News & Views

Interview / Joanna Lord, chief marketing officer, ClassPass

by Alice Franklin

The gym model is changing. For years, big-box corporations have survived and thrived on a one-size-fits-all contract, tying customers into a gym made for everyone and no one. But, a new strain of fitness studios is disrupting the industry, gearing customers towards smaller, boutique-style companies. Rather than leaving each gym-goer to their own devices, these smaller studios host specific classes, from high-intensity treadmill training to sweat-breaking ballet barre.

As I write in my deep-dive into boutique gyms in the upcoming issue of Contagious 56, these experience-led brands are attracting a community of regulars who come back week after week. Investment banking group Piper Jaffray’s 2018 Fitness Industry Update highlights that boutique brands have been adding new studios at a rate of 450% since 2010. 

By offering flexibility, customers can drop in as they please, making exercise work around their lifestyle and current interests. These specialised studios are challenging the big-box business model that relies purely on obtaining members, and instead are retaining customers through personalisation, branded experiences and influential instructors. 

One company riding the boutique boom is ClassPass. The brand offers an all-access flexible subscription to these specialised studios all around the world, encouraging customers to discover boutique experiences that complement their lifestyle and routine. The company boasts worldwide partners (10,000 across 50 cities) and has just introduced ClassPass Live and a beauty section to the app. We spoke to Joanna Lord, CMO at ClassPass to discover how the company is focusing on experiences and partnerships to build an engaged and loyal community.

How is the fitness landscape changing, and what is ClassPass doing to keep up with this?

The fitness sector is continuing to grow at an exponential rate. Fitness is no longer a nice-to-have, it is a must-have. Customers are building it into their lives earlier, and they're thinking about it in a way that is structured: 'I've got my career plan, I've got my personal plan, I've got my fitness and health plan.' It's why the studio fitness industry is growing so fast, and it's so fun to be a part of. Small businesses and their owners have such a unique take on what they want to bring to fitness for each person.

You're also seeing these digital experiences, which is recognising that you don't always have the time to make it to a class. We recently introduced ClassPass Live. It's an at-home fitness product and immersive experience that's powered by fitness-tracker technology. We're trying to replicate the in-class experience at home with an instructor that guides you and a surrounding community through the class at home. It's to keep you engaged so that you can hit your fitness goals, even though you might not be able to make it through an actual class in person.

Who is the ClassPass community?

I'm proud of the community that ClassPass has built. It was one of the first things we invested in. We've always believed internally that the tribe around us of like-minded fitness enthusiasts who are all helping each other and supporting each other was going to be our core strength.

We've never engaged in fear-based marketing. We've never prescribed how you should do fitness, or how you should get fit or get in shape. And we've never talked about weight loss or calorie counting. If you look at our community, they showcase that. Our core commitment is to help connect people who want to live an empowered, great life, and share that good feeling and that supportive nature. And you see that, day in and day out. Not just in the content we post to our community or share with them, but in how they respond and engage with us, and how they connect and react with each other around our community moments.

We also work on building trust, which gets people coming back to the app as often as possible. We have an amazing engagement. When you dig into our algorithms, one of our most powerful is suggesting the next experience based on your activity, which you can't get anywhere else; 25% of our customers end up reserving classes based on our recommendations.

We're continuously growing month after month. And I think that speaks to the loyalty that we try to foster. We are thinking about loyalty more in daily or monthly activities, and how we can continue to bring our net brand sentiment up.

We also recognise that as an aggregator, part of our job is to help our customers be loyal to these boutique studios through ClassPass. It's something we think a lot about, even as we build the community. We want them, of course, to love ClassPass and find value in our membership and have a better and more fulfilled life because they're on the platform. But we also recognise that a lot of their loyalty comes down to that great experience they're having with that instructor in the room.

How do you find your partners? Is there a profile that they have to fulfil to get on ClassPass?

Absolutely. We've got a solid partnership team here at ClassPass. It's one of our fastest growing parts of the organisation. We've always gone in and looked at each market as an individual market. They [boutique studios] are all so different. And you've got leading partners in every market. It's such a tight-knit community. A lot of them suggest the other partners we should be talking to. And we take a very high-touch, hands-on approach to standing up a market.

We're very adamant about the fact that not just any experience gets on ClassPass. You do have to be unique and loved by customers. That's why we brought in ratings and review into the product and so early. We have the world's most substantial review set at the studio level. That is our guiding and governing metric, which is making sure that once we've connected with a partner and we've brought them on board, and we're sending them customers, again, going back to trust, that they are loving this and reviewing this as a unique experience that other people might enjoy.

It goes all the way down to the instructor level, and that's the unique piece. There's no other company out there that has reviews at the instructor and class level. When you go to a class, and you never know what it's going to be like, it's all very new, and it can be unapproachable for a lot of people that are first stepping into fitness. So we try to make it as approachable and welcoming as possible.

Can you tell us about how you are personalising the ClassPass experience?

One of the most amazing things about committing to a goal or using a product like ClassPass or other studios themselves is that you want to watch your progress. You're putting in so much work. You're getting up early. You're staying up late. Last year we launched badges that help members see how many times they've been to classes, where your 100th class or 500th class may help unlock these specific badges. They help to encourage you to recommit to your original goal.

And so we use these badges in the products. We've also used it in email marketing, where we've done an end of the year summary. And I think it's one of our more popular marketing campaigns. But also, it's just a great community moment.

What's next for ClassPass?

One of the critical things for ClassPass is continuing to add amazing partners. We're going to be focusing a lot on expansion, which will bring us to new cities, and we're going to double the domestic footprint by adding two times the number of studios in the US, as well as going internationally.

We've also brought new inventory onto the platform outside of fitness. Things like massages or acupuncture or recovery services that can help you no matter where you are in your journey. There's a more rounded approach to wellbeing today. It's a combination of fitness and nutrition, which has always been the case, but we're seeing this push towards wellness and meditation and mental kindness and self-care. It's something we're interested in and engaging with great partners out there, like Calm and Headspace. A lot of them are pioneering the way about taking time for yourself and reflecting.

And that's how we look at growth for ClassPass over the next couple years. Bringing that excellent fitness experience, not just as more studios for customers, but at home as well, while trying to complement those hard workout routines with recovery and wellness services.

To learn more about how boutique gyms are building intimate relationships with their customers and find out which new brands are really shaking up the fitness landscape, read Contagious Magazine Issue 56. To subscribe to our magazine, click here