Global Obesity - Are Fitness & Wellness Leaders Mindsets Part Of The Problem ?

I was watching the video below of Sir Ken Robinson's talk on changing education paradigms. It led me to draw some parallels between his views on needed changes in thinking around a broken approach to education and a similar situation regarding wellness and fitness. If you read my posts before, you know I like to write about the future and its promise. I believe the fitness and wellness industries must play an important role in that future. You see we increasingly hear of crises we face every day as nations and as humans. There is the  recent economic crisis and the growing climate crises. We also know we face a global health crisis and it isn't getting better; despite all of the growth of the fitness and wellness business our world is getting less well. The World Health Organization predicts there will be 2.3 billion overweight adults in the world by 2015 and more than 700 million of them will be obese. Something, therefore, isn't working and this is what Robinson's video alludes to in general about education. The problem is fundamental: but why ?

The cost of providing health care now and increasingly in the future is bankrupting our economies; this is irrefutable and the rise of the global poor is only exacerbating the situation as obesity rears its head across the world. I won't even touch upon the diminished quality of life factors and impact on productivity.

This is a dilemma. We all want progress but we must acknowledge the consequences this progress creates. Interestingly the origins of all of these significant crises are the same. These challenges go unsolved because of their source. To change requires doing things differently; to innovate fundamentally; to change how we educate, manufacture, govern, and in the case of the fitness and wellness industry, help people be well. You see the way its being done now does not work - the evidence is undeniable.

Innovation is hard because it means doing something that people don't find very easy. It requires challenging what we take for granted, things that we think are obvious. The great problem for any reform is the tyranny of common sense. Things that people think, "Well, it can't be done another way because that's the way it's done." One of my favorite quotes is that of Daniel Boorstin who observed, "The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge. And therefore the fundamental barriers to progress in this regard are mostly the leaders of the very institutions created to forward their initial cause. Therefore I'd ask, is our industry, fitness and wellness, part of the globesity problem ? Is our thinking getting in the way of the solutions ?

What do you think ? Is the Fitness Industry , the Wellness Industry, contributing to the global obesity problem ? Why or why not ? Contact me, Bryan O'Rourke and share your views on this please and watch the video below for perspectives on how irrelevant mind sets are THE problem for education. The parallels are obvious to me - are they to you ?

The Top 5 Mobile Location Based Applications For Your Fitness Business

Location-based mobile apps and services have been around a while, but with the explosion of smart mobile devices 2011 is going to be THE breakout year. Big retail brands are starting to experiment with location-based campaigns and checkin rewards programs and the fitness industry will eventually follow. It does not seem, however, many in traditional fitness or wellness have attempted to explore this emerging solution, yet. I believe that will change and soon.

An article by Jennifer Van Grove titled the Top 5 Location Based Services Mashable Awards published in October listed the top five location-based services in a list that includes predictable names and lesser known upstarts.

Her list below serves as a countdown beginning at the fifth most significant service and arriving at her top pick for location-based innovation. Thanks Jennifer for a great assessment and article on the topic - the full article is available here.

Has your fitness business experimented with location based applications and services ? What is working or not ? What do you think about this in the fitness or wellness space ? Contact me, Bryan O’Rourke, and share your experiences or thoughts on location based campaigns and reward programs in the fitness industry as it relates to these new platforms.

5. Yelp for Mobile

Yelp is the original location-based service that redefined “local” for small businesses and their online customers. In 2010, Yelp continues to remain relevant with mobile applications that reach BlackBerry, iPhone, Android, PalmPre, Windows Phone 7, and most other smartphone users.

Yelp Mobile may not be the trendiest location-based service, but it’s arguably the most practical. Stats from September of this year show that Yelp Mobile generated 3 million unique visitors for the month and more than 1 million people created point-to-point directions to a local business. We’re not partial, however, to Yelp’s also-ran checkin features. The startup should stick to what it does best — convenient and replete location-based business listings and reviews.

4. Neer

Newcomer Neer brings ingenious innovation around personal and private automatic location-sharing to Android device owners. The startup launched earlier this year after incubating inside Qualcomm Services Labs. Creator Ian Heidt describes Neer as occupying “the middle ground between Foursquare () and Google Latitude.” That’s a technologically sound description, but we see Neer as the most practical application of location for actual real-world scenarios — like knowing if your kids made it to school.

