Is there a secret to tribal success?

I first posted this in june 2011.

Les Mills, Probably the largest and most successful Gym chain and company producing fitness classes that are taught all over the world have just readdressed their mission statement. Their new mission statement is to get 20 million people around the world doing their classes by the year 2020.

Currently they have estimated 8 million people are doing it in 80 countries around the globe which is an achievement not to be scoffed at.  They have 10 programmes that at least one would suit anyone wishing to gain something from fitness, and would find enjoyable.  Their programmes are well researched and presented giving their instructors reliable and up to date education.

So the question arrived to just how are they going to get an extra 12 million in the next 8 years?  I’m sure they have a game plan on how to do this but It got me thinking if I was in the same position how would I do it?  Obviously I am not as successful in business as they are, but its not going to stop me putting a game plan together. who knows I might need it myself one day.

The first question I asked myself was is it reasonable to get that many people doing the classes around the world?  Very few of us are going to see 20 million or even 1 million people at one time in our lifetimes, so I wanted to put it in context.  So far there are 8 million people attending Les mills classes which equates to the entire population of London attending 1 class a week.  Mumbai or Moscow have  around 12 million people living in the cities.  From this point of view it doesn’t seem too unfeasible to get that many more people.  Shanghai has nearly 14 Million people living there.  With an estimated global population of just under 7 billion their goal is a fraction of a percent of the world population.  With less than 1 person in every hundred it shouldn’t seem too difficult.  Well theres an accountants way of looking at it, I’m sure the reality of it is something quite different.

In April 2011 Facebook said it had over 500 million users with over 250 million users accessing the website via mobile technology.  Twitter has over 175 million accounts.  Which shows you just how successful a company can be if its accessible and well known enough.

I have thought for a company to be globally successful it needs to have a number of factors. A quality product. Return-ability, Accessibility and become a household name.

Product Quality is one thing that Les mills have surpassed themselves on.  They have set the bar so high that any other company coming in to the industry with similar products is going to be hard pressed to compete on this.  All 10 of their programmes go through regerous trial procedures and each move has been assessed for its safety and effectiveness.  They have such a massive array of knowledge at their finger tips from Medical doctors to physio therapists working with them not to mention internal and external people giving feed back from all over the world.  Qualified instructors on each release have available to them a DVD showing the moves of each release including choreography and at least 2 educational sessions on them either being specific to the release and the programme or generic to fitness and teaching.  By creating these resources there is only 1 step from themselves and the product they wish to produce to the world and the person delivering it.

So Can they improve on the quality of their product?  Unlike Coca Cola which is made to a precise set of ingredients and can be reproduced by machines to be and to taste exactly the same where ever it is produced around the world.  Fitness programmes are presented by humans and will always have an individual slant put on them by the person presenting it.  Is this a major issue?  Well in essence no its not, as the very nature of being human allows us to like different things so we can all like the same product but the delivery difference between instructors suits individual tastes and personalities thus allowing access to more types of people.  The problem comes here when instructors deviate from a minimum required knowledge and basic standards of the products.  So how do they combat this?  With Agencies running the training programmes regionally and having assessors at stages of instructor development as well as interaction with in certain periods with instructors.  Les Mills have their product quality quite well covered.  The only way I can see to improve on this which they may already do I don’t know, is to have some sort of authority with their agency’s that represent them in every country in which they can have a final say in how their product is being represented.  So their brand standard is continually assessed with in the agency and for the agency to continually assess the standard of the instructors delivering the product.  Each agency should be trying to install in its members in self improvement and calling on the competitive nature for the standard in their country to be the best in the world.

Return-ability is also well covered with new releases be presented every 12 weeks or 4 times a year.  I have clients that have been doing my classes for over a decade,  Maybe some of that can be attributed to the product and some of that to how I teach and interact with them.  But with people returning time after time, year after year and it looking now into decades I think this base is pretty well covered.

So this brings us to accessibility.  Les Mills run a license fee on their programmes which I assume helps to pay for the continually escalating costs of research in to the safety and effectiveness of the programmes, as well as music copyrights for the music used in each programme, and for the agencies to manage the instructors and ensures everyone is adhering to the procedures of continuing education as set out by Les Mills.  All of these things take money in which is used to create a quality product,  and lets not forget that they are a business and Im sure they would like to make a profit and expand, as every business wishes to.  We all work so we can live comfortably and have something more than we have now.

