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How SoulCycle Stays in the Saddle of Customer Loyalty and Consideration

Posted by Savannah House

Wed, Sep 12, 2018

spin class-1

Scroll through Instagram and you’ll see ads from every conceivable fitness craze—from trampolining and aerial yoga to infrared saunas.

What’s “hot” today (seriously, check out these saunas) might not be tomorrow, and because apps like ClassPass make it easy to try new workouts, it’s an even tougher market for upstarts to break through and survive.

That’s why I am a huge admirer of indoor cycling studio SoulCycle, and how it’s managed to survive and thrive despite the rise and fall of other fitness fads (is water aerobics still a thing?)

Last week at INBOUND 2018, Julie Rice, co-founder of SoulCycle, shared how she built fitness empire. In just over 10 years, she grew a single studio in Manhattan (Rice herself working the front desk) into a multimillion dollar pop culture phenomenon with a cult-like following.

What is it about a 45-minute spin class that catapulted SoulCycle into the ranks of brands like CrossFit and Nike? A brand that successfully fulfills the functional, emotional and social identity needs of its target customer.

SoulCycle’s workout lives up to its promise

This goes without saying, but SoulCycle is one heck of a workout. It’s more than riding a bike. Riders clip into stationary bikes and pedal to the beat of the music—following the lead instructor by adjusting speed and resistance based on the song.

From a customer experience perspective, SoulCycle delivers on the promise of an intense workout. Having been to a few classes myself, I can attest to how physically demanding their classes are—leaving you sweaty and physically drained (but accomplished).

This, in a sense, is the most tangible and functional benefit SoulCycle provides its customers—presumably the biggest reason why riders pay $36 per class.

But, there are other reasons why riders love SoulCycle beyond the solid workout.

SoulCycle sends riders on an emotional journey

As Rice explained last week at INBOUND, SoulCycle was always intended to be as much an emotional experience as it is physical. Twelve years later, that still holds true.

Words like “athlete”, “legend” and “warrior” adorn the SoulCycle studios. When the studio lights are off, these words are illuminated in white as vibrant reminders of how riding at SoulCycle is supposed to make you feel.

It’s emotionally transcending to be in a dark room with music blasting, pedaling in unison with 30+ other riders, while the words “LEGEND” and “WARRIOR” (and of course the instructor) scream at you to keep pushing. It’s empowering. You feel like a bad ass each time to dig your foot into the pedal.

At the end of the workout, you’re left feeling lifted, encouraged, and powerful. Few fitness brands can achieve this level of emotional connection with their customers—a force that drives riders into the saddle week after week.

The SoulCycle community

A good workout and emotional connectivity are integral to the SoulCycle experience. But perhaps what’s most compelling about SoulCycle is its masterful way of tapping into the social identity of its riders.

SoulCycle has strategically cultivated an “in” community that riders can’t get enough of. Both in the studio and out on the streets, riders gladly sport SoulCycle swag as badge of membership to this close-knit community.

A recent study by Harvard Divinity School researcher, Casper ter Kuile, underscores the importance of community in choosing fitness brands. People are drawn to fitness classes like SoulCycle because they “long for relationships that have meaning and the experience of belonging rather than just surface level relationships,” he continues, “Going through an experience that tests you to your limits…there’s an inevitable bonding that comes from experiencing hardship together.”

SoulCycle is about riding as a pack… and more importantly, being part of that pack.

It’s this feeling of inclusion and being part of a group of likeminded athletes that drives its unprecedented tribal following—a loyalty rivaled only by CrossFit.

And for SoulCycle in particular, maybe it’s the exclusivity—being a member of not just any community, but THIS community—that makes SoulCycle so alluring.

The Final Sprint

In 2011, Rice and business partner Elizabeth Cutler sold SoulCycle to national luxury fitness gym Equinox—forming a united front between the elite brands.

This partnership represents the continued success of SoulCycle as a leading fitness and lifestyle brand—one whose customer loyalty has continued over the years.