Neer doesn’t bother with checkins, badges or other kitschy game mechanics. The service is designed so that you know where your loved ones and friends are, and vice versa. Since users have complete control over who can see their whereabouts — in place names, not physical addresses — there’s little to worry about on the privacy front. The application is also designed with the average user in mind, meaning the user interface is both slick and uncomplicated. As the space matures, location-based services will take inspiration from Neer and evolve past the pure novelty of checkins and location-sharing.

3. Loopt

Once the location app on everyone’s lips, Loopt has lost some of its luster to more buzz-worthy incumbents. But, Loopt continues to innovate around location and just last week updated its iPhone app to include deep integration with Facebook Places.

Loopt’s application is also the most aggressive of the big name players when it comes to automatic location-sharing, meaning it supports background location and proximity alerts for nearby friends. There’s also the branded-rewards Loopt Star application, which has already demonstrated that it can push users to take action and drive them to their partners’ physical locations. With this formula, there’s certainly real revenue potential beyond just advertising.


In just a few months time, SCVNGR has gone from an obscure mobile app for iPhone and Android to a formidable player in the location space with upward of 500,000 users. Now the Google ()-backed startup is said to be making millions thanks to more than 1,000 paying enterprise clients, which include the likes of Sony and Warner Bros. As a service, SCVNGR differentiates itself with point-based challenges on top of checkins and interesting partners such as The Boston Globe, Minnesota Vikings, AT&T and the Smithsonian museums.

Just recently, the team redesigned the mobile apps to better surface user activity. Sophisticated Facebook Places integration also plays a significant role in the application experience and on the Facebook Place Pages for business owners. Perhaps more interesting than the service itself is the 21-year-old whiz kid at the helm (pictured left in the photo above). Princeton dropout and serial entrepreneur Seth Priebatsch is barely old enough to drink, but this youngster is one huge overachiever with a grandiose vision for SCVNGR and the passion to make it happen.

1. Foursquare

Despite the emergence of Facebook Places months ago, Foursquare is still very much alive with its 4 million registered users. We think it’s safe to say that this startup continues to thrive because it’s more about people and places than it is about location.

We could rattle off Foursquare’s numerous partnerships, highlight its quirky badges or talk about its battles for mayorship, but what puts Foursquare atop our list is the fact that the service has created a phenomena around checkins, badges and rewards that’s been copied and adapted by countless other web and mobile services all trying to emulate Foursquare’s magic.

Foursquare’s recent restructuring of its iPhone and Android apps to highlight tips and to-dos point to a not-so-distant future when, co-founder Dennis Crowley explained, Foursquare will “reinvent what happens after the checkin.”

In many ways, Foursquare already reinvents what happens both before and after the checkin. Just look at how Jimmy Choo employed a pair of trainers to inspire a three-week frantic offline shoe hunt in London — with shoe sales jumping 30% around the time of the campaign — as proof of the concept. It’s the one campaign that Tristan Walker, Foursquare’s director of business development, speaks most highly of, even though the startup didn’t directly participate in the sale.

Make Social Media Work For Your Fitness Business - The Super Influencers

Ben Straley had a great article in mashables the other day titled How to activate your brands “Super Influencers”. Fitness industry participants who are starting to leverage social media marketing need to pay close attention to this concept.

Ben's comments are based on a very important notion: the 1% rule : just 1% of businesses social media followers are responsible for the majority of sharing. They share social media campaigns with their larger social network, passing on links to your contests, promotions, deals, and other marketing campaigns. These important influencers are more than just fans — they’re brand ambassadors. Fitness businesses need to identify who these people are, particularly members, and act accordingly to insure their social media efforts have greater impact for the reasons set out below.

Businesses that track and quantify word-of-mouth impact know that these important influencers drive from 20% to as many as 70% of all visits to campaign pages, beating most other advertising as the most efficient driver of traffic to their sites. That’s critical, considering social campaigns require no media buys and cost next to nothing to implement. The “Super influencers” drive an even higher share of conversion — on average influencing 30% or more of all conversions on marketers’ sites just by recommending a brand’s products, content, or promotions to their online communities.

