Brand Case Study: How SoulCycle Sells Inspiration

The founding company of a new age-esque group fitness class, SoulCycle hit its stride in 2006 and never looked back. What started as a small idea turned into a full blown fitness chain from coast-to-coast. A group cycling class held in a dark room to high-energy music, the SoulCycle movement does more than get you into shape: it inspires greatness.

This week I break down what’s made SoulCycle so special. I’m sharing the empowerment marketing strategy that’s made its message and brand highly successful...and allowed others to follow in its footsteps.

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The SoulCycle Phenomenon

What started in 2005 as a small idea between co-founders Julie Rice and Elizabeth Cutler has since turned into a hugely successful indoor cycling business, drawing in hundreds of thousands of riders a year. Starting small, SoulCycle launched with only two studios and built its presence in the New York City area over multiple years, finally partnering with Equinox for an even greater brand reach.

But though they partnered with a fitness giant, it’s not what’s made them so special.

SoulCycle’s brand essence and success hinges on the values it’s founded upon. Community, joy and inspiration fuel the brand’s ability to make group cycle more than just about fitness. Building a business on soulwork has turned out to be more lucrative than originally thought.

A Breakdown of the SoulCycle Brand Story

Though it sounds easy, building a brand isn’t. While these values seem mainstream today, SoulCycle has worked long and hard to make their brand story stand-out. Instead of relying on a large marketing budget for traditional media placements (e.g. TV commercials, magazine adverts, etc.), SoulCycle built a brand story that never wavered and was used within every aspect of their brand presence.

From their instructors to the studio layout, SoulCycle’s empowerment marketing strategy did one thing other companies did not: instead of focusing on what was lacking, they narrowed in on what was working. More precisely, they built their business on human potential.

Empowerment marketing is the use of value-driven strategies to increase sales through potential versus inadequacy (source). Instead of focusing on what is wrong, building a brand story or marketing funnel using empowerment strategies calls upon customers to do what feels right.

It’s no longer about what’s missing, but what’s possible.

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Empowerment Marketing in Your Branding Strategy

So how can you build a brand story using the same empowerment strategies? Here’s a short-list of strategies that work:

1 | CHALLENGE THE STATUS QUO

Is there an industry norm that you believe is outdated? Is there a way of doing things that could be switched up? What’s being told to your potential customers that is a lie?

Challenging the status quo means exposing familiar truths that may be outdated or no longer relevant. Breaking the mold and being the first to switch things up may not always be easy but it will help you stand-out.

2 | PLACE THE CUSTOMER AT THE CORE OF YOUR STORY

Traditional marketing made the product or service the centerpiece of any advertising campaign. Still today traditional marketing highlights product advantages and functionality. While this isn’t ‘wrong’ in any way, it definitely doesn’t work from an empowerment standpoint.

By placing your customer at the core of the story, you raise them up from being passive participants to active players. This adjustment evokes emotional responses and brand loyalty when done right.

3 | LIFT UP INSTEAD OF KEEP DOWN

Inspiring stories call upon the customer to reach for something more. Going for greatness requires action, perseverance and strength in whatever industry you are marketing to. So while traditional marketing has kept customers down, empowerment marketing lifts them up.

When using empowerment marketing to build brand awareness and equity, calls to action need to be positive, inspirational and achievable. They need to place the customer just outside their comfort zone - make them stretch a little - but attainable. SoulCycle does a great job of creating community through the act of attending class together, pushing participants through the tough parts and congratulating them on finishing. Coupled with endorphins, participants can’t help but come back for more!


Now that you know more about empowerment marketing strategies, in what ways could you incorporate these principles into your own brand story?