Motivating Behavior for Sports and Fitness Brands

There is more to sports and fitness than the activity itself. There are several factors that can help you align the right set of motivations that lead to consideration, purchase and participation.

At a base level, we can think about motivation as either positive or negative, and either intrinsic or extrinsic (Fig 1). For example, the precursor to today’s modern treadmill was invented as an extrinsic negative motivator. Sir William Cubbit designed in 1818 what he called a tread wheel to reform “stubborn and idle convicts.” The punishment was widely adopted and in the United States credited with taming even the most defiant prisoners. The “monotonous steadiness,” one guard wrote, rather than its severity, is what made it punishment – an opinion many treadmill walkers would agree with today.

Fig 1.

Motivating Fitness Brands Image.

So, the fitness industry is migrating perceived behavior from negative, extrinsic motivation to positive, intrinsic motivation to increase consideration, purchase and participation. And they need tools. For example, Scientific American explained music is not superfluous and can be, in fact, essential to peak performance and a satisfying workout. Many people depend on big beats and stirring lyrics to keep themselves motivated when exercising. Music distracts people from pain and fatigue, elevates mood, increases endurance, reduces perceived effort, and may even promote metabolic efficiency.

Dr. David Forbes offers a different aspect of intrinsic motivation. He argues that intrinsic motivation for choosing a particular thing or activity can be influenced by the experience a person is having in the moment; their recall of outcomes from past behavior; and/or their expectations for the future impact of their choice. For example, many people join team sports –and purchase the requisite equipment – to belong to a group and share the feeling of competition in the moment. In another example, the community-bonding appeal of Peloton cycle relates to unique and involving experiences in the moment, a recalled outcome of mastery and achievement, and a feeling of empowerment. Solo fitness pursuits are often chosen for the satisfaction of achieving quantified goals (E.g., a personal best time in a 5K run).

For marketers, motivation means…

Understand the larger context

If you have a health issue, the motivation and subsequent experience is quite linear: become aware of the condition, diagnose it, treat it. In staying healthy through fitness and sports, the experience and motivation are non-linear. Fitness and sports participation can rely on everything from mobile apps to grandmother’s old compress recipe. And they can each have value for a given audience.

Tap into existing drivers

Motivation can be harnessed from drivers that already exist. Again, consider that Peloton harnesses the power of community across its network to layer a valuable service on to a cycle machine. Think about team sports, where there’s the inherent motivation of camaraderie and competition with other teams that you can tap into. In this me generation, personal motivation is key. For Bauer, we created a highly regarded program that focused on school-age hockey players, urging them to OWN THE MOMENT and play their best game.

Find and attach yourself to other drivers

Sometimes motivation may need to be uncovered. We helped the Minnesota Wild NHL team invite fans to gather water from their local lakes and ponds and, via a special event inside the stadium, add it to the Wild’s home rink that the players skate on. Now, THIS IS OUR ICE is an in-game, every-game tradition: Before the puck drops at any home game, they conduct an “Our Ice” ceremony and one lucky fan gets to add their water to the ice. 

Tapping into people and their intrinsic, emotional motivations will take a brand further than a feature-benefit communication typically found in ads. Finding the right experiences, those places of participation, will create a more meaningful connection with people than forced messages in paid-for media containers. Don’t just sell to customers, create human moments.