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Presenting

Zach Beatty

VP of Marketing at Aaptiv

As the VP of Marketing at Aaptiv, a leading provider of premium digital health and wellness content, Zach has surveyed the wreckage of an industry rife with products and services that have made promises they can’t keep.

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WHAT IS AAPTIV?

Aaptiv is the audio fitness brand aiming to improve the lives of millions through fitness by combining scientifically effective programming, empathetic trainers, and uplifting music.

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The fitness industry has a customer loyalty problem

New Year’s Day is an object lesson to this effect. New members storm gyms by the busload, and less than two weeks later, the scene is a ghost town. Little, it seems, can be done to retain them. 


Zach Beatty doesn’t blame customers’ intrinsic motivation. As the VP of Marketing at Aaptiva leading provider of premium digital health and wellness content, Zach has surveyed the wreckage of an industry rife with products and services that have made promises they can’t keep.

The fitness industry hasn’t always helped consumers develop a true understanding of the time, programs and habits necessary to reach their health goals. We’ve all seen ads for quick fixes in the form of nutritional or supplement packages, gadgets, and training programs that promise unrealistic results in a short time and little effort. If consumers define their success based on these expectations, they are likely to get discouraged and give up. That’s why at Aaptiv we strive to help our members develop the habits, routines and confidence necessary to live a healthier life. From what I’ve seen within the Aaptiv community, many of our members are accomplishing more than they ever thought they could.

Aaptiv offers its customers exactly that—routine, encouragement, and support—in the form of over 2,500 audio-based workouts designed to push people beyond their limits with trainer-led classes across every type of exercise and a wide variety of activities, including running, strength-training, yoga, indoor cycling, meditation, and more. So in an industry full of businesses relying on fads to keep them afloat, Aaptiv stands out.

The idea that dollars cannot replace discipline has not only shaped Aaptiv’s product, but how they market it, too. Despite what many of us have read in viral stories about growth hacking, Zach’s cross-functional team knows that a loyal customer base will not appear overnight, especially not in the health and wellness space.

Both Aaptiv and its members succeed, in part, because they’ve given up their addiction to quick fixes, and recognized that nothing can replace hard work. Aaptiv members know that meal-replacement shakes can support an active lifestyle, but not substitute for one. Similarly, Zach knows that growth marketing tactics can supplement a customer strategy, but they cannot be the strategy—not if he wants customers to stick around.

In our interview with Zach, he tells us how Aaptiv’s cross-functional team of marketers, data scientists, product experts, and in-house trainers have turned their quest for acquiring customers into a commitment to creating advocates—the kind who not only use Aaptiv regularly and encourage others to do the same, but also leave reviews like this one:

"This app will make you look forward to working out. You'll be hooked and your workouts will never be the same. You'll want to tell everyone about Aaptiv!"

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Aaptiv’s ability to generate a review like this not only speaks to the quality of Aaptiv’s product but also to their investment in customer engagement. Because Mike, the member quoted above, not only thinks other people will love Aaptiv as much as he does, but will also want to share that love as much as he does.

To some marketers, Zach team’s prioritization of customer engagement right alongside acquisition might sound surprising, but more and more, Marketing is taking responsibility not just for the customers it finds but also the quality of those customers and their lifetime value.

“Some marketing teams don’t give much thought to what customers do after conversion. They don’t ask, ‘What’s the downstream impact?’ At Aaptiv, the marketing team pays close attention to the full funnel. Our focus on engagement metrics serves a number of purposes- it ensures we are doing the right thing for our customers, which in turn impacts our bottom line, and it also informs how we develop future acquisition programs.”

At Aaptiv, personalization is all about the all the member touchpoints starting with discovery, when Marketing needs to show the value that they offered a customer during the acquisition phase. “A member’s experience doesn’t start just when they “convert”—it starts when they first learn about and interact with Aaptiv. So one of the things that I think is extremely important is to not only clearly convey what the member is going to get, but then follow through on those expectations when the member clicks through from an ad or promotion. Once someone signs up, it’s really up to us to help guide them, because we have over 2,500 workouts in the app.

Some marketing teams don’t give much thought to what customers do after conversion.

In the age of personalization, Zach believes in getting granular. Delivering the right workout content to a certain member or audience shows them that the story is contiguous—that what they clicked on is what they’ll receive in the app. If Zach can’t make good on whatever niche workout the member came to Aaptiv expecting, he wasted dollars acquiring them—to say nothing of their time. But Zach and his team certainly can’t handpick the perfect workout for each of Aaptiv’s 200,000 members themselves, so they do it with data.

“One of the outcomes of looking at our member’s engagement trends was realizing that some new members might not know where to begin.” It’s understandable. Aaptiv offers what some might, at first, experience as an overwhelming amount of variety: tons of unique programs and classes, all searchable by type of activity, level of difficulty, trainer, and music taste.

