Wellbeing as a Religion: Equinox

with Allan Wong, Dhananjay Chaudhary, Ling Xiao Chen, Kelly Saltzman, Kristiana Vangelova and Rashneet Mor — students in Markus Giesler’s MBA course Customer Experience Design at the Schulich School of Business.

“People don’t buy product and services. They buy relations, stories, and magic.” — Seth Godin.

In a world of countless options and easily replaceable products, how does a business differentiate and become indispensable to its customers? How can it build experiences that transcend the functionality of its product or service and create a belief in its brand that is so strong that it can only be described as magic?

To illustrate, let’s look at the American luxury fitness company Equinox. Sarah; a motivated millennial, an avid Equinox go-er, and an i-banker in Toronto left her employer and lost her Equinox corporate discount. Despite the new distance and higher membership fee, Sarah never considered quitting Equinox. Instead, she re-arranged her finances to remain a part of this community that she deems to be her church.

So how did Equinox do it? Well, it starts with a focus on building a strong brand following that appeals only to career driven individuals who view fitness as a lifestyle. Then, personally connecting members with each other through onsite and offsite events so they feel linked to the superior lifestyle that Equinox preaches. Lastly, it designed an experience where members feel emotionally fulfilled by the unique culture that they consistently return and partake in the functionality of a gym, consequently fulfilling their ideal self, leading to consumer conformity.

Build Strong Brand Following

Consumers are not only fascinated by idioculture, but also long to be part of one in which they share similar values. Thus, by identifying the market segment and rejecting individuals who are not part of this segment through means such as location or pricing, exclusivity and a sense of community is established. To incept a resilient brand, a unified goal must be in place. Equinox accomplished this through its bold imageries like the “Equinox body” and messaging like “Commit to Something” or “It’s not fitness. It’s life”. All of which intrigued customers on an emotional level by speaking to their highly motivated personality. Once internalized, consumers will not only use the product or service more often but also become walking advertisements for the brand!

Establish Deeper Connections

The customer experience with the product or service should not just stop at the product or service. Connecting members beyond the initial purchase of the product or service builds a sense of community and creates a deeper connection, thus making the brand indispensable to the users. Equinox achieves this by connecting with its members inside and outside the facility, from the sophisticated décor to the aromatic towel service, and the customized Equinox app, members enjoy an extravagant experience that transcends the functional offerings. Equinox creates a unique social community where members do not simply rush home after an exhaustive cardio session, but instead, relax with friends in the sauna/spa or socialize over drinks in the luxurious lounges. Outside of the gym, members often participate in group outings and events exclusively offered through Equinox.

Hone Consumer Conformity

A strong brand and tight-knit community is leveraged to increase consumer conformity. Consumer conformity creates a unified voice that is resilient against all criticism. Equinox’s persona establishes a culture where a membership is perceived as a privilege and where canceling the membership is comparable to losing your community. Members even sacrifice their individual identity by conforming to the club’s unapologetic persona (1). Sam participated in a group class led by an enthusiastic trainer who chose: “come on, sluts, let’s kick ass!” to motivate the class. In any other scenario, Sam would have vocalized the inappropriateness; however, at Equinox Sam willingly accepted the derogatory terms as the norm (2).

The brand followers create a community that fosters a loyal customer-base of individuals who are not price-sensitive. They not only embody the community ideals, but also preach it; and that is how products become more than just products. By nurturing a loyal brand following, offering a community of valued connections and leveraging this to have high consumer conformity, Equinox became a temple for individuals who see their well-being as a religion. Now, do you understand why Sarah couldn’t walk away?


(1) Allen, Vernon L. (1965), "Situational Factors in," in Advances in Experimental and Social Psychology, Vol. 2, ed. Leonard Berkowitz, New York, NY: Academic Press, 133-175.

(2) Turner, S (2017, October 12). Personal Interview (Interview with Kelly’s friends)

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