It’s 7:30 a.m. and I’m coming off my SoulCycle high, eager to seize the day. As I look around the main foyer of the NoHo location, the sunlit room is all smiles. I am truly in awe of this brand. In just six years Julie Rice has created a multi-million dollar fitness sanctuary; a place where a single class offering has amassed a cult-like following and put Exhale Spa addicts to shame. But why? The ambience is certainly a treat, with Verbena yellow candles infiltrating each room, neon words of encouragement covering the walls, and music playing so loud that the only thing you can focus on is the iconic yellow resistance knob on your bike. Still, this holistic health psyche is not new to the 21st century. Many other brands such as Lululemon and Organic Avenue have appropriated their brand meaning to the marriage of mind and body, a heavy-duty “mental floss” if you will.
Thinking on it more, I realized that SoulCycle has benefited from a cultural branding strategy that speaks to Millennials in a highly relevant way. Where brand meaning in the world of fitness is usually constructed by establishing associations between product and valued functional or emotional benefits (PX90 will transform your abs in three sessions, 60 minutes in an exhale class will give you peace of mind… etc.), SoulCycle has repurposed two cultural expressions that are special to the Gen Y identity – that being our sense of self as a result of growing up in teams, and our yearning for authenticity.
I can still hear echoes of Miss Renkin’s strained voice bellowing in my fourth grade classroom “…a team win is a personal win…a team win is a personal win” as we greedy ten year-olds battled for possession over a science fair trophy. Our class would quickly learn to share this shiny gem and accept equal ownership. Because Millennial life experiences are perpetually understood in the context of a group, most of us have identified our role within group(s) from an early age. Rather than being encouraged to “do our own thing,” we are asked contribute to the clan in a meaningful and distinctive way.
SoulCycle has capitalized on this behavior via class structure and communication. The bikes are situated close together and we all ride to the beat of the music, but this collective journey is tempered by the instructor asking us to focus on our individual energy, as a way of inspiring others. In one way or another, we are asked to feel and contribute to each other’s energy for an optimal ride. Sound cheesy? Don’t judge before you experience it for yourself!
As the Internet homogenizes culture, Millennials struggle to navigate the tension between individual and collective identity. Our seemingly distinctive ideas become retransmitted and cheapened across social media sites with each mouse click. More than ever, we seek the real and the authentic to resist a “wikification” attack on our personal character. Millennials will continue to invest in SoulCycle because the company markets their instructors as the brand’s most genuine property. Classes are tactful and engaging because of each instructor’s unique delivery of SoulCycle values. Depending on whose class you attend, the music, outfits, tempo and ‘grand narrative’ to motivate everyone will differ. These mini soul tribes that rally around instructors cater to that authentic experience Millennials crave under the larger brand vision…because nothing is more real than what makes us all different.
Because people override marketing messages in determining brand value today, products and experiences are purchased with the intent to join a brand – not just use it. For classes at $34 dollars a pop, there is every reason for me to spin elsewhere, but my loyalty to SoulCycle (along with many others) speaks to the importance of culture in branding – especially for Millennials.