Recently fitness clubs Soul Cycle and Equinox found themselves in a bit of a pickle when majority stakeholder Stephen Ross was discovered to have been making significant contributions to President Trump’s re-election efforts.
While under other circumstances this may not have registered on the radar of the news media, in this case it did. The challenge or business problem is that Equinox and Soul Cycle draw a lot of their brand advocates from larger more liberal cities and from an audience that leans more left. They promote those left-leaning values to customers and prospects as a way to make an emotional connection. When advocates found out, they raised concerns. Many of them loudly.
From San Francisco to The Hamptons, club members expressed their displeasure. One member said, “SoulCycle was something that made me feel good. But, I think for the time being, I am done.” That member certainly wasn’t alone; the brand(s) became the target of boycotts.
Anne Mahlum, CEO of competitor Solidcore in Washington, D.C. said, “So what you’re asking club members to do is set aside their values in certain situations and that’s a tough ask.” She is right. In our 2017 THINK Report, a survey with Mintel where we interviewed 2,000 American adults, they reported how important shared values are in their purchase decisions. In fact, the more respondents practiced health and wellness or mindfulness activities, the more likely they were to both purchase and pay more for that brand.
Mr. Ross’s criticisms didn’t stop with SoulCycle or Equinox. He is also the owner of the Miami Dolphins and his political connections reached the player level with wide receiver Kenny Stills calling out Ross too. Still’s claim was that support of the president and his positions were in conflict with Mr. Ross’s non-profit RISE (Ross Initiative in Sports for Equity). In the end, the two agreed to disagree. Ironically, Stills was traded to the Texans. Coincidence? Probably.
As we have stated here before, values matter. Making a values connection makes a strong emotional connection. People more often buy with their hearts, not their heads. Anything that a brand does to build like and trust by making values-based connections will strengthen the relationship with those customers. Anything you do that erodes that trust, well, you get the picture.