When you understand this dynamic, you realize quickly that these super influencers are really important. If you can reach out to this 1% directly by offering them special promotions, thanking them for their influence, and rewarding them for loyalty, they will be motivated to share early and share often.

Identifying these people is fairly straightforward. As Ben points out, there are many social media measurement tools that enable folks to find the people who are talking most about their brand, see what type of content they’re sharing and with whom, and how they are sharing it (e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, and their own blogs). Once you find these influencers, the trick is activating them to share even more.

What are your experiences with social media in the fitness industry ? Contact me, Bryan O'Rourke, and share your stories about social media in fitness. I've included three tips Ben suggested you use to help you activate your top influencers. For the complete article visit here. Thanks again Ben for some great content.

1. Reserve Your Best Content for Influencers Only

Influencers love to be an inside source of information for their friends and followers by sharing contests, information, or deals with their social networks before other people have heard about them. Create exclusive content you share only with your key influencers, and let them know they were one of a select few to receive this special offer. This makes your brand advocates feel appreciated and provides them with exclusive information they can use to boost their reputation as a source of inside deals.

One of my company’s clients decided to engage its most ardent fans when planning a large industry event. The company reached out to these key influencers, inviting them to post a “register now” button on their blogs and websites, and offering them lower-cost VIP passes if they shared the event with friends. The result was a huge uptick in sharing that significantly influenced registrations for the event. People who found out about the conference from an influencer were 37% more likely to register than direct visitors, and influencers ended up driving more than $1 million in total registrations.

2. Mine the Blogs and Forums

When you’re looking for super influencers, chances are you’ve already determined who shares the most on Facebook and Twitter. But, in many cases, the people who really influence traffic and conversion on your site are the bloggers. One of our clients launched a social media contest and found that one blogger alone shared the contest with thousands of people and directly drove 42% of all traffic to the contest page.
To find and activate the people who are truly passionate about your products, services, or sector, you’ve got to carefully monitor the blogosphere, message boards, and forums. Once you’ve used analytics tools to find exactly which individuals are driving the most traffic to your campaign sites, you need to reach out to these people individually. Treat them like the real VIPs they are. Let them know you appreciate their loyalty and interest in your products. We’ve found influencers appreciate your attention and kind words even more than exclusive promotions.

3. Differentiate the Influencers from the Super Influencers

Your top fans are so valuable they are worth the extra effort of some special attention. But, not all influencers are alike. When you plot the influence of individuals, you’ll see a curve that looks a lot like the long tail distribution of search terms. Influence follows a “power law,” where a relatively small number of individuals influence the lion’s share of referrals. Those at the peak of this curve are the super influencers, and those in the tail are regular influencers.  Super influencers have large, loyal followings and audiences who trust their insights. The latter are people who pass along info to friends and family from time to time via e-mail and Facebook.

Understanding these differences is key to crafting your influencer activation strategy. You need to interact with super influencers on a one-to-one basis, but you could target the rest of your influencers a bit more broadly. For example, you will want to reach out directly to all your influencers by commenting on their blogs and syndicating their content via Twitter, Facebook, and your own blog. Thank them for their loyalty, and generally praise them. But, make sure to go the extra mile with your super influencers. Offer super influencers the opportunity to obtain and review your products before they hit the market, for example. Offer them after-hours shopping at your stores, a few free hours of your services, or invite them to a special VIP party. Be creative, and have fun. Remember, your super influencers, when treated right, can drive a huge percentage of your site’s overall traffic. Isn’t that worth throwing a party?

The Takeaway

Just identifying your key influencers is not enough in today’s market. Instead, you’ve got to find them and then motivate them to share. Over the long term, your goal as a marketer is to increase the size of your influencer base. By finding and engaging in a direct dialogue with your super influencers, you’ll get a clear idea of what motivates these brand ambassadors to share. Then, armed with that knowledge, you can begin reaching out to your influencers — and even your fans who never share — to offer the right kind of content and rewards to turn more “followers” into “sharers.”

