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‘It’s time for fitness to go digital – and that includes health clubs’


By Paul Bowman

Going digital need not be a scary process. Neither should gyms see it as a threat to their survival. Quite to the contrary: digital transformation will future-proof the health club model for generations to come. David Packman, Wexer’s new Marketing Director, speaks to Kate Cracknell.

“There are some very interesting parallels between the fitness sector and previous industries in which I’ve worked,” says David Packman, the new marketing director for digital fitness expert Wexer.

“Specifically, it’s about the timing. Throughout my career, I’ve worked for the cutting-edge companies that were leading the digital transformation of their respective industries, from the evolution of healthcare – bringing in technology to support the provision of that care – to the migration towards pay-to-view TV, to the digitisation of education via remote learning.

“This is why I’m so excited to be joining Wexer at this time. As market leader in virtual fitness, Wexer is well placed not only to grow the market, but also to lead the fitness industry through this crucial phase of digital transformation, ensuring health clubs remain at the very heart of things even as the fitness world becomes more hi-tech.”

Tackling perceptions

He continues: “But there is an inevitable challenge, and it’s a challenge I’m looking forward to taking on: how to market this technology effectively to make world-class exercise accessible to all. And that means addressing certain preconceptions about virtual fitness.”

“If we look at Babylon Health – the GP app for which I was previously marketing manager – it will offer some context. While some, particularly younger, GPs immediately embraced the Babylon app as ‘the future’, others viewed it as a threat both to their jobs and to the level of care offered to patients. We had an ongoing battle to allay GPs’ fears that they would be replaced by robots.”

“Our task was to help GPs understand that our app was there to complement their service, not to replace it – that a GP in combination with capable technology would actually lead to even higher levels of care and efficiency.”

“As Babylon was a ground-breaking innovation, we also had to bring consumers along with us, stimulating demand for our product not only among early adopters of tech but also among a wider audience – something we did by, for example, creating highly customised engagement campaigns for large corporates who offered the app as an employee benefit. We helped 15 large institutions reach 20+ per cent adoption, with one global organisation achieving 70 per cent activation among its employees.

“We now need to set out a similar narrative around virtual fitness, and this is the challenge I’m looking forward to addressing.”

“Firstly, there’s a fear among some health clubs and instructors that online and digital fitness offerings are a threat to their survival, but Wexer’s technology is designed to work withtrainers and gyms, not to replace them. It’s about enhancing the member experience and maximising the impact of great instructors, helping clubs deliver an even better service to their members.”

“This is the all-important message: that Wexer is there as a partner to health clubs, not a competitor.”

“Then, from a consumer perspective, we need to help gyms maximise uptake of their virtual installations. Wexer does this in a number of ways, from advice on the installations themselves to complimentary access to a range of marketing materials. We’re there to help clubs create cut-through with their members to ensure the success of their virtual offering.”

“What we found at Babylon, and what I believe will also be true at Wexer, is that we need to spark that lightbulb moment in members’ minds when they appreciate the full capabilities of the technology and realise what’s possible.”

Future-proofing an industry

Packman adds: “I believe virtual fitness is at an inflection point, with increased bandwidth/connectivity, ever-higher mobile phone and app usage, and an abundance of quality fitness content – as well as growing consumer interest in fitness generally.

“I therefore believe that Wexer, and the virtual fitness market as a whole, has the potential to grow rapidly. Gym chains are already evolving to become more customer centric, customised and data-focused, and Wexer is able to support this drive for personalisation. Its products, and its app in particular, allow clubs to harness the vast amount of customer data being gathered to create a more tailored, customised service for end users.

“There’s also a huge opportunity for gyms to work with Wexer to utilise and monetise under-used facilities, not only by creating a round-the-clock offering, but also by ensuring they make the most of every inch of space – including the growing number of clubs located in slightly awkward former retail spaces.

“Meanwhile, at the other end of the scale, Wexer can help operators leverage over-subscribed services – fully booked classes from top instructors, for example, which can be live streamed across club estates via Wexer Broadcast.”

He concludes: “Wexer is at the forefront of helping gyms digitally transform to better meet customer needs – both current and emerging. This will not only help clubs create an even better product, but will also drive member satisfaction to unprecedented levels – and that’s something I’m thoroughly looking forward to being part of.”

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