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.

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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!