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  • The Intimidation Factor. Part 2

    Posted on October 14th, 2012 Patricia No comments

    The cognitive system. The cognitive system includes five higher mental processes that have an impact on how the symbols attached to an exercise facility affects the consumer:

    1) Understanding or interpreting the meaning of symbols and other aspects of the exercise facility that are important to the individual.

    2) Evaluating or judging whether one aspect of the exercise facility, or one’s own behavior, is good or bad, positive or negative, favorable or unfavorable.

    3) Planning how to solve a problem or reach a goal. For example, if weight loss is the goal, members are usually capable of planning a course of action to help them reach that goal.

    4) Deciding by comparing alternative solutions to a problem and selecting the best alternative.

    5) Thinking — the overall general cognitive activity that occurs during the previous four processes.

    The cognitive system interprets aspects of personal experiences and the meaning of beliefs.

    The relationship between affect and cognitive systems. At times, affective reactions to the environment can influence thinking processes during decision-making. At other times the cognitive system influences affective responses. For example, interpretation of information about exercise facilities, specifically the way advertisers use models to portray a facility, can trigger affective reactions. Models used in fitness ads are generally in such great shape that an overweight consumer often feels bad when looking at the models. The bottom line is that both affect and cognition are important concepts to consider when designing facility marketing strategies.

    Previous exploratory research

    Previous research on this topic used extensive exploratory interviews with inactive individuals to determine why they felt intimidated about trying certain types of sports or exercise programs.a,b These interviews suggested that four clusters of variables were impacting intimidation (see Figure 1). Three of these clusters are functional, relating to accessibility, learning environment and participation objectives. They are relatively easy to measure and are frequently discussed in marketing and sales tips.

    The fourth cluster of variables relates to images inactive individuals have of themselves, of people with active lifestyles and of the type of movements an active lifestyle encompasses. From these images, individuals make comparisons between themselves and the exercise facility, and decide whether they will feel comfortable within that environment. In essence, these variables relate to the individual’s self-image and to the symbolic meanings associated with an active lifestyle. The symbolic nature of an exercise facility can result from advertising, the media, sport/fitness advocates and fashion leaders such as Jane Fonda.

    Consumers interpreted six categories of symbols to evaluate how well they would fit into a fitness facility.

    1) Age. Some exercise facilities have strong age symbols attached to them, causing people to believe that only a certain age group will fit in. Gyms have a younger image than a worksite fitness center or a fitness center attached to a tennis facility. The interpretation of age symbols and their conversion into feelings of intimidation relate to how “old” the individual feels. Fifty-year-old subjects who “feel young” interpret youth symbols as being less intimidating than those subjects who are more aware of “being 50.” An interesting, although yet statistically unproven, finding is that physically fit middle-aged consumers feel less intimidated by youth symbols than sedentary ones. Indeed, physically fit middle-aged consumers frequently find youth symbols desirable.

    2) Cardiovascular fitness. Some activities have a high energy association and other activities have a low energy association. For example, consumers perceive running as requiring considerable endurance, whereas walking has a low cardiovascular symbol attached to it.

    3) Athleticism (skill, knowledge, physical ability and coordination). People generally agree that walking on a treadmill requires very little athletic ability, but might disagree about the athletic ability required of lifting weights or aerobic dance, depending on their experiences. Assessment of athletic ability impacts the type of exercise or sport people will consider doing.

    4) Socio-economic status. Some facilities contain a symbolic meaning of high or low socio-economic status. Tennis clubs usually have a higher socio-economic status meaning than a lower-end gym. Among gyms, there are distinct levels of socio-economic status, depending on location and its members.

    5) Physique. Physical representations are important to people who are overweight, especially if they perceive that an activity requires an athletic physique or that present members are already in good shape. Physique symbols are particularly important to people who are self-conscious about their present physical shape.

    6) Gender. Aerobic dance still suffers from the perception that it is a “feminine” activity. By dropping “dance” from the name, aerobics has developed a wider appeal. The translation of gender symbols into feelings of intimidation is associated with the desire to appear feminine or masculine, and not to gender per se.

    These six representations aren’t the only triggers to cause feelings of intimidation, but they do appear to have a significant impact.

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