Dear Indian Fitness Industry: Wake Up!
Today, fitness is more than a ‘health’ page in a newspaper; more than a supplement peppered with advertorials and brand tag lines; more than a portal that simply replicates everything in print. Fitness is a reality. We have moved on from generic health content. Look at the internet highways and you’ll find thousands of Indians clamouring for another post about resistance training for muscle tone on Sparkpeople.com; for modern lifestyle-friendly weight loss methods on WeightWatchers.com and so on. Why?
Somewhere in the early 2000s, a dichotomy was born. We became two groups of people with two separate health interests. On the one hand, we have those who equate ‘healthy’ with ‘thin’ and who would willingly crash diet. It is this lot that current health marketeers seem to target. On the other hand, we have those who are the newly awakened, who know the difference between half health truths and fitness, and are willing to learn and practise more. It is this lot that rushes to buy sports trainer shoes every six months, who eagerly await gym openings in their neighbourhoods, who line up to spend on today’s fitness industry – locally or globally.
Can we catch this user through a daily aimed at millions? No. Can we address this user’s needs through content and marketing that refuses to leave its generic, old world health beliefs and myths? No. Can we pretend that this ready-to-spend user does not exist? That seems unwise.
The need of the hour is quick, well-targeted fitness content. This is where digital media becomes relevant. The virtues that new media brings to the table for other industries and knowledge pathways hold true for fitness as well. As do the negatives like information overload, incorrect information, sweeping statements, glittering generalities. Even so, the opportunities to rectify, collate, compare, interact, and gauge are there too. And while the audience is smaller, it is by far the most accurate. People aren’t passive observers. They are actively searching, clicking, reading, bouncing, and recommending.
New media gives publishers the option to be read by a wide range of people, through relevant targeting and multiple media – all in one place. I can talk to a 35 year old pregnant woman about pregnancy fitness in one post, and to a 60 year old man fighting arthritis in another. And I can do this through articles, interviews, videos, and presentations. I don’t have to wait for a year to learn how a series performed. I can change it in a month – and that’s on the plus side. Even better? I can track each channel’s performance on a daily basis. No other medium has ever offered such time-sensitive user feedback.
New media allows us to create communities, ecosystems, worlds that are about unique behaviour and concerns. Today’s most often targeted user – the urban working individual – lives in such communities. Fitness is no longer a concern for just the young sports enthusiasts, as much as health isn’t just a concern for geriatrics. Besides, if a 65 year old man has prostate cancer, he won’t flip through a channel or read an article about it. He’ll go to a doctor. If the idea is to have him check symptoms and then encourage him to visit a hospital, then guess what – a website symptom checker can be a lot more thorough and interactive than a 500 word article with bullet points.
Perhaps the most convincing argument for new media, in the arena of fitness, is the fact that it is mostly written and controlled by practitioners, experts, and advocates. Sadly, this reality in fitness content is taking time in India. Check a Rodale website and you’ll find health editors with fitness writing experience and expertise. Check an off-shoot Indian arm of the very same international magazine, and you will find a 24 year old senior editor with next to no fitness expertise or basic knowledge. However, a slow attitude shift seems to be underway. Here’s hoping it’ll gain momentum and strengthen.
Many Indian detractors of fitness content and communities in new media complain about a lack of the ‘right audience numbers,’ and that this isn’t profitable. And yet, we see that new media offers the perfect symbiotic relationship between brands and consumers. Visit any brand’s community pages, website endorsements, new product announcements, and you’ll see thousands interacting with each brand. Consumers want to talk to you. They want to be heard. They don’t like being patronised. They don’t like to wait for you to join the medium they increasingly prefer.
A great example of how fitness and lifestyle brands have combined with new media lies in the American model. From Livestrong to the earlier mentioned Sparkpeople, Runner’s World, Prevention, Shape, and others – everyone is where the new media consumers are. Also, it's heartening to see that some of these popular fitness magazines are taking digital fitness media seriously.
Then there's the relevance: Brands like Quaker, Kellogs, Subway, Pilsbury are seen in the same places as a Nike and Adidas. Why? Because the same person who buys an Adidas miCoach will buy an all-bran cereal because she knows it’s good for her. Because she is the consumer both these brands are targeting. Why is this model missing in India’s relatively pre-pubescent fitness industry?
Is this hurting potential growth? Maybe. Is this ensuring that such brands will always have to spend a lot to get a 1-2% conversion rate, when they can spend half that amount more effectively? Yes. It comes back to the economy of things. There’s a reason why new media is flourishing even more in times of recession.
A medium is not an end by itself; it is a means to an end. A means that can co-exist, complement, supplement, share, give and take. Does a new media mean that an old media is dead? It doesn’t have to be. However, a medium isn’t what it used to be anymore.
When someone reads about a new fitness study, that point of information only serves as the first in a chain of investigations. From there, the reader will go to a fitness trainer’s blog, a doctor’s column, a community’s discussion. And while he does all this, he will share what he reads through tweets and updates. Those shares become further parallel discussions, and those discussions cause further investigations. Knowledge highways were never this busy or this democratic. Ask a vocational student how many course books he reads in a year. Eight at best. Ask him how many tweets he reads in a day. No less than 1000.
Will you be in that course book? Or will you be in those tweets?
*Image courtesy: © Thinkstock photos/ Getty Images
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