The luxe Peloton-owning life. Source: Peloton

BRAND STRATEGY

Dear Peloton, where is your brand?

I love you, but your marketing is bringing my stock portfolio down

Two weeks ago, Peloton announced weaker-than-expected growth. The stock proceeded to drop over 40% .

Peloton’s slowing growth is not surprising. What’s worrying is the view ahead. The company has ambitions to break out of the spin-bike and become the Netflix of at-home fitness. Their app offers workouts from strength to running, and Peloton has a new piece of hardware for workouts beyond spin.

And yet, Peloton is still known as the overpriced spin-bike company.

Actually, its worse. Outside of customers, Peloton is associated with the wealthy elite who coasted through COVID19 working from home on high salaries in big homes while others struggled.

Peloton also faces an upcoming battle to retain loyal customers when their top instructors inevitably retire or are poached by competition. Peloton knows this. They have increased the number of coaches on the platform to diversify their dependence on any one instructor.

It's a start.

But what Peloton really needs is a reason to stick with the company beyond instructors. A reason to shop beyond the bike.

What they need is a brand.

It may sound fluffy. But in fitness, brand is big business. Nike’s growth and continued relevance stems from its brand. Nike sometimes advertises products. But mostly Nike advertises values. Lululemon has skyrocketed to become one of the most valuable fitness brands on the back of a brand based on community and taking time to sweat. Unicorn newcomer Gymshark stands for making weightlifting accessible to everyone.

Nike sometimes advertises products. But mostly Nike advertises values.

Peloton has been a lifeline to many during the pandemic. It has been for me.

If you go into Peloton’s Facebook group, you find a community of people who rave about how the bike has changed their life. Some are wealthy. Others financed their bike and share photos of their setup in cramped basements.

Households earning $100,000 or less a year have grown from 29% of members in FY’14 to 46% of members in FY’20. Source: Peloton

The problem is, this is generally missing from Peloton’s communications. If you go on onepeloton.com, the luxury-style site is geared towards one thing: Selling the bike. Peloton’s ads do similar thing: they push the bike. This Christmas, Peloton hired Adam&eveDDB, one of the most expensive ad agencies, to make a cheesy ad about Scrooge deciding he likes working out because he got a Peloton.

Where’s the mission? The point of view? The purpose?

As Simon Sinek made clear in his viral ted talk on purpose, Apple could expand from computers to the iPhone because Apple communicates purpose. Apple is not just a computer company. Apple is about thinking different. Dell, on the other hand, sells computers. You wouldn’t go to Dell for a phone. Why would you buy a phone from a computer company? But people do it everyday.

Peloton, unfortunately, communicates like Dell. It’s a “bike” company.

To grow, Peloton needs to stand for something else.

And there are plenty of opportunities.

We face a massive mental health crisis, as well as growing inequality.

Why not do a video around the lives that Peloton has changed? Real people’s journeys during COVID19. The struggles. The depression. The monotony. The job losses and breakups. The health scares and recoveries. And finding life in working out.

But great brands don’t just communicate, they take action.

Why not donate bikes to underprivileged neighborhoods? Why not take a stand for modern healthcare, and make the app free to those who got the vaccine? Or to anyone under the age of 25? Why not make a statement on mental health, and publicly offer their employees a 4 day workweek?

Brands aren’t created by taking zero risks. On the other hand, Peloton’s lack of brand is its biggest risk of all.

The story of Peloton, as told on startup podcasts and on their website, is of founder John Foley struggling to get a spot in trendy New York studios due to his busy schedule. It might be a true story, but it also reeks of exclusivity and self-importance. I was too busy to get a spot in a $36 gym class. So I created a $2000 bike to never feel the pain of missing SoulCycle again.

Peloton could be about the benefits of getting a workout in. Of what a workout can do for your day. Your mental health.

5 rich men on a mission. Source: Peloton

Peloton’s mission statement is similarly uninspiring. According to Peloton’s website, Peloton uses technology and design to connect the world through fitness, empowering people to be the best version of themselves anywhere, anytime.

Don’t get me wrong, this could be a great mission. But the company fails bring it to life in a focused way. Instead, Peloton alternates between celebrating community via its tagline (‘Together we go far’) and summer ad campaign, hero-ing their celebrity instructors (which puts them on a Godlike pedestal), speaking in a strange jokey voice on Twitter, offering luxury positioned products on a luxury-esque website, and creating cheesy ‘Don’t be Scrooge’ ads for the holidays.

Peloton’s strange Twitter

Brands aren’t born from a confusing disarray of messaging. They come from relentless focus and clarity of mission. The same idea should be conveyed across every touchpoint. That focus is typically anchored in purpose and company culture.

I will note … I still believe in the company. Or the product at least. Peloton has created something special. And their customer loyalty is incredibly strong. But I am less and less sure that Peloton can hold onto its connected fitness crown if someone else comes in with true brand purpose.

What do you think?

See the full connected fitness ecosystem mapped here:

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Michelle Wiles

Michelle Wiles

Writing about startups, media, and brands. Former P&G, McKinsey, Ogilvy. Brand & growth consultant at Embedded.