Fitness brands (all brands, for that matter) can learn a lot from SoulCycle in terms of what it takes to truly delight and retain customers. Of course, it’s necessary to provide a superior customer experience (a solid workout, in this case) and establish an emotional connection with customers. But, brands cannot forget about the critical role social identity and community play in maintaining customer loyalty.

As markets continue to be disrupted by technology, innovation and new entrants, brands must leverage functional, emotional, and identity benefits to stay in the metaphorical saddle of customer consideration and loyalty.

Savannah House is a marketing manager who is slowly but surely ticking different fitness classes off her bucket list. 

Topics: customer experience and loyalty, Identity, BrandFx

Why CrossFit Athletes Become Brand Promoters

Posted by Molly Sands, PhD

Wed, May 30, 2018

kettle ball

Earlier this year, 500,000 of my closest CrossFit friends and I came together for the Reebok CrossFit Open—the world’s largest organized sporting event. For five weeks, athletes would eagerly await that week's assignment, then head to the gym (for what I can only describe as some serious pain and suffering) to complete the workout under the supervision of a certified CrossFit judge. 

That type of commitment shows true customer dedication.

CrossFitters like myself have earned the reputation for being diligent promotors – a term used in market research to describe people that are very likely to recommend a brand to others. I often hear jokes like, "The first rule of CrossFit is to never shut up about CrossFit" (and it is). While I know not everyone wants to hear about my max back squat or the latest paleo craze, as a market researcher, I am in awe of how CrossFit has built and maintained its strong brand loyalty.

Here at CMB, we look at three key benefits that drive this type of brand loyalty. I may be biased, but The Open is a clear indicator that CrossFit has successfully capitalized on each of these benefits:

Functional benefits. Does this product deliver the desired result?

I’m not waking up at 5 a.m. to trudge to the gym in the snow to do handstand push-ups unless I see some dramatic improvements in my fitness. Not only can CrossFit be extremely effective for building strength and improving physical fitness, the program also concretely measures your progress to underscore these functional benefits. Athletes are encouraged to keep diligent records of their workouts so you can clearly see improvements over time.

Emotional benefits. How does this product make me feel? Does it fulfill my emotional goals?

There's a known link between physical health and emotional well-being, so it's not surprising a fitness-focused lifestyle would also deliver emotional benefits. However, CrossFit provides a range of emotional benefits beyond just an increase in general well-being, including increased self-efficacy, pride, and emotional strength. Additionally, positive emotions are associated with the sense of community the boxes (translation: box = gym) strive to create. All these result in an “upward spiral” of health and happiness that drives brand love.

Social Benefits. Are the other users of this brand like me? Are they people I want to be like?

When we choose a brand, we consider what the typical brand customer is like. Do we have anything in common with this person? Are we part of the same “tribe”? Are they someone we’d like to be friends with? CrossFit creates a tight-knit community of people who identify with and relate to each other. We regularly do team-based competitions and partner WODs (workout of the day) that help develop strong relationships with other members of the box (remember, that means gym). Everyone completes the workout together, and as we know from social psychology, mirroring physical movements can actually cause people to identify more strongly with each other.

And as you can see even from a few short paragraphs about CrossFit, we even speak our own language (e.g., box, WOD, AMRAP, EMOM, MetCon, etc…) All this helps to create a “tribe” that members identify with. Not only do lots of people love the brand, they also become ambassadors (promoters) that encourage others to use the brand, too!

Overall, CrossFit builds brand loyalty by inspiring measurable progress towards attainable goals, creating an “upward spiral” of health and happiness, and developing a strong sense of belonging to a community.

This is a valuable lesson for any brand looking to build a faithful following. While the desired functional, emotional and social benefits may vary by brand and industry, the importance of highlighting each benefit does not. Brands can utilize these underlying principles—and maybe even some of these exact strategies—(tall, venti, grande sound familiar?) to build brand loyalty in a base of dedicated consumers.

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Watch our short 20-minute webinar to learn more about the three benefits that drive customer loyalty:

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Molly Sands is on the Advanced Analytics team at CMB. When she’s not building predictive models, you can usually find her at a local CrossFit box or at least recommending it to somebody.