Going back to Coca cola as its such a well known brand.  You can buy it almost anywhere in a big city Your probably not more than couple of 100 meters from either a machine, shop or stall that will vend you the drink.

Lets now go back to Les Mills mission statement to have 20 million people doing their classes.  By imposing a license fee it has narrowed how many people can actually afford to put their programmes into their premises.  Is it possible for  a company to release programmes without a fee?  Well it appears it is, as Zumba has.  Hence you can now find Zumba in every village and church hall not to mention the big gym chains.  Zumba have made their product accessible to everyone and if there is a license fee involved it isn’t so much that an individual cant pay for it to take it to a church hall or maybe its applicable to the person and not the venue.  So freelance instructors can pay one monthly fee and teach the programme in multiple venues rather than being tied in to one venue with a small catchment area.

Currently it appears that Les Mills licences are only in large venues that have the capital to  put into the fees.  Maybe as a company Les mills need to readdress their licensing structure, If they want to more than double their target audience then they need to allow their product to have a wider catchment area allowing more instructors to teach in more venues,  Here is the question that affects most businesses do you drop your fee and hope that by dropping your fee more people take on your product as they can now afford it, and the increase of use increases your profit. Or do you stay where you are and try to get more which is made especially hard in a global recession.  Or will the reduction in fees reduce the quality of the product because there isn’t as much disposable income to use on development and research?

One thing is plain to see the licenses are currently held by gyms and leisure centres and as with all big business in a recession they are looking at cutting expenses. Currently these programmes are only available to those who can afford it.  If only 10 percent of the global population can afford to go to a venue that has the product then you have already made it more than ten times more difficult to achieve your goal.

Its at this point the question becomes is the goal to get 20 million people doing the programmes or is to get that figure whilst making a profit of X amount?

Becoming a house hold name must be one of the most important part of this mission.  People will only buy into a product if they know about it.  There appears to be little point in “preaching to the converted”.  People that are into fitness will talk to others and search out the latest or the best programme of the moment.  Your target audience is those that don’t know, they are your new customers, the ones that need you but don’t know about you yet.

If we look at global house hold brands like coca cola there is hardly a person in the world that has never heard of the drink, but why?  They advertise everywhere and sponsor more events than you can shake a stick at.  Sponsorship of the right event will get your name seen in so many places.  What has been the official drink of the Olympics?  Coca cola for as long as I remember, its not exactly a sports drink but they sponsor so many sporting events as they get so much air time.  Coca colas advertising campaigns are so powerful that they have turned Santas traditional suit from green to red, and the Christmas season doesn’t start till the Coca cola “holidays are coming” advert comes on our television screens, any one who advertises christmas before Coca cola looks greedy and as if they are jumping the gun.

Zumba has become a house hold name in fitness, ask most people on the street if they have heard of it they will say yes, ask the same of Les Mills and the answer will be different, yet Les Mills has been around longer and probably has more people doing it globally.  Now days Marketing is a science in itself, where do you market your product to get the best response? what are the demographics you want to reach and which medium is best to reach them.  Even here in the UK we know that adverts that are run in the SuperBowl cost a fortune and are specially created to be shown first at that point as a big thing.  So many people will be watching at that moment that you can reach your product to most of America, and make the advert right and it will be spoken about, tweeted and facebooked to the entire world. That is as long as Justin Timberlake doesn’t help Janet Jackson with a wardrobe malfunction.

So where would I put my money to achieve this mission statement. How would I grow the Les Mills Tribe of instructors to a global phenomenon? I would be advertising my product so that even an Ant wanted to try it once, and making sure that my product was available every where.  How would you do it?


About lukekatt

Ex Pro Dancer, Personal Trainer, Group Fitness Instructor, Assessor, Les Mills Junkie, Zumba, Snowboarder, novice Kitesurfer & self confessed short arse and loud mouth. I posted some of these articles under an alter ego but have moved some of the relevant ones here and then added more.
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