The devaluing of the yoga market and how to differentiate

I’m studying pilates teacher training and before I’ve even completed my first online unit I’ve started thinking about fitness marketing.

Pilates and yoga are sometimes considered interchangeable, but ideologically are quite different. Yoga is a moving meditation, and the aim of the practice is to achieve stillness of the body and mind. Pilates is about mindful movement for the healing or prevention of injuries – many dancers become instructors after personally experiencing the benefits of the practice.

The different ‘sports’ appeal to different people, and pilates has a consistently hands-on approach and specificity of movement that works for me. Pilates also hasn’t suffered from the severe devaluing of its market that yoga has experienced.

 

The devaluing of the yoga market
Yoga is difficult to make big money from. Sure, lots of people attend classes, but yoga is generally consumed one hour at a time, and for each class there’s travel and set up time for an individual, and the extensive hours of paperwork to maintain a roster of staff for studios.

So for many business owners wanting to expand and frustrated by the short change of the fitness industry, the solution has been to offer yoga teacher training (YTT). These intensive courses pay thousands for a single customer over a short time period in one simple transaction.

Unfortunately, over time, this has meant a saturation of qualified teachers in the market. Basic economics is proven here with the price of yoga classes dropping over time. This is already a pretty bad situation, but the devaluing continues further along the chain.

Many YTTs are intensive and minimal, and don’t leave students feeling confident enough to teach a class. To bridge the gap in their teaching experience, these freshly minted instructors will teach classes for free or very cheap, which in turn devalues the rate of yoga classes yet again.

So yogis are stuck competing against a high number of teachers with decreasing prices. How can you compete? The key is differentiation. Smart yogis have differentiate themselves with high qualities of service, excellent venues, or ‘gimmicks’ such as singing walls, hip hop yoga, beer yoga, and other fads. They might seem cheap but these gimmicks make yogis stand out from the crowd.

A case study in differentiation in Yoga: The spiritual value of donation yoga

One clever differentiation is a friend’s model of ‘pay as you feel’ yoga. While at first this sounds like a terrible idea – who would pay if they don’t have to? It’s proven to work for her, with most students paying her recommended full price.

By contrast, some teachers I know have tried pay as you feel yoga in parks and attract mostly travellers, develop no regular customers, and generate no revenue.

So what’s the difference? I believe her financial success is due to quite a few factors, outlined below.

Let’s talk about her first target market (because not all students are the same).

My friend already had a great reputation as a yoga instructor in Melbourne, so when she started her own studio, she brought her own students. They were offered a free rate, but they were happy to pay her recommended donation, which she had clearly outlined online and on signage that explained that your payment subsidised another student.

She has a highly respected, traditional yoga practice – she returns to India regularly to train and teaches a challenging, consistent Vinyasa. Her first target market, the student who keeps coming back, is the serious yogi looking for hard work and consistency in their practice. and she’s catered for their needs. She has her own studio which offers consistent, early morning classes for people on the go. She makes booking easily available online, and is located in an affluent suburban area, not too far from the city. Her studio is small, clean and minimal but provides all equipment for convenience.

These students are also likely to call themselves ‘yogis’ and identify with the spiritual nature of the practice. She offers the value of convenience, and enhances the value of the spiritual aspect of yoga through the donation system – they pay because they’re donating to others, creating a more meaningful practice and a sense of community. Her point of difference (the by donation system) specifically appeals to this target market.

Realising that she had a totally new idea, she approached every press she could find to tell them all about it and received excellent press coverage which was a huge help to her new business, and attracted two new target markets – people who might not be able to pay (right now), which could attract new students into yoga who can eventually pay, and attracting people who are interested in the spiritual aspect of the yoga practice. Very clever!

 

Pricing for new service businesses

1. Do your research – know the market rate
2. Think of opportunity cost – what is your time worth
3. Consider your flat hourly rate
4. Include your prep time in your quote
5. Articulate your value through detailed line items
6. Lay out your document clearly
7. Don’t undercharge!
8. Know your value, and communicate it to the client.

Authentic marketing

The concept of authenticity is something that’s cropped up for me as I take the step into freelance work. Deciding whether to present myself as a person or a brand, I had a think about whether I really reflect the energy of the work that I do, and whether my name is the right representation of my services.

A friend of mine just quit marketing because it’s never felt true for her. She found the concept of promoting brands through her personal social media accounts kind of a “dirty” practice that made her feel cheap. Working in marketing felt false to her – like she had to put on a mask – because she didn’t believe in what she was doing.

Her revelation made me wonder what it is about marketing that feels so right for me, and how it reflects my personal values. I realise that I don’t just work with business, or with the idea of making small businesses money – that’s not enough motivation for me. I work with people, and I work with communities, and I see individual business success as part of a broader economic and social framework. When business is good, it’s usually good for everyone. Because of that, I’m unlikely to take on clients with businesses that I don’t believe in.

In terms of putting my face and personality on the table as part of my freelance services, I also think it’s a really good step in the current climate. People connect to a person, not to a brand. Social media is really slapping us in the face with this idea – personal connection is at the core of everything we do. And I think that links back to authenticity – people want you to put your money where your mouth is and step out of the shadows. It’s why it’s a good idea to sign off responses to social media on big business accounts with a first name. Put your name on the brand, get in front of a camera, put pen to paper with a blog – whatever way you want to do it, prove that you believe in what you do.

Marketing as a writer: Make something new

My first job working as a writer in the corporate world was a painful process. I wrote e-newsletters for a car marketing company, and the car dealership owners would review and make suggestions to my copy. They favoured heavy-handed clichés similar to the car ads they said they were trying to get away from. In a few short months the role made me feel that my communications degree was useless.

I learned at university that cliches are the enemy of writing. Writing is ideally storytelling, spinning something entirely new into existence. You don’t want to just repeat the same old stories in the same old way. I had learned that writers aspire to a unique ‘voice’ – their own rhythm and style that runs through their work. But in this role I was asked to churn out high-school level copy while barely thinking. and the executives and dealership owners loved it!

I quit shortly afterwards in boredom and frustration and let go of the idea of writing for a living. I eventually became a marketer – ironically, content strategy and content writing have been core parts of of most of my roles over the past seven years. And sometimes, yes, I have found myself falling back on cliches. The way I was taught marketing, a campaign doesn’t strive for ‘newness’ in the same way that writing does. If ‘buy now’ in big red letters works, by all means use it again.

But perhaps we marketers can learn something from the art of poetry, which I’ve recently taken up again.

It’s true that a successful marketing campaign doesn’t always rely on a new concept. But all too often we see the same ideas reiterated, cliches turned out, and campaigns indistinguishable from several others in the market. Meanwhile in my poetic work I edit, re-edit, and then edit some more to vigilantly remove cliches and try to say something different.

The reason for the newness in poetry is because you want to create something people will never forget. You want one phrase like ‘purple pregnant sky’ to linger for days. There’s an emotional resonance and meaning in poetry – something that speaks to people and makes them feel that whoever wrote those words understands something special in them.

And really, doesn’t that sound like great marketing?