Running, Marketing, Positioning and Yoga

I had to stop running in fall 2013, because of a groin injury. After months of unsuccessful physical rehabilitation, I was advised to forget about running, consider low impact activities and concentrate on “strengthening my core”. I started cycling and swimming and in January of this year, I started yoga. I am now running, again. No doubt, my recovery is a result of the introduction of cross-training into my vocabulary and my exercise regimen, but since beginning yoga the improvements to my range of movement have been quite dramatic. I am back running and that is what is most important to me.

Yoga, Men, and Marketing

Yoga works for me and for many others as well, but not apparently, for the majority of males, it is a primary female dominated activity. In the classes, I have attended, the female to male ratio is usually about 8:1. While there is nothing wrong with this, there is significant marketing opportunity and audience for yoga marketers to target. In fact, in 2012 the yoga market was estimated to generate $27 billion dollars[i]. This forecasted to increase as Yoga gains popularity.

Marketing Yoga

Why is it, that yoga which has proven physical benefits regardless of gender, is practically shunned as an activity for the majority males? This most likely has to do with the way yoga has been marketed, in the past.

What is Yoga?

Yoga is classified by the National Institutes of Health as a form of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). The word “yoga” comes from a Sanskrit root “yuj” which means union, or yoke, to join, and to direct and concentrate one’s attention. In other words it is a form of mind-body fitness that involves a combination of muscular activity and an internally directed mindful focus on awareness of the self, the breath, and energy[ii].

 Situational analysis –

A 2012 survey conducted by Sports Marketing Surveys USA on behalf of Yoga Journal[iii] found that:

  • 7 percent of U.S. adults, or 20.4 million people, practiced yoga in 2012.
  • Yoga participation increased 29 percent since 2008.
  • Females accounted for 82.2 of the total yoga population and males 17.8 percent.
  • The age range 18-44 accounted for 62.8 percent of all yoga practitioners.
  • Respondents cited the top five reasons for starting yoga as:
    • Flexibility (78.3 percent)
    • General conditioning (62.2 percent)
    • Stress relief (59.6 percent),
    • To improve overall health (58.5 percent)
    • To increase physical fitness (55.1 percent)

Documented Benefits of Yoga

There are numerous research studies documenting the benefits of yoga. For the purposes of the discussion here, we will focus on a 2011 review[iv] of the published literature on the therapeutic benefits of yoga as it has been studied in various populations concerning a multitude of different ailments and conditions. For the purposes of the 2011 review “Therapeutic yoga is defined as the application of yoga postures and practice to the treatment of health conditions. Yoga therapy involves instruction in yogic practices and teachings to prevent reduce or alleviate structural, physiological, emotional and spiritual pain, suffering or limitations”.

Results from the 2011 review “show that yogic practices enhance muscular strength and body flexibility, promote and improve respiratory and cardiovascular function, promote recovery from and treatment of addiction, reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain, improve sleep patterns, and enhance overall well-being and quality of life”.

The review concludes “Yoga should be considered as a complementary therapy or alternative method for medical therapy in the treatment of stress, anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders as it has been shown to create a greater sense of well-being, increase feelings of relaxation, improve self-confidence and body image, improve efficiency, better interpersonal relationships, increase attentiveness, lower irritability, and encourage an optimistic outlook on life”.

It is also important to note that the data is inconclusive and other more rigorous studies are required.

Summary of Yoga

The benefits of Yoga are physical, psychological and spiritual. For many people, the physical attributes of yoga in (A) below, are the most credible and best supported by the literature, the psychological benefits (B) are still believable but less so (the research studies are less conclusive). It is the spiritual and mystical aspects of yoga (C) that are less well understood and are perceived more skeptically.

Marketing Barriers to increased Yoga participation among Western men:

  1. Marketing Language and Terminology: It is more than a little ironic that it is these underlying principles, beliefs, language and the terminology used to describe them that are probably the greatest barriers to increased yoga participation by western men. It is interesting and probably most depressing for purist practitioners of yoga that what began as a Hindu movement for spiritual meditation, to be more acceptable to wider audiences, has been diluted beyond recognition so as to lose much of its original meaning and context. Purists are of the belief that by practicing just one component of yoga without consideration of all the holistic aspects will not realize or attain its full benefits.
  2. Yoga Marketing executives have focused on Female bodies: It is probably not surprising that yoga is seen as a women’s activity as the majority commercial language and imagery used in yoga marketing and promotion appear to be focused on the potential of yoga as a weight-loss activity that can help women attain a perfect body. A “Yoga” search on a site returned 74K images, the majority of which featured “model-like” females. In images featuring male models, they are portrayed in group shots with women or in depictions of the more traditional yoga practices (which were primarily practiced by males).
  3. Other Marketing barriers to yoga uptake in Western males–
    • Viewed as a passive activity such as Pilates, aerobics or synchronized swimming.
    • Yoga not seen by men as providing an extensive / strenuous or competitive workout and therefore is of little benefit.
    • Not designed for male body / muscle structure.

Positioning Recommendations and Strategic Marketing Solutions:

If the goal is to increase male yoga participation, yoga marketing executives should consider including the following as part of an effective product strategy:

  • Product Positioning Strategy – Positioning yoga as an essential mainstream physical “Core Strength” activity for males either as a stand-alone activity (more sedentary population) or as part of the necessary cross-training (more physically active population). Positioning for the physical benefits while “targeted” to males, will also be heard by females.
  • Supporting Evidence-Demonstrate with well-designed clinical trials and pharmaco-economic data, the cost-effective benefits and outcomes of therapeutic yoga compared with other therapies and approaches.
  • Message to the appropriate audience targets:
    • Reinforce the “physical health” benefits message language in all communications.
    • Utilize more gender appropriate language and imagery
      • Appropriate, true to life depictions of target audience
    • Simplify the activity to make it less intimidating:
      • Initially use local (native) language and not Sanskrit to name and describe poses and not (which may decrease the perceived complexity)
      • Minimize chanting and mystical music if necessary (it can always be reintroduced later)
      • Consider relaxing yoga formal attire
    • Utilize traditional and social media channels to reach and educate targets.
    • Initially focus on the more immediate physical benefits. As yoga awareness and belief increases and the male participation share expands, it may be appropriate to gradually increase exposure to the psychological and mystical elements to optimize the customer experience and increase customer satisfaction.
    • Increase use of customer testimonials and celebrity endorsements to communicate attributes and benefits (athletes, people in high-stress occupations etc.).
  • Don’t ignore female audience
    • Protect core base with appropriate messaging.
[i] Woodyard C. Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life. International Journal of Yoga. 2011;4(2):49-54. doi:10.4103/0973-6131.85485.
[ii] ibid
[iii] Editor, YJ. Yoga Journal Releases 2012 Yoga in America Market Study. Yoga Journal December 2012
[iv] Woodyard. Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life.