Image source: History of Bodypump

25. Januar 2017

LES MILLS: From an idea to a global following

The brand LES MILLS® shows us how to use strategic brand management to create a “Star Brand” and keep it alive.

When the athlete Leslie Roy Mills ("Les" Mills) opened his first fitness studio in Auckland, New Zealand in 1968, he probably would not have believed that his fitness programs, which he developed with his sports-crazy family, now make nearly 5 million people in over 80 countries sweat every single week.
Just how successful the brand LES MILLS really is became clear during the 25th anniversary of the fitness program "BODYPUMP®": On 14 January 2017, fitness aficionados around the globe in over 15,000 studios celebrated the start of the world's most successful barbell workout. It was the largest fitness party of all times.

The example LES MILLS proves it: To know who you are, what you stand for, and what limits you set for yourself helps brands to attract real fans and grow through them, and sooner or later achieve cult status thanks to consistent brand management.

How can we explain this success story from a brand perspective?

1st Success Factor: Creating and delivering peak performances.

Brand management means charging a brand with new brand energy, like a battery, through consistent delivery of peak performances.

Let's look at the origin of the brands LES MILLS® and BODYPUMP®: During the 1980s, Philipp Mills, Les Mills' son and fellow athlete, began to develop pre-choreographed workouts for group fitness – classic aerobics classes became strength-endurance classes. In 1990, the moment had come and BODYPUMP® (then called "Pump") was born.

One trigger was Philipp Mills' observation that fitness studios have different quality levels. With choreographies and motivating music, he wanted to create a fitness experience of consistent quality – independently of the studio.

The effectiveness of the training is based in sports-science: Over 100,000 trained instructors worldwide share their knowledge and their passion with the participants and provide a uniform fitness experience, though every instructor can add a personal touch.

2nd Success Factor: With a clear "Why" from function to meaning.

Brands are multi-dimensional systems that differ in terms of what they perform, how they do it, and why they exist in the first place. All three aspects are important – but radiance, inspiration, and attraction are highest if – as Simon Sinek explained in his TED Talk "Start with Why" – you start with the "Why".
Applied to LES MILLS® this means: The "What" and the "How" concern the functional aspect of the self-conception as a "Solution provider for (pre-choreographed) group fitness and small group traning".

However, the "Why" (the meaning, the higher purpose or social relevance), is much more inspiring. This culminates in an emotional mission "for a fitter planet": "We're on a mission to create a fitter planet. This doesn't mean making people work out. It means helping people fall in love with fitness so that they want to work out."
This mission is exemplified with great passion not only by the founding family and employees, but by all instructors. That rubs off on the participants.

People buy "just" services or products less and less – they mostly follow strong ideas, want to be part of something bigger. A phenomenon we see over and over again especially today.

3rd Success Factor: A unified value system creates trust.

The consistent and authentic pursuit of this mission has resulted in LES MILLS® developing lasting attractiveness; from the inside out. Many brands make the mistake of trying to tinker with their awareness too soon with superficial marketing – rather than first improving their attractiveness with performance and substance and then growing thanks to a loyal fan community.

A following only forms where there is trust. Of the three prerequisites for trust (competence, goodwill, and integrity), integrity in particular, seen from a brand perspective, is nothing more than a value system you commit to and which you live by. Even though there are no explicit brand core values, LES MILLS® describes its value system as a philosophy: "We live by our words every day, stand by them, and are united by our movements, music, and a global network. And we welcome everybody who wants to take this journey with us."

4th Success Factor: Shared values promote following.

Those who feel attracted by the values of a brand join its value community. The community around LES MILLS® manifests in linguistic, visual, and behavioral codes: The brand's specific training apparel lets participants commit to LES MILLS® visually. Added to that are regular rituals that promote exchange and solidarity:

  • Every three months, there is a new choreography and music. The release is celebrated by participants and instructors in the studios.
  • During so-called "Quarterlies", (one-day training events) instructors and fans have a chance to see a preview of the new releases. They meet old acquaintances and sharpen their skills.
  • Once a year, the whole thing culminates in a "Superquarterly", which was offered live worldwide under the name "LES MILLS LIVE" in 2015. This makes LES MILLS® and the strong fan community a real and tangible presence even outside the fitness studios.

5th Success Factor: Growing within one's boundaries, using trends as breeding grounds

Like every "Star Brand" (brand with high attractiveness and high awareness), LES MILLS® has to continuously re-invent itself – a huge challenge, and well defined brand boundaries help. This innovation process is often misunderstood, and many brands stray too far from their core.

What can the brand LES MILLS® offer based on its history, performance, values, and philosophy that will not break through the boundary "Group-Fitness"? For example, LES MILLS® offers specially developed equipment for making group training better and more efficient – or a virtual program that adds another dimension to training in the studio. The concept of on-demand programs takes it one step further. It applies the Netflix principle to fitness courses and allows participants to schedule their workouts anytime and anywhere, but without losing the "group fitness feeling". This service is perfect for all those who travel a lot. The latest development toward "Immersive Fitness" is LES MILLS THE TRIP, a cycling workout that uses state-of-the-art projection technology to provide a whole new group fitness experience.

The strategic collaborations with Reebok and Polar show: LES MILLS® has understood what partnerships are credible and help the brand fill its mission with even more life.

The brand Reebok has been shaping the group and studio fitness sector since the start of the aerobics movement and is exclusive supplier to LES MILLS®. The brand Polar is a leader in sports wearables and fitness technology and helps users to better monitor the success of their workouts.

Together, they work to enthuse people about an active lifestyle, so they can be motivated and have fun reaching their goals.


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The example LES MILLS proves it: To know who you are, what you stand for, and what limits you set for yourself helps brands to attract real fans and grow through them.



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