There aren’t many fitness businesses that can legitimately call themselves a “movement”, but the November Project isn’t like most fitness businesses. In fact, it’s not a business at all.
It’s not a running club either, or a bootcamp. It’s different. The media, eager to pigeonhole the un-labelable, have christened the movement “flash mob fitness”. The November Project is the demon love child of group fitness energy and Fight Club anarchy. It’s a 6:30am, epic city street take-over, not run by coaches or trainers but by “leaders”.
Picture a guerrilla-style bootcamp with not just tens, but HUNDREDS of sweaty, whooping, legging-clad people running through the early morning herds of briefcase-carrying-commuters in the heart of the City, hooting battle cries like “f%ck yeah” through the streets, running stairs and using fountains and monuments for box squats, and you’ll start to get the idea.
What began in Boston in 2012 with two guys using the city as their free gym to stay in shape during the winter has gone real-world viral, with new chapters cropping up all across the US.
There are now more than 19 self-proclaimed November Project “tribes” from New York to San Francisco. For the Project’s third anniversary, over 1,400 people showed up to run the stairs of the Harvard Stadium.
The Project has earned itself a cult-like status, with its own in-crowd rules and initiation rituals. Newcomers are required to hug other members before looking into their eyes and repeating the words “I’m glad you’re here”. Sessions are NEVER cancelled, whatever the weather. Handshakes are NOT allowed (the November Project is strictly a “hug only zone”).
The Project even has its own culture and language. Giving “a verbal” means you’ve promised to come to the next workout – and if you renege on that promise, you get shamed, Y-generation-style on the “we missed you” section of the November Project’s blog. It’s a secret society with its arms open to everyone. As long as you’re not afraid of hugs, you’re in.
What’s more, the sessions are FREE. The only payment to take part is a nice big sweaty hug or a high-five. Not even an email address exchanges hands.
Yes, while the rest of us are fretting about how to maximise our passive income streams, procrastinating about whether we should be charging in 4 or 8-week blocks and desperately scrambling to build our mailing lists, the November Project is out there getting sh!t done!
And the movement has grown so big, it’s starting to get sponsorship interest from huge companies like North Face, whose brand aligns with the adventurous, outdoor vibe of the Project.
So what is the key to the movement’s success? What can we, as fitness professionals, learn from it to help our own businesses thrive in the same way?
A Marketing Strategy for Bootcamps
In 2014, the November Project’s co-founders, Bojan and Brogan, presented a TED Talk in which they revealed the four “ingredients” to their secret sauce for creating a movement: 1. Inclusiveness; 2. A strong culture; 3. Fierceness; and 4. It has to be fun, new and creative.
All of these elements can be seen in the way the November Project operates.
I won’t go into them all here (watch the talk below for more info). Instead, I want to focus on an important cultural aspect that the November Project has tapped into and which I think plays a large part in its success.
Liberating the Smart Phone Generation
Obstacle courses like Tough Mudder and Total Warrior are more popular than ever before. In the age of the nanny state, people are looking for a little escapism from their 9 to 5 routines – an antidote to the bubblewrap.
Let’s face it, running rampage around the streets whilst the rest of the City is waking up probably makes you feel kinda badass. It has that enticing twang of the rebel about it, just like those extreme obstacle courses we all love. Stuck behind desks all day and spending our evenings staring into our smart phones, there’s a sense of liberation to be found in escaping the confines of your brick and mortar gym, tearing free from the rat race and using the landscape around you to workout.
To add to the renegade spontaneity, the location and times of the November Project’s “pop-up” workouts are announced on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter the night before.
They exclusively use social media to tell people where and when to #justshowup and they never miss a photo opportunity. Every workout will culminate in photos which are then posted immediately to social media. Everyone is understandably so proud to be a part of the movement, every picture gets tagged and shared like crazy.
We live in the world of smart TVs, smart watches, smart everything. A world where augmented reality is “actually a thing now”, practical tips are known as “life hacks” and words like “first gen” and “interface” are in everyday usage. The November Project is bootcamp for the dynamic age of growth hacking. Group fitness for the Instagram generation; a fitness community for the consumerism-sceptical but digitally connected.
The November Project may not have showers, a protein shake bar or even a locker room, but with a super engaged, social media driven following, a cult-like sense of community and the current trend for “out of your comfort zone” workouts, they’ve got everything they need to spread like real world click bait, and look super badass whilst doing it.
Is it possible to recreate a sense of this grassroots spontaneity into your bootcamps or your gym? Time to hit the streets with your bootcamps? Break free from the timetable and introduce “pop up” workouts for your members? Let me know what you think.