Topics: emotional measurement, customer experience and loyalty, Identity, BrandFx

How L.L. Bean Weathers Customer Loyalty

Posted by Nicole Battaglia

Wed, Apr 11, 2018

 LL Bean Boots_cropped

Sorry outdoor apparel fans, L.L. Bean isn’t accepting your beat-up duck boots anymore. The Maine-based outdoor retailer recently ended its flagship Lifetime Return Policy.

 L.L. Bean founder Leon Leonwood Bean introduced this policy over 100 years ago to prove their commitment to quality products and ensure customer satisfaction. And since then, generations of Bean-loving customers have enjoyed the forgiving policy.

But not everyone’s been so kind. A growing number of customers have taken advantage of L.L. Bean’s generosity by treating it more like a free exchange policy. According to the Associated Press, the company has lost $250 million on returned items that cannot be salvaged or resoled in the last five years alone!

From a financial perspective, this move makes sense. But the loyal Bean boot enthusiast and market researcher in me is curious about potential branding implications—will this alienate lifelong customers who might view this as L.L. Bean as “breaking its promise”?

For more than 100 years, L.L. Bean has built its brand image around “designing products that make it easier for families of all kinds to spend time outside together”. Enduring Northeast winters as a kid, I can vouch for the quality of their products—they are truly second to none. L.L. Bean isn’t ‘cheap’, but I don’t balk at their prices because I know I’m getting something proven to withstand harsh winters.

But, my loyalty for L.L. Bean runs deeper than the quality of my boots. Growing up in a Bean-loving home, I have a strong emotional connection to the brand.  I have memories of flipping through the catalog (back when that was the popular way to shop) and getting excited about when it was time to order a new backpack and matching lunchbox—monogrammed, of course.

When I’m home for the holidays, I head out to the local L.L. Bean store to make my holiday gift purchases. In 2015, L.L. Bean featured a golden retriever puppy on the cover of its holiday catalogue. As someone who grew up with goldens, this ad resonated with me on an emotional level.

I also strongly identify with other L.L. Bean enthusiasts. Most kids I grew up with had the monogrammed backpacks, and when I went to college, everyone wore Bean boots. My image of the typical customer is clear, relatable and socially desirable—the three aspects of social and self-identity that drive purchase and loyalty.

 When it comes to analyzing a brand’s performance, it’s critical to look at the complete picture and account for the identity, emotional, and functional benefits it provides. For me, the functional benefits (e.g. keeps my feet dry during a Nor’easter) L.L. Bean provides me are undeniably important; however, the emotional and identity benefits ultimately rank higher.

 I can’t speak for every customer, but the move to end their Lifetime Return Policy won’t keep me from shopping at L.L. Bean. Yes, it’s a shame the retailer had to rescind its signature guarantee—one that underscores their commitment to the quality of their products. 

But, it’s a powerful lesson for brands in an increasingly disrupted age: the strength of the benefits you provide your customer—social, emotional, and functional—can mean the difference between weathering the storm and keeping and growing your customers.

Nicole Battaglia is a Sr. Associate Researcher who isn’t pleased she’s had to wear her Bean boots into April this year.

Topics: customer experience and loyalty, Identity, AffinID, emotion, BrandFx

What Kind of Mother Are You?

Posted by Cara Lousararian

Wed, Mar 28, 2018

baby clothes (resized)-3.jpg 

People are quick to judge how we parent these days. No matter what you do, someone’s bound to have an opinion. And social media makes it especially hard where people can publicly shame and criticize parents from behind the veil of an Instagram handle.

This is one of the main reasons I stay away from social media.

But I’m not 100% immune from judgment because it happens every day in the real world. I often wonder what kind of mother I’m being labeled as based on my daughter’s appearance—from the clothes she wears and the toys she plays with to the stroller she rides in.

My daughter will have her first birthday this month, and in thinking about what I’d like to give her, I’m realizing that most of her gifts will be for my own benefit—what I think she’ll look cute in or what books I want to read.

