Can Peloton keep its cult status?
Will Peloton be able to sustain its brand beyond the pandemic? Or has it lost control of its brand narrative? Brand strategy director at Interbrand Naeiri Zargarian explains.
Peloton showed signs of breaking through in 2016. They were still a small brand on a strong and promising trajectory. The $2,500 bike was a status symbol and a showpiece. Surrounding it was an elite, cult-like community, so dedicated that some would ship the bike with them everywhere they traveled. At a time when boutique fitness brands such as Equinox and SoulCycle were booming, Peloton was zagging.
Branding expert Naeiri Zargarian asks whether Peloton’s brand can survive beyond the pandemic
It has been six years since then, and that trajectory has been supercharged by the pandemic. Initially, the company was applauded for pivoting successfully to in-home production with their instructors and giving people free access to their mobile app. They showed resilience and responsiveness. They helped you find your friends through micro-tagging and all of a sudden the conversations in the classes (like the instructor’s plants!) were bleeding into the mainstream cultural conversation. They became a hyper-relevant brand during a time when most were finding it hard to communicate anything.
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Much has been written about their impending doom – demand is slowing, active user numbers are dropping, competition is picking up. And it doesn’t help that the Peloton Bike+ injured two of TV’s most relevant characters (albeit successful ones, in their luxury homes).
One thing is certain – the rate at which Peloton was growing as a business was not sustainable. But what is yet to be seen is if those business circumstances will tarnish the brand itself.
From a brand perspective, it will come down to one of the most valuable intangible assets – its community. The community that Peloton built with its instructors, employees and loyal riders. So far, this community has passionately embraced anything the company does, including wearing their heavily-branded attire. While the pandemic may have brought in a customer base that bought the bike more out of functional necessity than deep desire, the question will be how to keep them engaged along with their core, passionate users. When growth happens fast, the brand risks losing the authentic and special connection it has with its core users, and ultimately advocates.
Will Peloton be able to retain the community and bring them into new products and experiences? This will be the key to steering it to success post-pandemic. It will be about bringing in its core DNA – data-fueled competitiveness, celebrity instructors and high-end design – toward horizontal growth. This will be a testament that its tribe still identify with the values that Peloton is known for – achievement, positivity and belonging.
Will they be able to keep the pride and aspirational nature of the brand? Or would it have become passe, a token of the worst days of the pandemic we would rather forget? My bet is that Peloton will re-focus, re-center and find its way forward with strength, as it has shown it can do many times before.