Education & Fitness Professionals - A Dilemma That Requires An Answer

I am reading The 2011 ACSM Fitness Trend Survey this morning, which identifies the top 20 fitness trends. Interestingly, for the past 3 years the number 1 trend in the survey is "educated and experienced fitness professionals". Dr. Walter Thompson, author of the article on the survey, makes 2 important observations about this trend:

"According to the AKA, the kinesiology major grew by more than 50% from 2003 - 2008....and means that kinesiology is the fastest growing major in the U.S., as the market for fitness professionals becomes even more crowded and more competitive, the need for regulation, wether from within the industry or from external sources, is growing."

Thompson also alludes to the work of the NSF in establishing standardized facility practices.

During the past few months I've had the pleasure, with my partner Robert Dyer, to visit with leaders in fitness education including people from ACE, IDEA, Fitpro and many others. We all discussed the need for education and standards. Of course we talk with our over 600 fitness facility customers routinely as well and as a result I wonder; How will fitness professionals be able to pay more money for education requirements when their wages are actually stagnant or falling? I know a lot of trainers and group instructors and its hard for them to survive in the industry. IHRSA openly lobbies to prevent government regulation of personal training primarily to prevent the cost of government standards being passed on to facility owners. They do this because its getting more challenging to make a buck in the health club business. Yet, many in the fitness industry agree that better education is necessary to promote and progress the business. But who is going to pay for all of this when health club dues have declined on an inflation adjusted basis ? Do we believe that more educated professionals will result in consumers agreeing to pay more for services ? This is the dilemma that requires an answer.

I think a key problem is the business model of how exercise expertise is delivered to customer members. The prevalent one on one, face to face, modality is inefficient and can be augmented and improved with technology and new delivery systems that will enable exercise professionals to reach more members more effectively.

What do you think ? Contact me Bryan O'Rourke, and share your views about the fitness industry and educational requirements for professionals. What should happen to improve the professional prospects for fitness professionals and why, given that it is the number 1 fitness trend in 2011 according to the ACSM survey.

The Fitness Industry's Digital Divide - Leadership Should Embrace The Future

I visited with a well respected health club owner and fitness industry leader recently.  During our meeting the person commented that IHRSA "wants to remain a bricks and mortar association"; this in response to my many calls for the extant fitness industry to open its eyes to the opportunity new business models and technologies will offer, enabling it to reach its promise.

In this person's defense, the facility orientation of the industry is not uncommon; I speak with many health club owners and leaders who share this view. Change is hard and I know of many good people with good intentions who work hard at IHRSA and in the fitness business in general to forward the cause of prevention and wellness. However, this "bricks and mortar" emphasis is the same view many leaders in other industries had, before the future happened to them - think clothing and entertainment to name a few. It is the reason, I worry, that some existing business models in fitness are going to have increasing difficulty surviving.

To illustrate my point, think of the retail industry by comparison. From 2000 until 2007, online retail sales grew at an annual 20% clip. From now until 2014 sales will grow at a slower 10% rate, still well exceeding the "bricks and mortar" counter part. However the important thing to note is that by 2014 53% OF ALL "RETAIL" SALES WILL BE DELIVERED VIA THE INTERNET according to Forrester Research. You see it isn't about bricks and mortar; its about delivering things customers need the way they want them and doing it in a sustainable fashion.

Reading the WSJ article today, on my IPad none the less, I came across Eileen Gunn's article titled, "A Personal Trainer in the Palm Of Your Hand." By my estimation, now over 3 million people in the U.S. alone are using mobile technologies to guide them as personal trainers could or used to. Similarly, consider the explosion of wellness platforms and devices that provide low cost means of enabling people to improve their health. Point is: there is a lot changing and the customer is at the center of it - not bricks and mortar.

As with all businesses, leaders need to open their eyes to what is happening and prepare by driving innovation and evangelizing the benefits of an unavoidable future. The fitness industry is no exception - less we fail to reach the promise of making a real impact on health via prevention.

What are your thoughts on the fitness industry ? Contact me, Bryan O'Rourke, or share your views here and tell me what you believe about the bricks and mortar, IHRSA and the orientation of the fitness industry.