Peloton faced considerable backlash in December 2019 over an ad portraying a woman whose husband seemed to think the holiday gift his already-fit wife needed most was, yep, an exercise bike. (As Inc. colleague Jason Aten points out, there was plenty more wrong with the ad — and with Peloton’s response to the flood of criticism.)
While you’ve probably seen the ad, what you probably haven’t seen ((h/t to Brendan Hufford) is the Peloton internal branding deck leaked to Business Insider in the midst of the company’s public relations disaster.
You can learn a little about what not to do as a marketer from the poorly-conceived Peloton ad. But you can learn a lot from the company’s branding strategy.
Four Key Questions
The first slide, the Peloton Brand Wheel, establishes four basic questions that define the company’s overall brand position and messaging, with relevant marketing and messaging points:
- What does the product do for me? Makes hard work fun. Pushes me to excel.
- How would I describe the product? Innovative design. Wholly immersive.
- How does the product make me look? Tech savvy. Discerning.
- How does the product make me feel? Like nothing is in my way. Like I can accomplish anything. Like I belong to something. (my italics)
According to Hufford, those questions address natural reactions (objections) potential customers might have:
- Am I this kind of person?
- What will others think?
- Is the product good?
Notice that concerns about product quality come after internal (“is this me?”) and external (“how will other people perceive me?”) concerns.
As with most expensive, non-commodity purchases, the first rung on the Peloton decision-tree ladder is emotional; appeal to and overcome that hurdle, and price/value consideration is less of a barrier.
It Ain’t Easy
As the third slide says, Peloton is not a “party on a bike.” The brand isn’t for everyone. The effort isn’t for everyone.
That messaging taps into two key points. One, it creates a sense of community; that if you’re on a Peloton, you’re among people who do — who enjoy doing — hard things.
Two, it taps into the seven magic words of goal achievement: “This will be really hard for you.” A 2018 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that clearly describing the difficulties a person will face can actually increase their perseverance and resolve.
Peloton wants you to buy a bike.
But they also want you to be a long-term subscriber.
Even so, the slide points out that Peloton makes the hard work enjoyable by “heroing” the content and instructors.
It’s All About Community
As Hufford points out, it’s easy to confuse “audience” with “community.”
Audience-oriented messaging focuses on how a product can help people. Community-oriented messaging focuses on how people can help each other.
While we do not overtly talk about the “community” of Peloton, we do leverage copy like “never ride alone,” show the leaderboard and who multiple riders to reinforce that you are part of something bigger.
You can try to build a tribe all you want, but the best tribes are self-formed.
That’s why Peloton always shows the product in use; static shots are forbidden. That’s why Peloton always includes post-workout “afterglow” shots to describe the positive feeling “you can take with you for the rest of the day.”
In short, you’ll use the bike. Your life will improve. You’ll enjoy the hard work.
Especially since you won’t be alone.
And About What Peloton is Not
Differentiation isn’t just about you are; differentiation is also who you are not.
Words Peloton uses to define its brand include “motivating,” “modern,”
premium,” “enthusiastic,” “confident,” “empowering,” and (oddly enough) “street-wise.”
What does Peloton not want to be? “Preachy.” “A fad.” “Exclusive.” (There’s a big difference between “premium” and “exclusive.”) “Over the top.” “Goofy.” “Cultish.” “Religion.”
And, oddly enough, “A fitness brand.” (Possibly because Peloton wants to be a lifestyle, not a workout.)
What does that look like in practical terms? No before-and-after shots. No cheesy ads. Nothing that makes the brand appear to be aa fad.
And never, ever talking down. Like ads with taglines like, “There’s no crying in boot camp,” or “No pain, no gain.”
Granted, that’s a tough balance to strike. Peloton workouts are hard, but the difficulty is balanced by convenience, “celebrity status” instructors, “wholly immersive content,” and the boost you’ll get from being part of the Peloton community and working out with other people.
In short, the messaging says the hard work will be enjoyable — and worth it.
Now It’s Your Turn
Granted, Peloton’s messaging may not pay off for everyone as an actual (as opposed to marketing) brand experience. Take me: I don’t like instructor-led cycling classes. I don’t get any boost from working out with other people, especially virtually,
But many people — our 300-plus ride daughter included — do.
But the Peloton deck is a great primer for creating your own brand positioning — and for evaluating your current marketing strategy.