, or a Hydro rower. People committed to being fit can do so with a kettlebell, a yoga mat, and some resistance bands, to name a few basic fitness products. Even these simple and relatively inexpensive fitness products don’t ensure someone will change their behavior around health and fitness. Does the coaching and community around fitness products help to motivate some people to work out more? Sure. But is it enough to continue growing and sustaining a company like Peloton? No. It hasn’t been enough to sustain and grow Fitbit, Garmin, and the many others who have tried either. Fitness digital products aren’t the problem; therefore, they aren’t the answer. Just like buying a jump rope isn’t the answer. Changing behavior is never easy and changing behavior related to people’s physical perspective, and actions have left a graveyard of products.
Watches have the best potential to support people’s fitness because they are so integrated with a person’s digital ecosystem and life. A watch is omnipresent, allowing it to have more of a fitness impact and requires less behavioral change. Singularly focused fitness products aren’t sticky enough and don’t add enough value for most people to use consistently. It is people’s fault, not the products, but the outcome is the same.
People are fickle around fitness. Those that aren’t fit and haven’t developed good fitness habits are impatient and expect immediate results from any fitness product. Don’t lose enough weight fast enough, don’t look better in a few days, let alone weeks…the people are gone. The wearables don’t leave the dresser, the machines don’t get started, and the tracking apps don’t get activated.
The fitness products also aren’t honest with customers in their marketing which propagates some customer disappointment and abandonment. Cardio doesn’t drive that much weight loss and body transformation. It will make you cardiovascularly better, but Peloton and others don’t market cardiovascular improvement products because who wants that? People want to look better without taking too much effort and time. Including professional athletes in marketing doesn’t help either. Sure, people will aspire to look like the athlete, but the aspiration wears off when they realize they will not look like Lebron. Aspirational marketing isn’t sustainable for fitness product companies and won’t continue to drive growth.
Unless there is a cataclysmic event, maybe precipitated by climate change, that people have to be concerned and disciplined about their fitness as a mere matter of survival, people won’t change their behavior around health and wellness easily or willingly.
I don’t foresee a fitness product ever becoming a sustainably large company.
Peloton and other fitness product companies aren’t in the business of building fitness products. They are in the business of human behavior. More specifically, affecting and changing human behavior. Yeah, good luck with that.