It took a while to find the gym, at the end of a corridor in a downtown mall known for its all-night bars. A group of 20-somethings in Lululemon gear wait outside for class, ignoring the smell of cigarettes and beer coming from the pub next door.
The gym itself is small and boxy with basic equipment and no mirrors.
It doesn’t look like much but this is F45, the fitness phenomenon that’s exploded to over 1,700 outlets in just eight years — at the same time the big, global chains like 24 Hour Fitness are going bankrupt.
So what’s its secret? Some say it’s the whiz-bang software it uses, but the real secret is F45’s ability to communicate. More than any fitness chain, F45 uses social media to help people learn, laugh, feel inspired and come back for more. Usually with a friend.
I could look under the hood and explain the details — the reams of health data you can share with others, the trainers roaming the floor shooting videos for Instagram, and the hive of activity on its social media platforms. But it’s easier to see for yourself.
Look here for just one of F45’s almost 30 outlets throughout Singapore, each with its own Instagram account. See how those posts engage you directly, with introductions to members, training demos and challenges.
Just over a decade ago, Domino’s Pizza was trading at US$3 a share and had a product that even it admitted tasted like cardboard. Today, it’s the world’s biggest pizza company with shares trading at US$380.
It stopped being a fast-food chain and became a digital company that sold pizza.
It began with brutally honest ads that told people ‘yes, we know, our pizza isn’t any good, but this is what we’re doing to change.’ Then it dove deep into its customer data to find out what worked, which led to a mobile-first strategy that communicated with its customers on Twitter, Facebook and Slack — and even via devices like Apple TV, Google Home, Amazon Echo, Ford Sync and a smartwatch.
Domino’s can boast one of the quickest and most successful digital transformations in the history of business. But the company is already facing challenges to its dominance.
Late last year, Domino’s downgraded its outlook for sales, citing hungry competition from delivery apps like DoorDash, GrubHub and UberEats. The seven-year-old DoorDash has received $2.8 billion in venture capital while expanding into 4,000 towns across the US and being named — for the second year in a row — the fastest growing brand in the country.
This is the double-edged sword of the digital economy. Sure, new technology breaks down doors and allows a company with a great story to race ahead of competitors. But it’s also helping everyone else, fuelling a digital arms race that’s creating an ever-faster cycle of destruction and creation.
In 1958, companies listed in the S&P 500 remained there for an average of 61 years. In 2011, this was down to just 18 years. And now, at the current rate of churn, about three-quarters of the companies in the S&P 500 will be gone by 2027.
JCPenney thought it had this all solved. It was one of the first retailers to sell online in 1994 and were early adopters of Facebook and other social media platforms. But the 118-year-old former catalogue company couldn’t figure out its story, going through several confusing rebrandings until finally declaring bankruptcy this year.
JCPenney could have survived. It was failing at the same time a pizza delivery driver named Ben Francis was growing his fitnesswear startup Gymshark from a side-hustle into a global ecommerce and social media sensation that turned over S$276 million last year.
Francis was among the first to recognise the power of Influencers to tell a brand’s story. He sent popular YouTubers his apparel while the small army of staff at JCPenney were still discussing what to put in their next catalogue.
Now Francis is taking aim at larger rivals like Nike, Adidas and Puma. And this being the digital economy, he might just succeed in overtaking these industry giants, just as F45 did in the fitness industry.
Or perhaps, like Domino’s, he might see his early success suddenly challenged by younger rivals telling better stories with newer technology.
Who knows? This is the digital economy after all. The only thing we know for sure is that we won’t have to wait very long to find out.
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Click2View is Southeast Asia’s premiere full-service independent B2B content marketing agency servicing clients like Microsoft, Google, Visa, Prudential, and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.