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Behind SoulCycle's First Branding Campaign

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For more than a decade, SoulCycle has relied on the power of its cult-like following to drive brand awareness and expansion—it recently opened its 74th location. Now, amid rising competition, the fitness chain has created its first branding campaign to highlight the SoulCycle name and ethos ahead of new company initiatives scheduled for later this year. On Tuesday, the New York-based brand, which is owned by Equinox, debuted its new effort, its first work with Laird & Partners.

"We've been focused the last two years around opening new locations in new markets, and we felt it was the right time to try something we've never done before—to create an integrated brand campaign," explained Melanie Whelan, who became chief executive two years ago. She noted that SoulCycle has new initiatives in the works for later this year and that the company wants to "elevate and evolve" its messaging to be more reflective of the transformation. Some initiatives will include new rider-initiated challenges and an increased number of pop-up locations, where SoulCycle will host a short-term studio in a new city to test the market.

For the "Find It" campaign, the cycling company created a two-minute anthem spot in which instructors speak about the importance of finding yourself and tapping into your greatness. "You don't have to be perfect," says one, as another asks "What drives you, what motivates you, what inspires you?" Shots of the speakers are interspersed with group shots of cycling classes. SoulCycle will also wrap some of its locations with new imagery from the campaign and push out content via its own social media channels as well as through the accounts of its more than 300 instructors.

SoulCycle began working with Laird about three months ago. The cycling company has seen a fair amount of change of late with the departures last year of founders Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice. In addition, Ms. Rice's husband, Spencer Rice, who had served as chief marketing officer, also left and the company is not currently searching for a CMO replacement. In addition, the company's plans for an IPO, first initiated two years ago, are currently still on hold.

Experts say that as the company fashions an expansion into new markets—it opened its first studio in Canada earlier this month—new marketing will help generate buzz and keep competitors at bay. In addition to fast-growing Peloton, the venture-capital-funded venture that sells stationary bikes for the home, and rival Flywheel Sports, SoulCycle is also dealing with small independent cycling studios that are popping up in local markets around the country. Now more than ever, the brand needs to remind consumers of what it stands for.

"SoulCycle was the first in the category and had first mover's advantage," said Rick Caro, president of sports consultancy Management Vision. "But there's more clutter in the marketplace—more individual, entrepreneurial group cycling studios that have opened up not just in major fitness cities but also in B cities like Louisville, Ky. and Raleigh, N.C."

Also, while the trend of social fitness as a group is still going strong, new fitness fads are popping up that will ultimately mean more competition for SoulCycle.

"We're seeing a surge in climbing clubs, where you can rock-climb and drink beers with your pals—that's a hot thing right now," said Matt Powell, a sports industry analyst at market research firm NPD Group.