“We took this observation and built a “recommended for you” section that helps our members, especially new ones, find programs and workouts that align with their goals, preferences, and abilities. The latest update has these suggestions that will evolve over time. It’s essential that we get in the habit of using the feedback from our members and the metadata about the classes to deliver them the best experience possible. When we think about building personalization into the product, we have to take a look at the feedback and data and ask what makes a workout good versus great. Is it the trainer? The music? The difficulty? Which elements are consistently rated highly by that member or member group, and which do they not like as much? That way, next time they open Aaptiv, we can recommend a workout that best fits their training style.”

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In order to successfully use member behavior data to build those customized experiences, Zach’s marketing team relies on the expertise of other organizations. “Because our focus is much broader than strict acquisition, we work cross-functionally more than a traditional marketing organization would.”

That’s because at Aaptiv, everyone holds themselves accountable to delivering the best possible experience for the member.

“It is a very collaborative environment. We try to avoid building silos where individuals are solely focused on their own goals or KPIs. Instead, we cultivate an environment where marketers work closely with engineers, data scientists, as well as the content and audio team to solve problems and understand what will drive the most value for our members.”

Out of all the teams, the marketing department collectively has the largest stake in acquisition, but Zach’s team works closely with the rest of the company to understand how the acquisition process affects other parts of the funnel. “For example, we might work with the data science team to help us understand the downstream effect of a new signup flow, or work with the CRM and Brand teams to see which content, email, and push notifications best help members find the right programs. These insights impact how Brand presents different aspects of the product and how Growth advertises to prospective members. It’s a very different approach than simply trying to grow a subscriber base at all costs.”

These are the challenges the marketing leader at a subscription-based company faces. Aaptiv isn’t selling a product that is meant to be a one-time purchase, where volume sold is the driving factor of success. Aaptiv’s business depends in part on new member acquisition, but equally so on convincing existing customers that it’s worth sticking around month after month. The product is based on building relationships and earning the trust of their customers, so the marketing must be as well.

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Occasionally, there will be instances when easy wins for acquisition may not drive the intended results in other areas. In an ideal world, the interests of different teams would never clash, but in his career, Zach has seen campaigns prioritize vanity metrics and impact other aspects of performance.

“Over the years I’ve seen many marketing teams look no further than one metric: new customer volume. This narrow view ignores the impact a campaign might have beyond conversions. Marketers, particularly those focused on acquisition, need to ask questions about how their campaigns will impact the customer’s experience: is the value proposition clear? Could this messaging increase churn rates? Will there be an uptick in returns or support calls? These downstream effects need to be factored into the planning process because they impact the customer’s view of the brand, and, eventually, that can affect overall performance.”

Zach says that teams also should introduce this critical thinking process as well as post-campaign reflection to inform the selection of the experiments they run, so they can understand what will be best for the customer and the company in the long run.

For instance, another marketer might prioritize showing members classes that are easy to complete when they first start a trial. After all, Aaptiv knows that completing that first workout is an important behavior in a customer’s lifecycle. To force this behavior, some marketers might think to only surface beginner classes. The easier the workout, the higher the completion rates. Higher completion begets more engagement. That’s would be one approach some may try.

Zach emphasized the need to dive deeper into the member’s first experience: “Prioritizing any engagement over the right types of engagement doesn’t necessarily give our members what they are looking for. We have to consider things like completion rates, ratings and preference to ensure we’re creating workouts and programs our members really love.” It’s the kind of mistake that some acquisition marketers fixated on top-of-funnel activity would march right into. In all likelihood, though, this error could impact member retention over time.

“We need to make sure we’re measuring our member’s satisfaction with our content in all stages of their journey. Whether they just joined Aaptiv or have been part of our community for years, we need to ensure we’re consistently delivering value to our members, because what helps them is also ultimately what helps the company grow as well.

Over the years I’ve seen many marketing teams look no further than one metric: new customer volume. This narrow view ignores the impact a campaign might have beyond conversions. Marketers, particularly those focused on acquisition, need to ask questions about how their campaigns will impact the customer’s experience: is the value proposition clear? Could this messaging increase churn rates? Will there be an uptick in returns or support calls? These downstream effects need to be factored into the planning process because they impact the customer’s view of the brand, and, eventually, that can affect overall performance.

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Customers grow loyal to businesses that make a compelling promise and then fulfill their expectations. Here again, the fitness industry functions as a helpful object lesson: Everyone knows someone who has abandoned a resolution, but many also know someone who’s signed up for a gym or training program and steadily grown into an evangelist, unable to quit. (CrossFit folks, we’re looking at you.)

It’s easy to acquire the first kind of customer. Businesses that cast a wide enough net will catch many. But when those customers walk away, all that hard work will add up to a grand total of the first and last month membership fees and a vague recollection of having tried (and failed) that program that one time.

Acquisition dollars are better spent on the kind of customer that Aaptiv has built its marketing around—the one who stays active, engaged, curious, and vocal, regularly relaying feedback about why they keep coming back and sharing their love of Aaptiv with others. Their lifetime value is often worth more than a hundred of the ubiquitous acquire-to-quit members who come around for a New Year’s resolution or a summer body. That’s why Zach believes engagement will time and again prove itself the better driver of revenue. Marketing can either be incidental to this change, or—if the team prepares for a journey—instrumental in it.

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