When I first heard about SoulCycle — famous for their full-body indoor cycling workouts — I swore I was never going to pay $30+ to be tortured in a 45-minute spin class. I could think of a million far more relaxing ways to spend the money.
But years later, when it became apparent that SoulCycle was far more than the latest celebrity fad, I was curious to see what the hype was really about. The reality is you can walk down the street and pay half the price for a spin class. So, why exactly is SoulCycle so addicting? I went in wanting to hate it, but after the first song, I knew I was hooked. I drank the SoulCycle Kool-Aid, and there was no going back.
SoulCycle offers an experience: the classes are 40 percent the hardest workout ever, 30 percent therapy session with motivational mantras and 30 percent the euphoric feeling you get from dancing the night away at the hottest club with your best girlfriends — minus the alcohol, which means no painful hangover.
All of these things coming together was not an accident. It was a perfect branding storm created by SoulCycle founders, Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice.
Entrepreneurs can learn a lot from Cutler and Rice’s highly effective branding techniques. Here are four things that make SoulCycle a branding success story:
1. Customers always know what to expect. If your brand is offering mixed messaging, customers tend to get confused, and it prevents them from relating. Everything you put out there should have a consistent personality, design and aesthetic.
Whether you are taking a class in New York or Los Angeles, you will have the same experience. We are creatures of habit, so we love brands we can rely on, despite location. This is the same kind of mentality that allows Starbucks to sell us $4 coffees whether we are in Dallas or London.
SoulCycle fans know what to expect the second they walk into any one of the 20 locations. As Cutler puts it: “From the grapefruit smell, to the mantras on the wall, and the upbeat positive energy you feel when you walk in,” everything is uniformed.
2. Growth is careful and calculated to keep customers intrigued. Unlike their competitors, SoulCycle’s growth has been relatively slow, which makes their offerings feel more exclusive. This adds demand to each class. There are only so many locations, and within each class, there are only so many bikes. When you score a bike, you feel like you are in for a special treat.
While their strategy hasn’t been to open the most locations in the shortest amount of time, their plans have changed over time. When Cutler and Rice opened the first studio in 2006, their goal was to only have three studios. Now they have 20, and plan to have 60 by 2015. The brand is currently focusing on expanding in their existing markets — New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, with plans to expand to Washington, Boston and London in 2014.
They have slowly molded a strategy that works, and gained buzz before massively expanding.
3. Customers are the best advertising. Even in our digital world, nothing comes close to word-of-mouth recommendations. One customer telling a group of girlfriends how much she loved a SoulCycle class is far more valuable than any advertising money can buy. We trust our friends’ recommendations. SoulCycle’s focus is continuing to maintain their quality and consistency, so people keep talking about it.
What’s more, when SoulCycle introduced their branded line of gear, their fans also became walking advertisements. Their logo, a yellow bike wheel that almost looks like a sun, can easily be printed on all kinds of merchandise.
When creating a new brand, it is important have a simple logo that can re-purpose in various ways as you grow. Whether it is word-of-month praise or people sporting the SoulCycle gear around town, this devotion keeps propelling the brand forward.
4. Employees have pride in the company and show it. It is hard to get your employees to care as much you do. SoulCycle seems to have found the solution by allowing their instructors to be mini-celebrities in their own rights. At SoulCycle, during the 12-week instructor training program, instructors are taught “how to be themselves while teaching the SoulCycle method,” says Cutler.
This freedom get instructors excited about the brand, which translates to the students. SoulCycle customers don’t pick a class based on location or time; they pick based on instructor. If your employees who are in direct contact with your customers love the brand as much as you do, it can become infectious.
There are tons of brands out there that all provide quality services and products. Branding is that little something extra that takes a company from being decent to being amazing and memorable.
Rebekah Epstein is the founder of fifteen media, an agency that works exclusively with PR firms to streamline media relations in a digital era. She specializes in business, lifestyle, fashion and beauty.
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