The reality is, I’m shopping for myself.

As people, we gravitate towards brands that help us express and reinforce our identity. Each purchase decision is a statement of the kind of person we are—we’re always asking ourselves, “Am I the kind of person who uses ‘Brand X’?”

This principle also applies to parenting. For example, when we consider how to dress our children, we’re asking ourselves, “Am I the kind of parent whose child wears ‘Brand Y’?” How I dress my daughter says as much about me as a mother as it does her.

Until my daughter is old enough to dress herself (and I hope that day is a long way off!) she’s an extension of who I am as a parent.

So, for her first birthday, I will choose brands that reinforce who I am as a mother. I’m down-to-earth and don’t need my daughter wearing overpriced and “trendy” clothing, so I’ll gravitate towards brands designed for mothers like me.

Watch our recent webinar to learn more about how brands can provide identity, emotional, and functional benefits to build customer loyalty.

Watch Now

Cara is a Senior Research Manager who is lucky to have such a fun, beautiful 1-year old daughter that doesn’t mind wearing Carter’s and reading books only about dogs. 

Topics: Identity, BrandFx

Relatability, Desirability and Finding the Perfect Match

Posted by Dr. Jay Weiner

Tue, Feb 13, 2018

hearts-cropped-1.jpg

Dear Dr. Jay:

It’s Valentine’s Day, how do I find the one ones that are right for me?

-Allison N.


Dear Allison,

In our pursuit of love, we’re often reminded to keep an open mind and that looks aren’t everything.

This axiom also applies to lovestruck marketers looking for the perfect customer. Often, we focus on consumer demographics, but let’s see what happens when we dig below the surface.

For example, let’s consider two men who:

  • Were born in 1948
  • Grew up in England
  • Are on their Second Marriage
  • Have 2 children
  • Are Successful in Business
  • Are Wealthy
  • Live in a Castle
  • Winter in the Alps
  • Like Dogs

On paper these men sound like they’d have very similar tastes in products and services–they are the same age, nationality, and have common interests. But when you learn who these men are, you might think differently.

The men I profiled are the Prince of Darkness, Ozzy Osbourne, and Prince Charles of Wales. While both men sport regal titles and an affinity for canines, they are very different individuals.

Now let’s consider two restaurants. Based on proprietary self-funded research, we discovered that both restaurants’ typical customers are considered Sporty, Athletic, Confident, Self-assured, Social, Outgoing, Funny, Entertaining, Relaxed, Easy-going, Fun-loving, and Joyful. Their top interests include: Entertainment (e.g., movies, TV) and dining out. Demographically their customers are predominately single, middle-aged men.

One is Buffalo Wild Wings, the other, Hooters. Both seem to appeal to the same group of consumers and would potentially be good candidates for cross-promotions—maybe even an acquisition.

What could we have done to help distinguish between them? Perhaps a more robust attitudinal battery of items or interests would have helped. 

Or, we could look through a social identity lens.

We found that in addition to assessing customer clarity, measuring relatability and desirability can help differentiate brands:

  • Relatability: How much do you have in common with the kind of person who typically uses Brand X?
  • Social Desirability: How interested would you be in making friends with the kind of person who typically uses Brand X?

When we looked at the scores on these two dimensions, we saw that Buffalo Wild Wings scores higher than Hooters:BWW vs hooters1.png

Meaning, while the typical Buffalo Wild Wings customer is demographically like a typical Hooters customer, the typical Hooters customer is less relatable and socially desirable.  This isn’t necessarily bad news for Hooters–it simply means that it has a more targeted niche appeal than Buffalo Wild Wings. 

The main point is that it helps to look beyond demographics and understand identity—who finds you relatable and desirable. As we see in the Buffalo Wild Wings and Hooters example, digging deeper into the dimensions of social identity can uncover more nuanced niches within a target audience—potentially uncovering your “perfect match”. 

Topics: Dear Dr. Jay, Identity, consumer psychology