Turning Content into Commerce — Lessons Retailers Can Learn From Fitness Influencers
While some may ridicule the job of an influencer, it is certainly more than just posing for pretty pictures or filming videos. Because if there is one thing retailers should learn from them, it is all about building a brand, engaging with a community, and most importantly — monetizing off their content.
Fitness influencers have evolved in so many ways since their YouTuber days. From filming daily workout videos and fitness content — these influencers have built up a cult-like community where their fan-base turned consumer is a foundation of their success today.
Some of the notorious fitness influencers who had made it big in the early days such as Joe Wicks (The Body Coach), Kayla Itsines (Bikini Body Guides), Casey Ho (Popilates) to name a few, have accumulated millions of followings, with Itsines’ renowned fitness empire valued at AUD209 million (£116.8 million).
As personal trainers, selling workout and meal plans in the form of eBooks through video or PDF mediums had been a profitable lane for many influencers. While this has traditionally worked, consumers also found a loophole to abuse this and would share paid content for free on forums, leaving creators absent of profit. Additionally, influencers have also expanded their offerings from services to a range of merchandise — from fitness apparel to at-home products such as yoga mats, resistance bands, foam rollers, and the likes.
As video content progressively migrated to Instagram and other short-form content platforms such as TikTok and Snapchat, so is the ability to integrate their online store into the third party’s e-commerce offering (e.g. Instagram Shopping Cart). Yet what’s now been created are fragmented channels that the influencers have to manage in several formats across different platforms, each targeting a unique segment of consumers — identical issue retailers face when delivering an omnichannel experience.
Influencers Turned Engineers
To counter this, many influencers have begun to formalise their community and programmes behind a paywall structure — forbidding their content to be illegally downloaded and consolidating all content into one platform. Tackling this, influencers have gone tech and turned to subscription-based apps where their content is only accessible through payments, with more lucrative earnings based off on a monthly plan.
Some platforms such as Aflete and Fitplan take on several influencers to collate their content into one featuring their workout guides. Influencers are paid at a monthly fixed rate with a cut of its revenue but many have now ventured off to develop their own app dedicated to their entire brand and ecosystem. This typically features nutritional meal plans, recipes, exercise tracker, and community forums to create the best digital experience possible.
Sweat by Kayla was one of the first transitions seen from the influencer moving on from her digital documents to a gated app, also onboarding other influencers to drive more traffic to its platform. Launched in 2014, the app has last reported revenue of near AUD100 million and 3.87 million users working out over the lockdown periods. It is estimated around 825,000 users are paying a yearly fee of AUD119 for its annual subscription. Wicks, dubbed the nation’s PE teacher, also took in over 130,000 new subscribers over the Christmas holiday where each paid £69.99 for an annual subscription.
Equally, Gymshark has also leveraged its network of influencers to onboard into its own app — Gymshark training — purely for paid content. However, the one thing it’s lacking is its ability to link back to its power source, its online store. A best-in-class example such as Adidas is also known for creating exclusive in-store experiences tied with its mobile app usage, as well as previously mentioned Under Armour where it is embedded into the user’s WeChat via a mini-program.
Granted these influencers are not actually mobile app developers therefore many — if not all — have outsourced the talent to vendors who provide white-label apps to create gated content whilst boosting their DTC brand. Other brands such as Nike and Adidas has been an early pioneer in this — where aside from providing great storytelling features, it also provides workouts and exercise tracking functionalities. The sports brands integrate their products well into the app (e.g. Nike Run app allows you to log the type of shoe you’ve worn for your run and also make recommendations), and even rewarding members with exclusive product drops and features.
The sociocultural phenomenon of working out and the increase of active users over the pandemic period saw downloads of health and fitness apps grow by 46% worldwide. Consumers return to these apps daily making it part of their routine as many of these fitness apps mimic a gamified experience of achieving goals and completing workouts, which increases the stickiness of the app and increases longevity. Influencers and businesses with a large following can nail user acquisition easily which automatically can help with improved conversions and increased repeat purchases.
An app also ties all fragmented channels together to create a unified platform and a back-end system that helps the individual or business to better the digital experience for the user, whilst creating further transactional opportunities. Retailers must identify goals and how to differentiate themselves from just being an extension of their mobile website, but rather act on improving the online digital experience. Creating content and amassing a community is invaluable with lots of potential. And whilst having content and commerce is equally as important, one should not exist without the other.